By Edie McGinnis
The Antique Quilt Acquisition Committee at the McGinnis household made a lovely find a few weeks ago. After very little debate among the members, it was decided that it would be a good idea to use some of the available investment funds to purchase a Marie Webster Poppy quilt.
The head of the committee (that would be me) is extremely fond of Marie Webster quilts and has a small collection that seems to grow slowly but surely. Webster quilts are more than a little difficult to find and, when they do come up for sale, they tend to be a little pricey. So sometimes, the other two members of the committee (two cats named Earl and Ally) have to step in and overrule her. I hate it when that happens!
“Its elegant central design started a revival of the medallion style, which had been popular in the early 1900s. This format was widely copied in the appliqué quilts of the 1920s and 30s,” Perry wrote in her book, A Joy Forever.
Webster made her Poppy quilt in 1909 and embroidered her initials and the year on one of the borders. The pattern wasn’t published until three years later, in The Ladies’ Home Journal as part of an article titled “The New Flower Patchwork Quilts.” The four quilts pictured in the magazine featured a central medallion rather than the traditional square blocks to which quilters were accustomed.
When Webster designed the Poppy quilt, she incorporated the life cycle of the flower. Each flower used in the center medallion shows the poppy as it first begins to bud, then open, at full bloom and as a seedpod.
Webster’s quilt was made using linen and cotton. She used only three colors, deep rose, pink and green. I’ve seen this quilt done in two other colorways, a paler pink with salmon overtones and orange and yellow.
Colored tissue-paper placement guides were included in each pattern, as was a blueprint of the pieces. Color swatches were glued to the back of the direction sheet with Webster’s recommendation to “use washable, colorfast materials.” Each complete pattern sold for 50 cents, a price that was never raised in all the years her company, Practical Patchwork, was in business.
It wasn’t until 1921 that she began to sell kits as well as finished quilts. The quilt I bought was made in 1929 and was likely purchased as a kit.
The quilting design follows Webster’s recommendation of echoing the appliquéd flower design. Lines about 5/8 inch apart are crosshatched and quilted into the center medallion. A partial feather is quilted around the center frame of the quilt, and diagonal lines are quilted 5/8 inch apart in the border.
The woman who made the quilt embroidered her name and the date into the outer green border of the quilt. She had made the quilt for her granddaughter. The embroidered section says, “For my granddaughter Mary Elizabeth French from Eunice Mae Roberts 1929.”
The quilt shows no signs of wear, so I am sure that Mary Elizabeth treasured her quilt. Her grandmother was clearly an accomplished quilter. Her stitches are about 12 to the inch, and it is difficult to see her appliqué stitches at all unless you look very closely. Another indication of her skilled workmanship is that points are pointed and curves are smooth and graceful, with no lumps or bumps or tiny tucks.
I always wonder why a quilt like this would leave the family. I can think of dozens of scenarios as to why and how that could happen, but I will never really know. I like to think that Mary Elizabeth marveled over this quilt. I hope she ran her hands over the quilt and smoothed the creases out and thought about her grandmother with love.
And I’m willing to bet that Eunice Mae would far rather have seen this quilt on Mary’s bed than put away and saved for “good.” Grandmothers are like that, you know.
Edie McGinnis is an author and editor for Kansas City Star Quilts. She writes every Friday.