Talking Quilts with Eli Leon ~ Signature Quilt

Eli Leon has a collection of approximately 30 signature quilts. Many of them are Anglo-American in origin but this quilt, most likely made by an African-American, is his favorite, and he pulled it out for me to see.

Eli took some time figuring out the names on this quilt, and he pulled out his detailed notes. One of the first things we noticed was that the script of the quilt maker has some unusual features. It’s difficult to distinguish between letters, such as c & e, e & l, d & l, 5 & 6.  One of the key names, perhaps the husband of the quilt maker, is not clear… perhaps its Samuel K? There are no last names just an initial K, and we don’t know the maker’s first name.

The quilt seems to document the family. How are these people related? Eli and I discussed at length the position of the names. At the top of the quilt you see STK – M to –  KAK – JAN 9 1905 (or 6?). Are the names –Ernest K, Lawrence, Leroy K –sons? Or could Ernest K be the father or brother of STK, or the oldest son? Could Lawrence and Leroy be twins? Are Violet, Catherine and Ethel daughters? Below the girls names is the name Arthur C K followed by Mildred K and then in the far right column, Alice. Could this be a father, mother and sister or perhaps an uncle, aunt and cousin to the maker or the maker’s husband? Notice Mothers day in the same row as Mildred K. How is this significant?

Eli thought the family must have resided in or was from Florida. This is where the quilt was purchased and the abreviation FlA surrounded by palm trees can be found twice in the quilt.

Besides the marriage date. There is also the date 1942 – Samuel K – died 27 of Dec. Below that is the probable signature of the maker KAK flanked on each side by the dates Feb 14. 1942 and 1940. What is the significance of the year 1940? Was that the year the quilt was started? Did it mark the beginning of an illness? Did Valentines Day in 1942 represent a last happy memory for KAK of her husband, before his death in December of the same year?

When Eli first received this quilt into his collection he did some genealogy research but came up empty-handed.

The more Eli and I figured out about this quilt, the more questions we were left with. 

As a family tree and signature quilt it is certainly stunning, but what strikes me the most about this quilt is that it must have been made during a time of loss. Was it made after K’s death? Or was it made during an extended illness and his subsequent death?

After sitting a while with this quilt I felt a deep and profound sadness resonating within me. I imagined the person stitching these names and images on black velvet, and of all the thoughts and memories, worries and joys she may have felt while making it. I wondered about the life of this family. How did they fare? How did the daily relationships between them unfold?  Where and who are their descendants?

With its visual field of deep black velvet and twinkling white stitches this quilt is as powerful and mysterious as the universe. It’s as mysterious as death and the feelings of mourning. It’s as powerful as the soul that binds family relations together in complex ways.

Wow! Nice first quilt for the Talking Quilts with Eli Leon series?  

Eli and I are curious to hear your thoughts and questions. What do you see in this quilt? How does it strike you? What catches your eye, or resonates from within?

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19 Responses to Talking Quilts with Eli Leon ~ Signature Quilt

  1. Erika says:

    They look like veves – the symbols made in white on the ground in voodoo and many other religions of that type.

    • tubularsock says:

      I agree with your observations and felt the same thing. The white on black and the way the stitches appear leans in the veves direction. I researched it a bit in that direction but I couldn’t get a clear connection to be able to state this for sure. Yet the assumed African-American origin and the idea it related to the South does provide a possible context for some African, Caribbean influence for sure.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Such an interesting observation. Eli and I will look into this. It makes sense.

      Thanks.

  2. Betsy Greer says:

    Fascinating! I’m working on my first quilt for a project right now and have been learning about different types of quilts as I put together what it’s my head in fabric. So excited to have a new world (quilting!) to dive into!

  3. I was wondering if you could give the general size of the quilt? It strikes me very much as a mourning piece not to be used, but to be commemorative. Black velvet isn’t very friendly for long term use, but it could be draped on something, like over a portrait or mirror, or even put across something like a piano (I’m thinking of those chinoiserie type scarves that were really popular for a while for covering everything). Are there any wear patterns on it?

  4. Heather says:

    I like the mystery of it. The decorative stitches used to delineate the squares are interesting, kind of prickly looking, very graphic and in strong contrast to the soft velvet. And the sun, the moon and the stars. Gorgeous!

    • sherrilynn says:

      I know so mysterious and gorgeous! I particularly thought you would appreciate this quilt Heather – being the master embroiderer that you are. I love the images so much too. Thanks.

  5. There are 2, possibly 3, spots that look as thought there may have been a correction made.

    1. the ‘t’ in mothers day might have been added as a correction

    2. the ‘i’ in ‘died’ is strange

    3. and that 5/6 may have been one, and then changed to the other

    Its all very interesting. thanks

  6. Kae says:

    It seems to reveal great sadness to me, but also the stitches seem to be the working through what seems inevitable and coming to terms with loss.

  7. Kristin L says:

    Thank you and Eli for sharing this unusual quilt and it’s mysteries. I wonder if the quilt was made as a kind of shroud for Samuel, and the names are family members he left behind. The little trees sprinkled about remind me of South Carolina’s Palmetto. I look forward to more of your conversations with Eli and his and treasures!

  8. Tubularsock says:

    What a wonderful detective story. I spent some time reviewing the clues and now I’m pursuing those clues which may lead to nowhere but I’ll report back if I find something.

    Sherri, this most intriguing adventure with Eli is such a wonderful idea. Thanks for do it!

    • sherrilynn says:

      Hey Tube – that would be fantastic. I tried doing some web searches with the info but nothing really fit. However I’m not very savvy about how to do deep research on the internet. Thanks for having a go at it.

      Just finished another talk with Eli this afternoon and he picked a doozy of a quilt for today’s discussion. It’s very very exciting, especially for a quilt making nerd like me.

  9. Cleta says:

    Our Beauty, Our Blackness!

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