ST. ALBANS CITY — People entering the 16th Annual Franklin County Quilter’s Guild Show held April 5 and 6 at City Hall seemed to share the tendency to just stare in awe at the “Dear Jane” quilt display.
The challenge for guild members this year was to create a quilted project using Civil War reproduction fabrics, and preferably at least one “Dear Jane” pattern.
“Dear Jane” is the name affectionately given to a quilted masterpiece of 225 blocks, each of a different pattern and using hundreds of different fabrics, that was hand stitched by Jane (Blakey)Stickle who was born April 8, 1817 in Shaftsbury, Vermont.
The quilt had been stored away and eventually found by one of her great nephews who realized its significance when he saw that Stickle had stitched her signature and the words: “signed in war time, 1863,” on the back of it.
The Jane Stickle Quilt, which is now housed at the Bennington Museum, is what veteran quilter Bonnie Evans described as “the most famous Civil War quilts in existence,” and is the inspiration behind an international phenomenon of complex quilt makers called “Janiacs.”
She, being one of those “Janiacs,” was proud to have her own Dear Jane quilt there in the main entry display.
Evans said she worked a little every day for about three years on her Dear Jane quilt.
“There are 5,000 pieces of fabric in this quilt,” she said.
Many of her blocks were hand stitched and appliquéd, and the quilt itself was machine stitched.
On July 1, 2013 fellow quilt member Denise Chase started her Dear Jane using 282 different fabrics. She decided to do hers all by hand; she had her top pieced and began the quilting in the middle of February.
“This is 225 pieced blocks, and all of them are different patterns,” she said as she continued to stitch and answer questions from show goers.
Like Evans, Chase was amazed at how such an elaborate quilt could be produced in such a primitive time.
“She did this with no real lighting, no sharp scissors nor templates, and to think that every pattern is different,” Chase said. “It was believed that she wanted her project to take as long as possible so that she could pass the time while waiting for her husband to return from the war.”
According to Evans the resurgence of the Dear Jane quilt began in 1986 after the quilt’s discovery and the realization that it was such an important piece of Vermont’s history.
The details of that hand stitched quilt that Stickle worked on from 1861-63 caught the attention of a math teacher that had always considered herself a master quilter.
When Brenda Papadakis saw a picture of Stickle’s quilt in a book she felt hypnotized by the geometric designs that she saw and was amazed that most patterns were new to her. She accepted a friend’s challenge to draft patterns of the blocks, and soon became fascinated with researching Stickle’s life history.
Her book called “Dear Jane” was published in 1996.
“It just grabbed a hold of me and I couldn’t put it down,” Chase said.
“I don’t know how a woman from 1863 could possibly come up with all these different designs,” Chase said looking over her replicas.
“It is hard to imagine this because I certainly had access to a lot of quilting design books,” Chase said.
She pointed to different blocks within her own quilt, noting the intricate piece work that had gone into each.
“Some of these are called foundation piecing or paper pieced blocks,” she explained. “That means they were printed on paper and the block is worked on in reverse or backwards.
“And to think, where would she even have found that many different fabrics during that time?”
Luckily Papadakis also created software for the block designs and has established the Dear Jane.com website to share her wealth of knowledge with other Janiacs.
With a little more stitching Chase would finally be ready for the finishing touch.
“My plan is to have the scalloped edges just as it appears on the cover of the book,” she said.
A third Dear Jane quilt by Dale McFeeters was the only one of the 138 quilts entered in the show, and she was delighted to have won the Vendor’s Awards.
“This has been in the making for 10 years, but I would work on it, then get fed up and stick it I. The closet,” McFeeters said, “It had been in and out several times, and some friends who were doing similar projects pushed me to keep working on it,” she added.
“I used about 100 different pieces of fabric to make this quilt, and some of these blocks are made up of 35 pieces,” she explained.
“It took a lot of blood sweat and tears to accomplish this quilt, and maybe a little swearing, but I got it done and now I love it.”
Having the Dear Jane display was the Franklin County Quilter’s Guild’s way of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Jane Stickle quilt.
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Quilters will return to city hall to display their work during the St. Albans Raid 150th Anniversary Commemoration, Sept 20-21.