Two local sisters and the story of how their histories are quilted together is in the 2013 winter edition of Goldenseal magazine.
Sisters Isolene Michael and Delma Garrison have treasured the "friendship quilts" given to them by their mother, Essie Myres Gump, in 1975. But the quilts' history goes back even further. The handiwork was completed in the winter of 1931-32 from squares provided by Gump's friends and relatives who lived on Plum Run in Marion County. In 1975, the two quilts were given to my Michael and Garrison. They were the oldest daughters of Harrison and Essie Gump.
Both quilts are in excellent condition and are used as bed covers and, at times, wall decorations, according to the article's author, Edwin Daryl Michael.
Pictured from left are Isolene Michael and Delma Garrison. (Photograph by Tyler Evert)
"My mother has since given hers to me, and my aunt has given hers to her daughter, Janice, who in turn gifted it to her daughter, Amy, on the occasion of her wedding in 2003," he said.
Friendship quilts were often created by West Virginia women who joined together to make their work more creative and fun through collaboration. A woman would provide her female friends and/or relatives with a single, small square of white cotton cloth and ask each to sew a design on the square. The actual design was left up to the imagination of the friends, but one requirement was that each square must contain the name or initials of the friend. The squares were then incorporated into a bed-size, friendship quilt.
"Each square of the 1931 friendship quilt given to my mother contains the name or initials of one of my grandmother's friends, including Tena Efaw, Edna Fluharty, Ida Hamilton, Sada Ice, Pearl Moore, Alta Rice, and Georgie Toothman," writes Edwin Daryl Michael. "Unfortunately, most squares do not contain full names. Several contain only first names, such as Bertha, Bessie, Dessie, Emma, Evelyn, Lillian, Louie, Maggie, Minnie, Ola, Ruby, Vallie, and Vereda. Interestingly, Annie J., Ella T., Martha T., Mildred J., Nora M., and Pearl T. grace six squares, while three others contain only the initials: J. S., D. S. T. and M. O. R.
"The quilt given to my aunt Delma is 72 inches by 82 inches, and contains 30, 9-inch squares. Each square of that quilt contains the name of a relative, including Delma Gump, Isolene Gump, Verta Gump, Bertha Myers, Lillie Myers, Margaret Thomas, Emma R. Toothman, Ocie Toothman, Clara T., Delphia T., Mildred T., Opal T., Virginia T., Bernice, Clara Lou, Effie, Goldie, Hazel, Hazell, Irene, Jessie, Lurrain, Mabel, Mavis, Maxine, Mother, Otie, Stella, and Vallie. The center square of her quilt has the date, 1931, along with the inscription, "Aunt Mary E. Toothman, Age 74."
Amy, Delma's granddaughter, had long admired the quilt and often asked Delma to tell her about the women who made each square. Amy first hung the quilt in the bedroom of her house, which became the nursery when her daughter, Nina Grace, was born. "Amy would rock Nina when she was crying and sooth her by reading aloud the names of the quilt," writes Edwin Daryl Michael. "For some reason, this trick comforted the colicky baby."
Obviously the quilts held comforting power beyond the warmth of being covered in them. They also provide a visible history, like so many quilts made by women who showed their families and friends love through their handiwork.
"Essie Gump's quilts outlived her and will certainly outlive her children and even her children's children. They are a living piece of history, documenting the many skills of farmwomen who were instrumental in the settlement of such West Virginia locations as Plum Run.
"There are many questions I should have asked my grandmother while she was alive," writes Edwin Daryl Michael. "Many involved the history of our ancestors, the origin of several pieces of furniture, and the ingredients of certain recipes. Another involved the full names of each woman who offered a square for her friendship quilt in 1931. The quilt would be treasured even more today if we knew the full names of the Plum Run women who contributed to this project."
For more on the history of the Gump quilts, pick up a Goldenseal magazine currently on the newsstands. They are available in Wetzel County at Witschey's Market in New Martinsville and Hundred Farm Supply in Hundred, or by calling 304-558-0220, ext. 134.
Goldenseal, the magazine of West Virginia traditional life, is produced by the Division of Culture and History and takes its stories from the recollections of West Virginians living throughout the state. Oral history fieldwork and documentary photography result in four issues per year with articles on subjects such as labor history, folklore, music, farming, religion, traditional crafts, food, and politics. Subscriptions are available for $20 per year. For more information visit www.wvculture. org/goldenseal.