By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer
Laura Merrick proudly and carefully displays the two 1860s vintage antique quilts that were made by her paternal grandmother, Martha Jane Land, and reflects on their importance.
Completed through a struggle and made entirely by hand, Merrick says the quilts are a precious memento that has been handed down through the family.
“They were cherished by my mother and of course I cherish them,” Merrick said.
Community members will have a chance to view Merrick’s antique quilts along with others both old and new at the High Plains Quilt Festival, a new event, on Friday at the Memorial Building in Portales.
Each quilt that has been entered in the quilt festival will be displayed with a booklet that will tell the history and story behind the individual quilts, said Elizabeth Lawerence, chairperson for the festival.
“Over 150 entries are expected for the quilt festival,” said Lawerence.
Merrick’s two quilts are made in two different patterns that were common to that era, the lady finger pattern and flower garden pattern. Everything from the backing to the thread to the dyes had to be handmade, says Merrick.
“It’s just incredible,” Merrick said.
The quilts’ backing is made from flax, a fiber similar to linen, said Merrick. The flax had to be harvested, beat out with mallets and raked by her grandmother before it could be used. All the other materials used in the quilts were handmade by her grandmother, said Merrick.
“The thread had to be spun and made,” Merrick said. “You couldn’t go to the store and buy it.”
To preserve the integrity of the quilts, it is best to handle the quilts as little as possible. To preserve the quilts Merrick says she keeps them in cotton pillowcases inside a cedar chest.
A strong reason that quilts of this age have survived, says Merrick, is because people only took them out and used them for special occasions. An example would be on Sundays or when people were visiting, she said.
According to Merrick, she began quilting when she was a young girl. After her mother made clothes for the family, she (Merrick) would be given scraps to make her quilts with.
“I have quilts that I made when I was 15,” said Merrick.
Currently Merrick is working on four quilts. She has also quilted the complicated double wedding ring quilts for her granddaughters that have gotten married, she said. In the recent Roosevelt County Fair, Merrick entered a few of her quilts, one of which won Best of Show, and will be displayed at the upcoming High Plains Quilt Festival, said Lawerence.