Tree of Life Quilt

My mother kept a large cedar chest full of family heirlooms, including a quilt made by one of her grandmothers.  The family is pretty sure that Great-Grandma Maude would have stitched this quilt in the late 1800s or early 1900s.  She was born and married in Indiana, where this was apparently a popular quilt pattern.  Every stitch appears to have been made by hand. 

I am in awe of the number of hand stitches this beautiful quilt required.  My humble photographs can't do it justice.  The design includes four rows of four trees, with each tree containing 48 triangular leaves.  The trees that appear pink from a distance are actually made from a red fabric with a tiny white crosshatch pattern on it.  The needlework on the white flowers, with their petals made from feather-like shapes, is even more impressive.  The center circle of each flower is stitched with rows 1/4-inch apart.  The inner ring contains 18 petals, while the outer ring has 33 petals.  There's rarely more than an inch of space between the tiny lines of stitches.  The quilt is edged in a 3/8-inch-wide strip of cranberry-colored fabric in a delicate flower print.

I wanted to learn more about the Tree of Life design on the quilt, so I called the National Quilt Museum.  The museum showcases mostly contemporary quilts, with a nod to the history of quilting.  Curator of Collections Judy Schwender said the popular tree design is inspired by the Indian Tree of Life designs found on palampore tapestries.  I see that the Textile Museum of Canada also points to India as the early influence for using this design in textiles.  When I read that all ancient cultures have some variation of this, it makes sense that perhaps Maude appreciated the spiritual aspect of the tree in relation to her own Christianity.  Although Maude wasn't necessarily Amish, I have found references to the design reflecting a biblical meaning for the Amish.
I turned in Maggie Malone's extensive catalog of quilt patterns called 5,500 Quilt Block Designs, and found dozens of variations on the tree pattern.  The one that looks like the exact pattern is #5250, called Tennessee Pine.  Malone notes in her book that many quilt patterns were handed down in families and communities, with most not being published until the 1890s.  I wish I knew if Maude found her pattern in a newspaper or magazine; or if her own mother introduced her to it.

We previously displayed the quilt on a wall, and I hope to do so again.  I realize that I need to preserve the quilt for future generations.  Yet, I can't bring myself to leave it tucked away in a cedar chest like my mother and grandmother must have done.  I think it's significant for my children to see this rendition of the tree of life now and learn of its connection to them.

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