A couple of weeks ago I got a call out of the blue from Darlene Gerster from Indianapolis. Darlene had some quilts she had collected, used and loved over the years that were now in need of new homes. As Darlene put it, “I hoped to find someone who would know something about them and provide some TLC before finding new caretakers. I also wanted to learn how to store two family quilts. I knew as soon as I read what you wrote on your website, that I would call you: ‘every quilt is unique. It silently relates the story of its maker and the time period of its creation…’ I felt sorry for those quilts looked upon with disfavor because they weren’t in perfect condition like my four and I knew you would be able to tell me more about my two family quilts.”
So on a bright Saturday morning Darlene arrives and the customers and I get to “ooh” and “ahh” over her quilts: some a trite faded, but all in excellent condition with lots of hand quilting. Darlene is delighted to learn the patterns and the ages of her quilts and how to store and hang them. Darlene leaves her greatest treasure for last: The quilt made by her paternal Great-aunt Cordelia Caroline Stohlman.
Cordelia was born in Weisburg, Indiana, (Dearborn County) in 1881. At some point her parents moved the family to nearby Dillsboro a bigger town.
As an adult everyone knew Cordelia’s voice and she knew everyone’s number. “Number Please,” she said for 56 years as she operated the switchboard for the Dillsboro Telephone Exchange. Starting when it opened in 1906 she watched it grow from six phones in town to over 400 before retiring in 1962 at age 81 when the switchboard was replaced with a dial system.
“Deal” as she was nicknamed, worked a twelve-hour night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. In the wee, quiet hours, she crocheted, embroidered and quilted. She called it her “fancywork.”
The quilt Darlene cherishes is her embroidered floral knotted comforter circa 1930s. The knots are yellow yarn: her favorite color. Her tight appliqué stitching around each flower is so tight, so consistent it looks like it was done by machine. The work is so well done it hides the blue stamped lines she would have followed to create it.
Sad to say, Darlene never saw her do her fancy work but she did get to watch her and her younger sister at the switchboard. It is just Deal’s good fortune and most likely because she never married that she was assigned to the night shift. Darlene did know her Aunt Deal who died just shy of her 96th birthday in 1977.
Now armed with a wealth of information, Darlene is now back home prepared to keep her great-aunt’s quilt in a healthy condition so she can pass it down and the legacy of her cherished great-aunt who created it.
Born Again Quilts is located at 4005 South Wayne Avenue. Come visit us at the Gathering of Quilters at Wayne HS on March 19!