Lena’s Crazy Quilt
Over the 87 years The Alice has operated as a museum there have been times when interesting objects and letters came into the collection as donations or bequests. The museum has become a repository for genealogy and local history information as well as for some objects and textiles donated by local families. It is a wonderful textile I will focus on in this article.
In 1983 the Blow family lost their matriarch, Lena. Lena M. (O’Lena) Blow was born in Chazy, NY on November 12, 1896 – the daughter of Napoleon and Eliza O’Lena. She went to school in the little red school house that William Miner attended, and lived in the area her entire life. Around 1916 (the year her wedding dress was made) she married Edward Blow and started a family. She was an accomplished seamstress and made her and her six children’s clothing as well as many beautiful quilts, employing sewing and needle craft skills she learned early in life.
On November 21, 1983 Lena passed away and soon after her children donated a few of her possessions to The Alice to be kept and enjoyed by future generations of visitors. The two objects donated in 1983 are Lena’s wedding dress and slip. The garments joined two other textiles previously donated to the museum, both are blankets made by Lena Blow. One of these she started making when she was just nine years old, a diamond popcorn stitch bedspread. The other is a colorful crazy quilt with voluminous embroidery stitching and writing.
The crazy quilt is signed “LO” and “Apr. 10, 1908 Sciota, NY”. Like most crazy quilts it consists of a quilt top mounted directly to backing with no batting in between. The backing in this case also serves as a ruffle on three sides of the quilt and is a solid rose colored cotton. The pieces consist of a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes and patterns – and appear to be made up of mostly silk scraps. The scraps were pieced together into nine blocks of similar size and then sewn together along with a long narrow block running the width of the blanket at the bottom. This quilt top was then backed with the rose colored cotton.
Lena’s crazy quilt is a striking piece and draws the eye as soon as you walk into the Sheraton Room where it is exhibited. But it’s the detail in stitching that brings you in for a closer look. Lena used a large number of different embroidery stitches joining every piece. She also wrote a few messages, including “May You Be Happy” and embroidered flowers and birds. Perhaps her mother saved pieces from various sewing projects over the years and finally handed the scraps over to Lena to create something for her bed. My grandmother made quilts consisting of pieces that I could recognize from clothing she sewed for me and my siblings over the years. It’s fun to look closely and see a familiar color and pattern that reminds you of the past. I imagine Lena lying in bed and tracing her family history through these bits of fabric.
Recently Lena’s daughter, Joan (Blow) Green and her family visited The Alice for a tour. Mrs. Green surprised us with two more objects to include in the Lena Blow collection – a dictionary Lena used when she went to school at the little red school house (the same school attended by William Miner), and a photograph of Lena, her husband Ed, and their first child Rhea. The photograph and book are currently on exhibit beside the bed that displays the Lena crazy quilt.