October 2018

Church Quilt Now Safely Displayed

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Photo provided by Liz McGann

Harry Magnuson is pictured next to the 1888 autograph quilt sewn as a fundraiser for the West Suffield Congregational Church. Magnuson built the protective display case for the quilt to be exhibited in the lobby behind the sanctuary.

Over a century ago, the ladies of West Suffield Congregational Church gathered, thimble and needle in hand, to sew an autograph bed quilt to raise money to expand their meeting house. The first block was completed on August 6, 1885, and nearly three years later the final stitch was knotted. The burgundy and yellow quilt has a sunflower design with signatures on each petal, and twenty-five women worked to see it through to its completion. This endeavor raised $84.40, a hefty piece of change in those days, towards their cause. I can just imagine the ladies gathered after church with their fine handiwork and exact corners. I am impressed that there are people out there who, after an hour of contemplative time are able to be productive. Those ladies raised the bar high. Any time I find myself in church, by the time the benediction is uttered, I’m just about jumping out of my skin making a mad dash for the meadows and my Labrador retriever. Surely, those ladies could have taught me a thing or two.

Clearly, the quilters were made of the right stuff, and the congregation celebrated their efforts back in the 1800s. Decades passed, and like many heirlooms, the quilt went missing under a shroud of mystery. The church basement and closets were scoured but no sign of the quilt. Then, at a church dinner, over a fortuitous plate of mashed potatoes, the topic of the quilt surfaced and a quick trip to a parishioner’s house around the corner unveiled the elusive quilt. So, as West Suffield Congregational Church prepares for its 275th anniversary in November, the quilt has found a permanent spot in the historic building on the corner of North Grand and Mountain. And to top it off, church stalwart, historian and woodworker extraordinaire, Harry Magnuson, has crafted a case to house the quilt, and it sure is a beauty. Harry left no stone unturned as he prepared to make the case. He visited historic sites where quilts were on display to gather ideas and make drawings. He researched and deliberated on how to design, construct and decorate a case in a fashion that was historically correct. One peek will surely reveal that this was a labor of love.

As the familiar hymn goes, what was once lost is now found. Mark your calendar to swing by the church open house on Saturday, November 10, from 1 to 3 p.m., or Sunday, November 11, at 10 a.m., and see the quilt. I’m sure those ladies who passed through the pearly gates a while back will be glad you made the trip.


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