Mirrors of the Times

Quilts were made for more than warmth - they were a means of self-expression and a reflection of the makers' experiences.

Perhaps it was a woman alone working by lamplight. Perhaps it was a group of women or a family working together. However the quilt-making was done in the last two centuries, for most it was both a practical and creative endeavor.

"Quilts not only keep you warm, they're also decorative, a way for individuals to express themselves," says Wes Balla, director of collections and exhibitions for the N.H. Historical Society.

With the choice of pattern, design, fabric, shape and function, Balla says, quilters give insights into their lives, abilities, motivation and thoughts. Much can also be learned from quilts about cultural conditions - values, economics, tastes and technological changes.

To illustrate these aspects of quilting, the Historical Society took a number of quilts from its permanent collection and put them on display at the Society's museum. The exhibition runs until January 10. Fifteen colorful quilts made by New Hampshire women in the 18th to 20th centuries are on view, along with patterns and quilt-related objects. Domestic history, community history, moving West, the Civil War, frugality, memories, family tradition, textile manufacturing and regional characteristics are among the themes and subjects explored through the stories of individual quilts and their makers.

Some quilts were presentation pieces, says Balla: "Perhaps they were presented as a gift to a family who was going West or as a token of esteem to the minister."

Also featured at the exhibition are more than 50 quilt patterns documented and preserved by Ellen E. Webster, an accomplished quilter who lived in New Hampshire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After collecting designs from N.H., Vermont and Massachusetts, Webster replicated more than 160 of them with cloth, tissue paper and wallpaper.

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