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Friendship Quilts

By Edwin Daryl Michael - Photographs by Tyler Evert

Sisters Delma Garrison, left, and Isolene Michael with two friendship quilts made by their mother 82 years ago. Photograph by Tyler Evert

Quilting provided early West Virginians a functional object as well as an opportunity to socialize. Designed to provide warmth, quilts also brightened what were often rather dark, drab rooms and showcased women’s sewing skills. Numerous designs of patchwork quilts were created by highly innovative farmwomen throughout West Virginia. One such design was commonly called a “friendship quilt.”

To create a friendship quilt, a woman would provide her female friends and/or relatives with a single, small square of white cotton cloth and ask each woman to sew a design on their square. The actual designs were left up to the imaginations of the friends, but one requirement was that each square must contain the name or initials of the friend. The finished squares were then incorporated into a bed-size friendship quilt.

My grandmother, Essie Myres Gump, completed two friendship quilts in the winter of 1931-32 from squares provided by her friends and relatives who lived on Plum Run in Marion County. In 1975, the two quilts were given to my mother, Isolene, and her sister Delma - the eldest daughters of Harrison and Essie Gump. My mother has since given her quilt to me. My aunt gave hers to her daughter, Janice, who in turn gifted it to her daughter, Amy, in 2003 on the occasion of Amy’s wedding. Both quilts are in excellent condition and are still used as bed covers and, at times, wall decorations.

My quilt is 67 x 78 inches, and contains 30 eight-inch squares. The center square of my quilt has the date “1931” sewn in the middle along with the name “Nola J.” The other 29 squares contain stitched designs that depict a variety of brightly colored objects. Flower arrangements appear in most squares. Other designs include fruit, butterflies, hearts, bows, bells, and elaborate geometric designs. A three-inch pink border inside a three-inch white border runs around the perimeter of the quilt and around each square, creating an extremely colorful, eye-pleasing design.

Each square of the 1931 friendship quilt given to my mother contains the name or initials of one of my grandmother’s friends, including Tena Efaw, Edna Fluharty, Ida Hamilton, Sada Ice, Pearl Moore, Alta Rice, and Georgie Toothman.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.