It is astonishing how much attention my hubby pays to my enthusiastic chatterings. Especially when the topic is something he has absolutely no interest in personally, like, say, quilting.
One of my birthday presents was a book I’ve been hankering after: Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt by Brenda Papadakis. I learned of this book, and of the incredible Jane Stickle quilt itself, from a link on Twiddletails, one of my favorite crafty blogs. Anina, the Twiddletails blogger, has a second blog called (for now, at least—yesterday a bit of a trademark dispute arose over the name) Dear Baby Jane, an amazing site on which Anina posts step-by-step photo tutorials for making every single block in the Jane Stickle quilt.
This is no mean feat. Jane’s quilt is a masterpiece. Every single block of this large quilt is pieced in a different geometrical pattern. Many of the patterns are traditional quilt blocks; many seem to be unique to Jane.
An autographed corner square tells us that Jane pieced the quilt “in wartime, 1863,” and that she used over five thousand separate bits of fabric. A farmer’s wife, she lived in the little village of Shaftsbury, Vermont. She was born in 1817, which makes her roughly a contemporary of Charlotte Tucker Quiner Holbrook, the maternal grandmother of Laura Ingalls Wilder, whom I wrote about in my Charlotte books. This is one of the many reasons the Jane Stickle quilt intrigued me when I first read about it at Dear Baby Jane. Charlotte was born in 1809 (along with Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Braille, British statesman William Gladstone, Charles Darwin, and Felix Mendelssohn—some year, eh?) in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a young woman, Charlotte worked as a seamstress, advertising her services in the local papers. By 1863, the year Jane finished her quilt—four years before Charlotte’s granddaughter Laura was born—Charlotte had been living in the “big woods” of Wisconsin for decades. Jane Stickle, meanwhile, lived her whole life in the Shaftsbury, VT, area, and instead of a storytelling granddaughter, the legacy she left us was her incredible wartime quilt.
Here’s a link to a good-sized image of the Jane Stickle quilt—dubbed the “Dear Jane” by Brenda Papadakis. (Contemporary versions of the quilt are nicknamed “Baby Janes.”) I don’t know if it’s kosher to post the image itself, so I’ll just stick with the link. The color scheme is what’s known as and “around the world” pattern: the blocks move through a range of shades in concentric circles (more or less) beginning in the middle of the quilt.
A whole Dear Jane subculture exists in the quilting world, both online and off. There are many gorgeous quilts modeled after or inspired by Jane Stickle’s masterpiece. On the Dear Baby Jane blog, Anina leads an online community of quilters who are piecing the quilt a block at a time, two blocks a week. (Marvel at the photos here.) Just reading Anina’s instructions has been a tremendous education for me. (I was sorry to read, yesterday, of the trademark stickiness and the possibility that Anina will take down the entire blog. I am hoping hard that this does not come to pass.)
My indulgent but wise husband will read this and fear that I am poised for a dive into the world of Dear Jane creators, but he need not worry. Having never completed so much as a simple block quilt (Rilla’s little quilt is still only half quilted, if you can call the mess I’m making “quilting”), my attempting a Baby Jane would be something like a starling chick trying to soar with the flock while it is still in the egg.
But oh how I love to look at the gorgeous variations others have created, and to read about the gradual progress of people attempting the ambitious project right now. And I can’t wait to dive into my new birthday book to learn more about Jane Stickle and her quilt.