Patriotic patterns

Area quilters cope with attacks by creating mini-flags

A year ago, the members of the Kaw Valley Quilters Guild were shaken to the core by the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington.

And they dealt with the Sept. 11 tragedy the best way that they could: piece by piece, stitch by stitch.

Longtime guild member Joyce Colton, Lecompton, said the guild members found themselves face to face with the aftermath of the attacks when they gathered for their fall meeting last September in Lawrence. Two quilters from Spokane, Wash., who were to speak were grounded when airports around the country canceled flights.

But instead of allowing the attacks to put a damper on the meeting, the guild’s members picked up their needles and, in impromptu assembly-line fashion, started making flag banners.

“The members donated their red and white (fabric) and they cut stripes (from it) to do the quilts,” Colton said.

The result is an exhibit of patriotic quilts called “Threads of Patriotism” that will hang through Sept. 15 at Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass. The exhibit is part of the Celebrate America’s Freedoms in a Day of Remembrance, a national observance spearheaded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services and the American Association of Museums.

Colton said the flag banners made by the Kaw Valley quilters are patterned after one made by Palmyra Mitchell, a Missouri housewife who was in her 20s during the Civil War. According to “Quilts from the Civil War,” a book by Lawrence quilter Barbara Brackman, Mitchell and her husband, John, lived in Union Mills, Mo., and were Confederate backers. When Union soldiers rode up to their farm one day and demanded to see a Union flag, they explained they had none. The soldiers said they would return and if no Union flag was flying at the Mitchell home, the house would be burned.

Palmyra hurried to her scrap bag and found enough red, white and blue fabric to make a flag, according to Brackman’s book. She pieced together 13 stripes and a patch of blue cotton, on which she appliqued a large white star surrounded by 13 smaller stars. When the Union soldiers returned they spared the house seemingly aware that the Mitchells flew the flag upside down, with the stars at the bottom.

The Mitchells’ flag is on display at Weston Historical Museum in Weston, Mo.

Colton said the exhibit at Watkins Museum also includes a bed-size quilt created by Chris Wolf Edmonds that is inspired by an old Saturday Evening Post cover of a painting by J.C. Leyendecker.

“Threads of Patriotism,” an exhibit of patriotic quilts by the Kaw Valley Quilters Guild, will run through Sept. 15 at the Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. A $2 donation is suggested as admission.Historian Steve Jansen will present a lecture titled “Patriotism and Freedom: Past and Present” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the museum. The lecture is free, and participants can tour the exhibit afterwards.

The quilt, made in 1976 for the nation’s bicentennial, shows George Washington kneeling in prayer. Part of the blocks forming the quilt’s border contain sunflowers with 13 petals, which represent the 13 original states.

More than 100 museums across the nation are planning activities or observances as part of the Celebrate America’s Freedoms in a Day of Remembrance. After the Sept. 11 attacks, museum administrators realized their facilities had become places of reflection and renewal for many citizens.

“Our museums are a reflection of America itself,” said Robert Martin, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington. “They are stewards of the things we create, and the ideas we shape. They tell the nation’s stories, and on Sept. 11 they will stand with their communities as another chapter in our history unfolds. Museums offer their communities special places to examine and reaffirm such precious freedoms as freedom to assemble, to worship, to learn, to express ideas and the freedom from fear.”