Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday - Emily Wiley Munroe’s Quilt- 1860

Ten family members in Lowell
On our outing to see Emily (Wiley) Munroe's Quilt

Last November I wrote a posting about a quilt made by a member of my family tree. I didn’t know about this quilt, nor about this branch of the family, until I used to search a name. I had been searching for my 4x great grandfather Luther Simonds Munroe, but his namesake was his nephew, with the same name, and this second Luther’s wife had made a quilt during the Civil War era. Fortunately for me, Emily (Wiley) Munroe’s quilt had been donated by a descendant to the New England Quilt Museum, and was also the subject of a chapter in a book called “Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth” edited by Lynne Z. Bassett.

The Cover of "Massachusetts Quilts"

I contacted the New England Quilt Museum last fall, and they told me that the Munroe quilt had been on exhibit earlier in the year, for the publication of the book, but it was currently in storage. Connie Colum Barlow, the executive director kindly invited me to come to the museum to see the quilt up close and personal. I wanted my extended family to see the quilt, too, so we decide on May as the mutually agreeable time for everyone to drive from Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and other parts of Massachusetts to the Lowell Quilt Museum.

A Quilt Museum curator named Laura Lane was very kind to take the quilt out of archival storage for us, and spread it out on a large table so we could see it up close. However, we were unable to take any photographs. Ten cousins, aunts and spouses gathered around and Laura gave us a very delightful explanation of the details in the quilt. It was made of 54 individually bound squares whip stitched together to form a coverlet. The squares were wool, each appliquéd and embroidered with animals, hearts and flowers. The squares were backed with denim or mattress ticking.

It was immediately apparent that browns, greys, blacks and drab colors were the usual clothing scraps used by Emily Munroe for this quilt. Bright red embroidery spiced up the patterns, but I was struck by how drab their clothing must have been. The Munroes were simple farmers in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, selling market vegetables, probably to Boston. The quilt fabrics were probably scraps of jackets, trousers and farm clothing.

Emily Munroe's Quilt
Photo from the Massachusetts Quilts book
The quilt seemed to be in remarkable condition, with the colors bright and dark. However, if you looked closely there were a few moth holes and wear marks. The coverlet must have been well used and well loved. I’m sure it was lovingly displayed, too, but guarded from strong sun over the years. It is in need of some restoration and conservation to prevent any further damage.

The whole family enjoyed the outing to the quilt museum very much, even the husbands who tagged along. The gift shop sold post cards of Emily Munroe’s quilt, and we all bought several. I bought a copy of the “Massachusetts Quilts” book, and we also saw a wonderful display of Amish crib quilts upstairs. Laura Lane told us that next year, for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, there will be a display at the Quilt Museum of civil war era quilts. Emily Munroe’s quilt will be taken out of storage and displayed again for this exhibit!

If you are interested in the New England Quilt Museum, the website is listed below. It is in Lowell, Massachusetts housed in a building that used to be a bank for the women mill workers in the 1830s and 1840s. We also all enjoyed lunch at a lovely Greek restaurant around the corner, and celebrated my aunt’s 82nd birthday with a cake. Lowell is full of ethnic restaurants, too many to mention here. The Lowell National Park visitor center was at the end of the block, and the Trolley Museum across the street. Around the corner are the Boott Cotton Mill and the Boarding House Museums. Everything is very close and handy, and in the summer you can enjoy a tour with a National Park ranger on the canals, or on the trolleys.

For more information:

My blog post about Emily Wiley Munroe’s Quilt in 2009

The New England Quilt Museum

Massachusetts Quilts: Our Commonwealth, by Lynne Zacek Bassett, editor, University Press of New England, 2009.
Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Gorgeous quilt--great story!

  2. However drab the background material for this masterpiece is, I believe the lovely embroidery brightened it up. A lovely piece, and a great idea for a trip to see it.

  3. Heather, I'm so glad you got to see the quilt and you made a day of it. What a great family photo of the 10 of you. Maybe you will be back next year, and I can see it also, perhaps with you. Thanks.

  4. That is a treasure! And I personally love the color scheme - not drab, just sincere.

  5. That's a beautiful quilt, love the colors. Lowell is a really neat place to visit and explore. I am glad you enjoyed your visit : )

  6. The quilt is wonderful. I saw it when it was on exhibit! Last I knew, Froncie Quinn was creating a pattern with this design. She makes patterns for museum quilts. When we last visited Lowell, the National Park Visitor Center was vacant and closed down, no doubt the result of the government's attempts to save $$. I had bought some woven toweling that was made right there in Lowell and made one towel with it (had to finish two ends). Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Patricia Cummings,