1934 Athelstan Quilt Squares Story: Post 1

Little did I know how stopping at a yard sale would alter my life several years later.

It was a typical, sunny Southern Californiaday (around 2005 or 2006).  It was a Friday and I was off of work. I’d driven out to a friend’s condo in Palm Springs for a few hours. While leaving town that afternoon, I saw a sign staked at the edge of the street.  Giant black letters proclaimed “YARD SALE” with an arrow pointing left.

Hmmmmm, I wondered. I wonder if yard sales in Palm Springs are any different than the ones at home. I quickly turned down the side street and stopped to browse the graveled front yard, littered with tables and “good deals” covering most of the yard area.  I walked around, covering the area without spending too much time.  Videos for $2 each, stacks of paperback books, tires, the usual miscellaneous assortment of unwanted items.

Then … I spotted the table with bedding, towels and such.  I honestly don’t remember what else was there because I spied a laundry basket with quilted fabrics in it.  I looked closer and it appeared to be several quilt tops in the basket, pieced but never completed into quilts.  There were some quilt squares nestled in amongst the quilt tops, some Sunbonnet Sues and Overall Bills.  They appeared to be older fabrics.  There wasn’t a price on the basket or on the individual pieces.

Over the prior few years I’d acquired a few old quilts at antique stores.  A very few, because I usually couldn’t afford them, they were typically priced way out of my budget.  Hoping that I could afford to purchase at least one of the quilt tops, I approached the lady that appeared to be in charge of the yard sale. 

I tried very hard to appear nonchalant and almost bored. “How much do you want for the quilt tops?” I asked, knowing I had $20 in my wallet and could run to an ATM to get another $20.  Higher than that, I’d be out of luck.

“Well, they’re pretty old,” she answered.  (Duh!  I thought to myself.  Why do you think I want one so much?  But I wisely kept my thoughts to myself.)  “Twenty dollars,” she added.

“For each one?” I asked, trying to quickly decide which one I wanted most.

“For all of them.”

Poker face intact, I calmly said, “I’ll take them.”  Inside I was jumping up and down, almost doing cartwheels as I strolled to the car (trying very hard not to run) to get the twenty dollars for my new treasures.  Handing her the money, I started to take them all out of the laundry basket and she said, “Take the basket too.”

I think I said thank you.  I’m sure I did, but I was almost delirious and trying so hard not to show my delight so she wouldn’t snatch the basket back and raise the price.  I sat the basket in the back seat and drove away as fast as I could without attracting any Palm Springs police officer’s attention.

Arriving home an hour and a half later, I proudly carried my yard sales treasures inside.  Lifting each piece out, one at a time, revealed that I now had three pieced and unquilted quilt tops, along with a set of thirty Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Bill quilt squares.

Each of the squares had a name stitched on it, except for three. The piece de resistance was one square that was stitched with ‘ToDoris, From Mother, 1934’. I was ecstatic!

Any of the quilt tops, by itself, was worth far more than the twenty dollars I paid for the entire lot.  Two were machine stitched and just blocks, no particular pattern.  One top, my favorite of the three, was completely hand stitched. It consists of little tiny hexagons making up a pattern similar to ‘Grandmothers Flower Garden’, except the usual circle of hexagons had one additional hexagon on each side, creating a diamond type design.

The wheels in my brain started turning.  If the quilt squares had names on them, and 1934 on one of the squares … then somewhere, some place in 1934 all of these names were connected in some way, maybe not all to each other, but at least to Doris and Mother.

Making a list of all of the names on the squares, I added notes for each.  Which ones had matching fabrics, same surnames, similar stitching.  On many I made the note ‘very young or very old’, due to the quality of the stitching.  I sat down at the computer several times, putting various combinations of names in the search engine, trying to discover a common denominator among some of the names.

I didn’t find any answers.  Their secret was to remain hidden for several more years.

I moved from California.  The squares, along with the quilt tops and my other antique quilts were packed up for the move.  They stayed packed away for three years.

And then …..

The secrets start to emerge.  How?  What secrets do the squares start to tell?  Come back later in the week to find out what happens next.

Note …. to see photos of all 30 quilt blocks, check our Facebook page: 1934 Athelstan Quilt Squares

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sueannbowlingauthor
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 03:45:10

    You’re tagged (She Writes.) You are asked to blog 10 random facts about yourself. Also include a link to my blog and links to three other bloggers. Have a look at my blog (should be up Thursday) to see what’s going on.


  2. trishafaye
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 23:47:07

    Okay Sue! This shall be my next post. Thanks for the tag!


  3. thiseclecticlife
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 15:08:08

    This is absolutely amazing, Pat. I can’t believe that you can track down who made those squares so long ago. Excellent detective work if you can!


    • trishafaye
      Sep 16, 2011 @ 15:18:48

      It has been so much fun Shelly! LOTS and LOTS of hours on the computer, evenings and weekends and …. (which is why I haven’t gotten any crocheted squares to you BTW) but it has been a great journey. I’m in contact with one lady (who was 18 mos old when her mom made her square) and another lady’s daughter (Evelyn was 9 when she made hers. She’s passed but I’ve met her daughter via email). More of the story to come this weekend!


  4. ClaireMcA
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 02:56:03

    If you ever come to the south of France, we have a lovely, intimate museum here in Calvisson, specialising in the “Boutis”. Francine Nicolle has researched this french quilting style and written an amazing book, also available in english and in early October they have the ‘Fete du Boutis’ where poeple get together to celebrate and share in this craft which seems to be making a revival.

    Here is a link, sorry its in french only, but often the best kept secrets of France are like that.



  5. Tonette Joyce
    Aug 23, 2015 @ 17:00:55

    What an incredible find! Thanks for your visit to me; I will be back to read more.


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September 2011

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