Days Past: Quilting in Yavapai County, Arizona: a longstanding tradition
Since families first began settling in Yavapai County, the women have been making quilts. For example, the Jacob and Mary Ritter family moved to the Bagdad area of the Arizona Territory shortly after the Civil War. They established a cattle ranch there and raised their family. When son Ed married, Mary made a quilt as a wedding gift. This quilt exists today, and the Ritter family is still in Bagdad where the women continue to quilt.
Emma Andres was another quilt maker in the area. From the 1930s to the 1940s, she became well known as a quilter and corresponded with award-winning quilters of her day. Emma worked in her father's Prescott tobacco and magazine shop where she found a quilt kit in a magazine. She ordered it, made the quilt and began her lifelong love of quilting. Besides quilt making she organized many local quilt shows in the 1940s and enjoyed showing her quilts and talking about quilt making for the rest of her life.
Quilt styles and colors have changed through the decades as have the techniques used to make them. During times of war, many quilts were and are made with patriotic themes and colors. Quilts in the late 1800s and early 1900s tended to be dark. Blue, black, brown and dark reds were popular colors; woven plaids and chambray were popular fabric choices. Quilts in the 1920s changed dramatically. They were made from light colored fabrics; many pastel and small floral prints were available and used. The 1930s and 1940s saw textiles become darker and brighter and although floral prints were still popular, the flowers became larger and multicolored.
Quilts were usually made at home as part of the housekeeping and sewing chores that a woman performed. Quilts were used as warm and decorative bedding. Many families saved the scraps left over from dressmaking and other household projects to be used in quilts. Women got together with family and neighbors to piece blocks and for the actual quilting of the quilt. Church groups, granges (agricultural organizations) and women's clubs have always been popular places for quilting activities and lessons.
As time moved on, quilt styles continued to change. Many can remember the fabrics of the fifties and sixties. Folk art prints of Dutch and Mexican scenes were popular as were cowboy scenes and kitchen items. By the end of the sixties and into the seventies there were big designs and very bright colors. Fabric and fabric choices for quiltmakers changed dramatically in the 1980s. Huge quantities of fabric for quilts were available, partly because of a resurgence of quilt making that followed the bicentennial and partly because of the computer technology applied to the rotary screen printing process that made anything possible. It seemed that an endless number of colors and designs could now be printed. Quilt stores became popular, and large fabric stores set aside areas for quilt fabric.
Quilting continues to be a popular activity in Arizona. Today in Yavapai County, there are quilt groups in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Cottonwood, Sedona and Verde Valley. Many churches have their own quilt groups, as do retirement centers and recreation vehicle parks. Arizona has a variety of statewide and regional quilt groups as well as Internet quilt groups and
blogs. Many make patriotic quilts, and groups enjoy making "Quilts of Valor" for veterans.
The Sharlot Hall Museum is somewhat of a hub of quilting in Prescott. The Heritage Quilt Study Group quilts on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Transportation Building on the Sharlot Hall Museum campus. This group has quilted at the museum for over twenty years. They have made many of the quilts on display at the museum and make a raffle quilt each year that raises money for textile preservation at the museum.
Gail Van Horsen will be talking about quilting in Arizona at the Sharlot Hall Museum on Oct. 17 at 2 p.m. She will highlight Yavapai County ranch families, their quilts and quilt makers. She will also display Mary Ritter's quilt and quilts made by other Ritter family members.
Gail Van Horsen comes from a family of many generations of quilt makers and is an American Quilting Society Certified Appraiser of Quilted Textiles and Past President of the Arizona Quilters Hall of Fame.
"Days Past" is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 ext. 14, or via email at email@example.com for information.