Lila’s Quilt

Week 49: #52 Ancestors – Homemade

By Eilene Lyon

Recently my Aunt B emailed me to say she had “discovered” an old family quilt in her closet. It came down through my Smith ancestors and appears to have been made by my great-grandmother, Mary Lila (Reams) Smith.

This crazy quilt is embroidered with the names of family members, including Lila, and a date: February 7, 1905. It’s probable that Lila’s two daughters, Clara and Ada, helped with the stitching. I have a quilt in my possession that I believe Ada made (at least that’s the story I recall), so it makes sense that she learned the skill from her mother.

The Smith farm near Cunningham, Washington. From left: Ada, Clara, Clifford, Mary Lila, Leon, Charles E., Harry Smith.

A family photograph dated to 1906 shows the Smiths on their farm in Cunningham, Washington, and that is probably where the quilt originated. From the looks of the property and the board-and-batten structure of the house, I’d guess that the family appreciated having warm covers in the winter!

The two youngest sons, my grandfather Laurence and Loren, had not been born yet. The Smiths relocated north to Meyers Falls near Colville by 1908 when Laurence came along. The Smiths led a hardscrabble life during these farming years. It was not until they moved to Moscow, Idaho, that the family fortunes improved. That is where Loren was born in 1911.

Laurence and Loren grew up with a stepmother, because their mother Lila passed away at the age of 45 in 1917. This past November 24th was the 150th anniversary of her birth.

I look forward to seeing the quilt in person on my next trip to Oregon when I will bring it home to Colorado to preserve. Someday it will likely go to my niece or another Smith family descendant.

Feature image: The 1905 crazy quilt. The names I can read in this photo are: Clara Smith, Harry Smith, Ada Smith, and C. E. Smith. Quilt images courtesy of B. Smith.

55 thoughts on “Lila’s Quilt

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  1. Nice. I used to make quilts with my mother. Instant heirlooms. When she died her friends took all her material and in her memory made two more quilts for my youngest daughter.

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    1. Yes, I love my old quilt by Ada. I used to try to find all the matching patches when I used it as my bedcover. Have to wonder what the fabric was used for originally. Back then you didn’t go to fabric stores dedicated to quilting material. You should put those old quilts on display. They are works of art.

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      1. I wish I knew more about some of my quilts. I suppose what really matters is that they were made with scraps of fabric once part of my ancestor’s daily lives and that the hands of someone who shares my blood created them. That’s pretty special all by itself.

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  2. I love the term “discovered”. Must remember that! The detail in the quilt is fantastic. The only quilt that springs to mind similar to yours is situated in a Tauranga historic house [The Elms/Te Papa] created with snippets of visiting gentlemen’s ties.

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  3. What a treasured family heirloom! I love a crazy quilt….I bought one recently off my neighbour who belongs to a quilting group. They “discovered” a quilt that an older lady hadn’t finished before she died, and decided to finish it, and I liked it so much I bought it off them – $50 for the expense of finishing it. It’s so warm and cozy, and heavy, like sleeping under one of those weighted blankets.

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  4. What a treasure that you have here, not only the quilt you already possess, but also the one you will have gifted to you for safekeeping for many years to com. I wonder how many woman hours (as opposed to man hours went into this quilt. My great-grandmother made quilts and stuffed them with down from the ducks they kept.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not a women’s libber, but I wonder why we only call it “man-hours” … I like to ponder things. 🙂 I was a child and remember my mom shaking the down comforter and it sprung a leak and feathers went everywhere. It was dark gold satin – no embroidery on it, but boy did the feathers fly when the seam opened!

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      2. I guess English is a very paternalistic language in general. Note that many other languages have male and female nouns. In German, words denoting careers have versions for each sex.

        I seem to recall a little song when I was a kid that went “It snowed last night. It snowed last night. The sky bears had a pillow fight.”

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      3. I know English is difficult for the foreign born because so many words are spelled identically and pronounced differently and have different meanings. I admire people who can speak more than one language. I studied French for years and because I never used it, I doubt I could communicate in French now, but oh … learning which words were masculine/feminine … le or la, all those years ago. I don’t remember that song – it is cute. I grew up in Canada so I often discover we never shared the same trends, songs, etc. as American children.

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      4. I spoke Spanish moderately well as a teen, living in Guatemala, and took a year of French in high school. Both of those are much easier than German, which I’m attempting to learn now. They go way beyond masculine/feminine.

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      5. Growing up in Canada, we started learning French in Grade One. No books, just 8 1/2 X 11 pictures and the teacher had the same picture as a large poster at the front of the class and we learned vocabulary that way. So I started learning early and in college had a class that we never spoke or wrote in English. I couldn’t trill my Rs so I never sounded authentic. My father should have taught me German – he lived there until after the war, then moved to Canada.

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      6. That’s great Eilene – you’ll be able to communicate effortlessly. My family visited Germany, but my mom and I spoke no German, so we felt a little left out since no relatives spoke English.

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  5. That quilt is amazing! I love the embroidered details. I have a blanket stitched by hand by my Grandmother and Great Aunt, little hexagons made from the old polyester dresses they wore in the sixties. I have Larry’s old treasured t-shirts he saved because he loved the sayings on them. I want to turn them into a quilt for my son. That’s one of the great things about quilts is they can be made from most anything!

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  6. My sister who passed away a few weeks ago had a quilt my grandmother made that looked just like your quilt. I believe it was made by my Grandmaother Dykstra, but she had another made by my other Grandmother from Missouri whose maiden name was Smith. It was a very different design, however. I am afraid my niece, not knowing what they were, threw them away. They were on my sister’s bed in the assisted living where she lived for the last 8 years of her life. So so sorry to lose them as they were about the only family heirlooms we had. My grandmother used these same brilliant colors.

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      1. Yours is more elaborate and beautiful than my grandmother’s, which didn’t have as much embroidery on it. My other grandmother’s was a wedding ring quilt, though and very beautiful.

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  7. I really enjoyed this story about Lila’s Quilt, Eilene. The photo of the first part of the family in front of their farm home is really special. And the quilt is such a treasure. I’m amazed at what good shape it’s in. And the details are fascinating. I have never seen a quilt with these kinds of stitches, flowers and stars and more, and the names and dates are so wonderful. How fortunate that you acquired it.

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  8. The first words that popped into my head when looking at that handwork was what a find. Our ancestors had skills that came from necessity and creativity, and I always applaud what they accomplished without the machines of today. That truly was a find of epic proportion at least for this simple quilter.

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    1. It is really exceptional. Thanks for your take on the work. I’ve made a few simple quilts, all machine stitched. Haven’t done embroidery since Girl Scout days, but I can appreciate the time and effort in this piece.


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