Historian studies Tennessee’s history in quilts from across state

Anne Holt's Tennessee

Candace Adelson uncovers history hidden in layers of Fabric.  

“You really have to be a detective,” she says.  

Candace is Senior Curator of Fashions and Textiles at the Tennessee State Museum, where 30 quilts from Memphis to Mountain City are on display.  

Each one has its own unique history.  

“This was done in 1808. The center of it is the coat of arms of the United States.” 

The Eagle quilt is Tennessee’s earliest dated quilt. It was signed in 1808 by Nashville’s Rebecca Foster.  

It expresses her unwavering loyalty at a time of strained relations with Great Britain leading up to The War of 1812.  

“This is a Double Wedding Ring quilt which was made by Harriet M. Falls in Robertson County,” said Candace.  

Between the layers of the quilt is a nanny’s love for the little girl she raised named Maxine.  

“Basically, it was a wish for Maxine to have a wonderful married life. Ironically, Maxine never married, but she kept it all her life and gave it to the Tennessee State Museum later in her life.”  

Quilts were often made by groups in social settings.  

“What would happen is somebody would make a quilt top…little by little a square at a time, put them all together then have a party to get it quilted.”  

Lillian Beety started quilting at 60. She was a centenarian by the time she finished “People of the world”, showcasing characters from comics, history, and pop culture. She died at the age of 109.  

“We try to have a broad spectrum of stories as well as patterns and designs so that different people will be drawn to different things,” says Candace.  

Whether you are drawn to flowers with political echoes like the Whig Rose Variation Quilt top of the mid 1800s, log cabins like the one made by the niece of President James K. Polk, or the embroidered silks and velvets of the late 1800s, the commonality is love that’s embedded in each patchwork layer.  

“It’s love for the work, it’s love for the people that they made them for.”  

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