Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Silk and Satin Crazy Quilt

In the 1970s, my boyfriend Andy was a good soul who was fun-loving and always looking for the next laugh while at the same time, being a worrywart  like me! So we planned this eight-day car trip driving straight through upstate New York and almost to Canada and then, just shy of the Canadian border, back down on the Vermont side to end in Connecticut to have Thanksgiving with his family. There were a great many memories from that trip   one picturesque town after another — Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Claverack, Malta, Mechanicsville, and (the mysterious sounding) Ausable Chasm.  Like me, Andy loved going in and out of every little antique shop, stopping at every yard sale, sifting through the contents of any barn with a hand-painted sign outside that said SALE.

Even though it was fraught with "incidents" (I have told you, I'm a tough customer) there were many wonderful things that I gathered along that trip, all the pieces I found during that car ride from town to town, place to place, while we drove along, playing at being married.  Filling the trunk of the car with one find after the next  including a metal shoe last similar to the one pictured here.  My grandfather was a shoemaker and the shoe would be put on the last upside down so the shoemaker could nail the nails in the sole. I had a metal last but this one was white and a child-sized last, so I was thrilled to uncover it.

It was in one of those barns that I found a pair of framed 19th century French magazine illustrations (similar to this one except they were in ornate gold frames) that I bought for my sister.  Along with that (in the attic of the barn) I also found a silk woven black & white portrait of Napoleon to add to Donna's enormous collection of all things Bonaparte.  I considered these three pieces the absolute best gifts for my sister and I couldn't wait to give them to her.  Years later when she had her things appraised, the framed pair of illustrations were valued at $500 and so was the Napoleon  a great return on the $60 I'd spent.  That night my sister called me and asked if I wanted them back!  (Sadly, years later the piece was re-appraised and the silk portrait turned out to be machine-made and was devalued.)

We'd bought a lot, time was running out and I was feeling we'd both spent more than we should.  Whenever I went on a trip like this, I'd record every penny spent in a little, tiny spiral notebook and then add it all up at the end to know what was expended.  So I knew we'd spent our money and we hadn't started back yet. Little things were starting to grate on either of us, I was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable about the upcoming holiday meeting all of Andy's family, being inspected as the possible daughter-in-law, knowing I'd bristle at having to be polite and inquiring and perhaps more than I'd want to be after this vacation.

So the ride south headed to Connecticut I was fussing about something I'd seen and left behind.  It was in a town south of Plattsburgh, maybe in Keeseville or Willsboro, but it was in a sweet shop on the first floor of someone's home where I'd found my child's shoe last.  There I'd seen and lovingly admired a magnificent crazy quilt.  I'd gotten into quilts in the early 70s and while I did have bear's claw, log cabin, sunshine and shadow, and Emma Randolph's wedding ring quilt, I had nothing as glorious as this quilt, made of silks and satins.  I couldn't get over the intricacies of this handmade quilt and the love that went into the hours and hours of stitching it required.  Who could envision such a puzzle of patterns?  Still it was $75 and too much to spend.  I rationalized that silk was a brittle fabric and this quilt had already been patched in a few places where the silk had worn away.  But now that we were driving further and further away, I couldn't stop thinking about it and talking about it.  

Crossing over into Connecticut with me still talking, Andy swerves the car off the road and to a screeching halt.

"That's it.  That's IT.  Not one more word about that quilt.  We're going back." he stated loudly and emphatically.

"WHAT?" I said looking at him like he was crazy.  "We can't go back  it's like two or three hundred miles away!  And then we have to come back!  Andy, we can't go back!"

"WE ARE GOING BACK AND GETTING THAT GODDAMNED QUILT!"  He was mad.  He was smokin' mad and it was all I could do to get him to stop from immediately driving in the opposite direction.  

I thought about my behavior and felt bad.  Tried to convince him we shouldn't got back, I'd get over it.

"NO you won't.  You'll just always remember this trip as the time you left that great quilt behind.  I'm NOT going to listen to that story my whole life.  We are GOING BACK RIGHT NOW."

"Well geez Andy, just let me call and make sure it's still there, that the place is open  it's the day before Thanksgiving, maybe they went away!" I implored him worrying that we'd drive all that way and find no one home.  Fortunately I had their card as I kept the cards from every place we'd been, in case I ever wanted to go back.  We went to a place where there was a pay phone and I made the call.  A man answered the phone.

"Well, she's not here right now.  The missus went up to Plattsburgh to see the sister but she'll be back and we'll be here.  I don't recall the quilt you're talkin' about, but no one's been here buyin' anything."

Three hours later (during the mostly silent drive) after fretting over the road map finally we pulled in to the place and I jumped out of the car, rang the bell and gratefully went inside as soon as she opened the door.

"Well hey there! I thought it might be you when my husband told me you someone called!  I thought it must be that cute little couple from New York!  Now what is it that you came back for sweetheart?" she said sweetly, in her checked dress covered in a white apron as the smell of her Thanksgiving preparations filtered through the room.

For all the incredible things I discovered on that car trip, none was more treasured than the silk and satin crazy quilt that Andy graciously bought for me and long after our lives went in separate directions, still hangs in my home to this day.


I wanted you to see the details, the beauty and variety of the stitches and the unique markings that define this quilt.  I tried to position these better but I guess they just have a mind of their own...guess they're just crazy.
Here are her initials S-A-F or is P?
Here is her ribbon: Life Member of the 

Washington County Agricultural Society 1910


  1. Love this! Where is your quilt in your house? Does mine look like it? I have never had mine appraised and would like to know more than that my great-grandmother made in 1898! I can see why yours is also a treasure to you--but have you told us whatever happened to Andy? Hope he landed as well as you did with Scott!

    1. Thanks BA! Mine is on the upstairs landing..Andy married and had two girls but I've lost touch. Am trying to find his email so I can share and see if it's all ho he remembered.

      This was my excellent husband's response to this post:

      "Poor Andy! I'm glad he went back. He had you pegged. I hope you were super nice to him that Thanksgiving. Love, S."