Monday, June 5, 2023

Tender Keepsakes


Good morning!

Well today's post is called "tender keepsakes" because there are just some quilting things that touch my heart.  Maybe they will touch yours too.  

For those of you new to the blog, I like quilting ephemera.  Ephemera defined is:  1.  Items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.  2.  things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.  Today's look is at quilting stencils and templates.  I have a whole wooden box of them.

The pieces are worn, thin and floppy from use.  The edges have remnants of  pencil marks on them.  Yet I cherish them and the quilters that used them.

In 1937, Florence La Ganke wrote a whole Nancy Page article on the importance of making one's own stencils:

La Ganke points out that cardboard templates can be used for the patterns to do one's quilting--or use for applique templates.  She suggested using light weight carboard and a razor to make the quilting lines or dots.

Of course quilters had already been using this technique for decades.  And that brings me to these tender keepsakes.  We love our quilting, love our quilting tools and patterns and so did our foremothers.  Every piece of ephemera I have in my collection was from a woman who couldn't bear to part with her ideas and patterns.  In a sense they tell a story of her thriftiness.  The idea that she saved these pieces all her life...possibly even after she could no longer quilt reveals her love for sewing. 

I also think that it's significant that the family didn't just throw the paper away.  Most of the pieces I have were purchased at auctions or estate sales.

Some of the templates/stencils even have small pieces of fabric  clipped to them.  As if the maker was working on with the project and suddenly got interrupted.

I enjoy seeing what is on the other side of the templates as well.  Here is a pattern that used a notepad front page.  It's not even cardboard, but undeterred, the quilter used it.

The back of the template also reveals what was in the maker's house.  Sometimes it is cardboard boxes but I never did figure out what this box was from...the actual piece seems too big for the back of a cereal box.  

Of course some women bought quilting patterns and I occasionally find those as well:

But I much prefer the home made versions that women made.

I often wonder what my kids are going to do with my "paper junk" as they might call it.  I suspect the younger generation won't treat these things as reverentially as others before them.

For now, I'm just the keeper of these treasures.  Would you feel as sentimental about these items as I do?

Have a safe and happy day!


  1. Yes, I feel as sentimental as you do! I have the cardboard pyramid pattern that my dear friend Dottie's (1914-2017) mother used to make a quilt which is on the NJ Heritage Index. Dot and I used it to finish piecing a quilt she had started years before. I now own the quilt made by her mother, Mable Beatty. If it weren't for this darn broken femur, I'd send a picture of both cardboard pattern and quilt. In her 80's, Dottie fell off a ladder while painting a ceiling. She healed good as new so she continues to inspire me!


  2. This post touches my heart for a very sad reason. I knew very little about quilting when this event happened so didn't have the experience to make a good choice.
    My brother, sister, and I were cleaning out our childhood home after Mom moved out. We were deciding who would get what, going room by room, box by box, discussing items and either claiming them or suggesting that another of us take them. The items no one wanted were put aside to take to the second-hand store.
    I claimed a Dresden Plate quilt top that my mom had made. Sadly, it had a bright, lemony yellow sashing, an unlikely choice for my mom. Yellow is not my color either but the Dresden Plates are fabulous! I thought I could maybe figure out how to salvage the blocks and replace the sashing.
    In one of the bedrooms my brother pulled out a box with sewing supplies. In the box was a wooden, figure-eight-type shape that my father had cut from thin plywood. My brother and my sister laughed when they saw the wood template. I really didn't understand it's importance so didn't claim it, and it went to the thrift store.
    Later, maybe months later, I opened Mom's Dresden Plate quilt top and there, on the yellow sashing, I saw pencil tracings of the wooden shape my father had made for Mom.
    When it comes to regrets about what I claimed and didn't claim my mom's things, that's a big one. (I tell myself that neither of my daughters would have wanted it and it would have ended at the thrift store anyway.)
    I still have the unquilted Dresden Plates top that I can't quilt because it's an awful yellow, but can't take apart because the sashing has both my parent's "signatures" on it.
    Now, if I saw a box of templates like this at an auction or thrift store, I would surely buy them!

  3. I love that green template. I have made a long template for the quilt I am currently hand quilting. I quilt around the applique and then use the template to mark the background. I'm marking it one block at a time. The template is made from poster paper and shifts around in my sewing room depending on what I'm working on. I realized last week that I could hand it on the wall and then it would be out of the way and wouldn't get creased. So far, so good. I wonder if that template with the pirate face was a game box lid of some sort.

  4. I love seeing the templates you have collected. I used to enjoy going to antique "malls" in PA and looking at all the wonderful stuff - its been quite sometime since I have done that. I am thinking the last stencil was from a board game box where the game was no longer intact.