Quilts and other comforts...

By Helen Yielding, Tecumseth & West Gwillimbury Historical Society

Traditional Quilt, from the collection of June Chambers of Bond Head, Ont. Submitted

Traditional Quilt, from the collection of June Chambers of Bond Head, Ont. Submitted

Have you ever cuddled up in a cosy blanket, or Grandma's old quilt, on a cold winter night?  Just imagine the importance of these homely items in the poorly-heated, drafty homes of the 19th century.

June Chambers invited members of the Tecumseth & West Gwillimbury Historical Society to imagine, in her presentation Quilts and Other Comforts, at the February meeting. An avid collector of vintage quilts, blankets and coverlets, she brought some beautiful examples to the meeting – tracing the history of wool production, milling, weaving and quilting, in South Simcoe.

She recalled Ellen Osler, early settler in Bond Head, who wrote of wearing all of her clothes and staying in bed to keep warm. Wool blankets were issued to Loyalists immigrating to Upper Canada, as part of their survival rations – and wool preparation and weaving skills were always in high demand. John Kelly, Irish immigrant weaver, reported more work than he could handle. Barn looms were common, spinning was a home industry, and homespun blankets were cherished.

As settlements grew, water-powered mills were established. In Newton Robinson, John Merrick processed 20,000 lbs. of wool and employed 13 workers in his water-powered woollen mill.

Beeton also boasted a woollen Mill, and a Knitting Mill, the dye from which coloured the water of Beeton Creek. One particular treasure in Chamber's collection is an 1880s coverlet with a bee motif; it was made by women at the Beeton's mill with fleece from a West Gwillimbury farm.

June displayed examples of thick, double-woven blankets and patterned coverlets woven on complicated Jacquard looms, and presented a slide show on the evolution of quilts. In the early days, warmth was added by incorporating worn clothing, or bits of fleece, and everything was repurposed. She showed slides of patterned, appliquéd, and signature quilts, demonstrating the changes in style over time.

Chambers also provided advice, on how best to store quilts and blankets to preserve their colours and fibres – a warm and wonderful topic for a cold February night.

On Monday, March 20, the Historical Society  will enjoy a visual tour of Beeton with historian and raconteur Bert Platt, 7:30 p.m. at the Tec-We-Gwill Women's Institute Hall in Newton Robins, followed by a social hour. For more information, call 9-5-775-7144 or 905-936-6549.