A re-creation of the photo of my great grandparents holding the original quilt in the late 60s. These are my parents now holding the quilt in 2023.
I recently discovered that my family has a history in the quilt world. Most people probably have a quilter in their family tree since it was a very normal pastime for women throughout history. (Let's pause for how incredible that fact alone is. I would bet everyone in this world is related to a quilter!) I discovered my paternal great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Greene Troutt, was a quilter. And a very artistic one at that..
After my grandfather passed away, my parents started the hard work of cleaning out his old apartment. Buried under a lifetime of collected knick-knacks was a cedar chest. Inside was a beautiful crazy quilt wrapped in plastic (eek!) with some handwritten notes and old photos about its origin. Although this isn't the ideal storage situation something about it magically worked to preserve this quilt!
Pictured here are my great grandmother and grandfather holding the quilt most we assume in the late 60s, early 70s. The notes we believe were written by my grandmother to create a family tree from 1675 - 1972 of that side of the family.
Crazy Quilts became extremely popular in the last quarter of the 1800s which makes them a very unique part of the Victorian era. Women were tasked with "fancywork" (what we would call interior decorating) in addition to other household tasks. They were to make their home lavish and elaborate. With manufacturing and machines taking off in the USA this also allowed for new textiles to be created. Cotton and wool were no longer the only materials women had access to. Silk, velvet and other fancy fabrics were more easily available and even sold in kits of "scrap silk". (Were these the first quilt kits?!) The more elaborate the better. Decor became over the top with beading, lace, fringe, embroidery - you name it! Cigar boxes were even adorned with velvet and silk ribbons as a gift for wives and daughters to use in their fancywork.
The floral embroidery seen here was mostly likely created using the velvet cigar box threads.
As women's rights began to grow and evolve so did the quilting world. Many women started to speak up about fancywork being unnecessary and felt that quilts should be more utilitarian and purposeful. This eventually evolved into the more traditional patchwork quilts we see today without all the added frills, beads and embroidery.
Betsy Telford, an antique quilt historian says this about crazy quilts and their artistic designs:
"This was a woman's art statement. They're art for walls to be enjoyed."
Although these crazy quilts appear to be random they are actually very well thought-out. Each seam is unique and each embroidery contains a story. Now back to my own crazy quilt by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Greene.
From my research, Mary Elizabeth Troutt was born May 16th, 1846 in Elkton, Kentucky. Just in time for the crazy quilt era! She was a teacher starting at age 15 with a starting salary of $10 a month. She married Hugh P. Greene, Feb 27th 1866 but he sadly passed away after only twenty-four years of marriage in 1890. He was a prominent farmer and the county treasurer. Mary was left to educate their six surviving children alone. Hugh and Mary had nine children total but sadly lost two daughters and one son in infancy.
Obviously we don't know for sure, but I am imagining maybe this motif of a little boy is a tribute to the son she lost but we can't know that for sure. I love the idea of her telling her story through this quilt though.
During their marriage Mary learned a lot about crops on the farm and had a lot of experience carding cotton and wool. She also knew how to handle a spindle and distaff. I assume this is what also lead her into her experience sewing and piecing fabrics together.
At the top of the picture you can see some baskets maybe used for her cotton collection? The horseshoe in the center was maybe a tribute to any animals they had on their land perhaps.
For her entire life Mary was a member of the Methodist church and her obituary specifically calls out the fact that she was "extremely tolerant of the religious views of others and always maintained that of more concern than the faith professed, was the extent to which one lived up to the teachings of the creed chosen." She was a devoted volunteer and served on many different committees in the church. I have also grown up in the methodist church and I kind of love that that is a part of our history too.
Another beautiful flower embroidered with velvet and satin ribbons.
She wasn't among those who marched for our right to vote, but according to her obituary she did vote in any election she was able to. She documented these two political elections in particular, but I'm not sure of their significance to her specifically. Maybe she was just documenting the headlines?
Because of this date I can only assume this quilt was made between 1888 - 1933 when she passed. Which makes this quilt between 90-135 years old.
When Mary passed away, July 1st 1933 her obituary mentions that in addition to her six children and their spouses she was mourned by seventeen grandchildren and one brother W.L. Troutt. I can only assume the embroidered initials seen here are for her brother.
I imagine they were close and I even wonder if he wrote her obituary. It was full of interesting details about her life. I also wonder if maybe she made this quilt for him?
I'm not sure who authored her obituary, but they took extreme care in talking about her life and character. I found out more here than I did on any ancestry site out there!
From what I can gather Mary Elizabeth Troutt passed this quilt to her daughter Martha Greene Darrow, who then passed it down to my great-grandmother Irene Darrow Steinheimer. That's where it made it to my grandfather, Don Carson Steinheimer, my dad Steven Steinheimer and on to me. I'll continue to pass it down to my own children along with the skills of quilting and her story will continue to live on.
Resources for more information on Crazy Quilts:
You might also enjoy reading: