The Dear Jane quilt is celebrating its 150 anniversary this year. It was made by Jane A. Stickle and completed when she signed her quilt and dated it during the Civil War. That was in 1863. The quilt was found in an attic in St. Louis, Mo. The quilt now has a permanent home at the Bennington Museum in Vermont.
What makes this quilt so unique is that is made from 169 4½-inch blocks, 52 8x5 inch triangles and four corner triangles. This is a total of 225 squares and triangles to complete this quilt.
Not much is known about Stickle. An ancestry search revealed she was born Jane A. Blakley, April 8, 1817. She married Walter Stickle and lived a very modest life. The couple had no children, and census records show they lived apart some of their married life. Walter died before Jane. She died in 1896 at the age of 79, and is buried in Shaftsbury, Vt.
Jane left many questions unanswered about her quilt. Why were the blocks only 4½ inches? Was it because she was fabric thrifty? Or was it because it was easier to draft her designs in this size? Did she love to design patterns and got carried away with the block design process? Was it easier to hand stitch the small pieces for a block this size? Was the quilt made for a soldier in the war? Or was it just for her personal use? She was 46 years old when the quilt was completed, and we will never know the answers to these questions.
In 1990, Brenda Papadakis published a Dear Jane quilt book which includes all the quilt blocks and triangle patterns. She fell under the spell of the Dear Jane quilt and was amazed and intrigued by all the intricate designs each block had. There are no duplicate blocks in the quilt. With this book, Papadakis launched a movement to duplicate this intricate quilt. Each quilter who has endeavored to make her own Dear Jane quilt has put her own touches on it. In some cases, changing the colors in the block, or changing it in some other way.
Some quilters got all the blocks finished but did not make the 56 triangle blocks around the border. Some used traditional fabrics to duplicate the quilt as closely as possible to the original quilt, and some used batiks or more modern fabrics in their own Dear Jane.
An Internet search will show you many sites dedicated to the Dear Jane quilt, as well as blogs, patterns and even special rulers to help with the construction process. Just looking at all these quilts can make your head spin.
My quilt guild had a Dear Jane expert give us a lecture about two years ago. It was a very interesting lecture, and the quilts she brought were breathtaking. Breathtaking because once you see a 4½-inch block you realize how small it is. And if this tiny block has an intricate design with a dozen or more pieces needed to construct it, you slowly shake your head in awe.
Will I ever make a Dear Jane quilt? That’s something I’ve been asking myself. At first I said “never.” Now, some years later, I can possibly see myself duplicating those designs in my favorite colored fabrics while sitting in front of the TV. As long as I’m sitting there I might as well be doing something creative with my time.
Nancy C. Judd of Harker Heights is a member of the Crossroads to Texas Quilt Guild.