Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Praise of Jane Austen: An Album Quilt

Nearly a year ago, this stunning quilt made its journey from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Baltimore, Maryland. Mildred Tahara, who placed every stitch into this quilt, generously donated the quilt to the Baltimore Appliqué Society (BAS), with one request: that it be used as a model for teaching. The quilt, In Praise of Jane Austen, tells quite a story. I (Teri) asked Mildred if I could share the story of her quilt with you. Her narrative follows, in italics:

I began to think of a Jane Austen quilt around the years I was following Downton Abbey seasons on Masterpiece theater on PBS. Pat Bauer of California, a hand quilter in Elly Sienkiewicz’s Empty Spools class at Asilomar, in Pacific Grove, California, was very fond of the Jane Austen novels. Chatting with her in the evening while appliquéing and reviewing what was taught in Elly’s class, we would discuss Jane Austen’s novels. I ended up taking several years of Elly’s week-long classes with Pat, during which time I read the delightful and thought-provoking Austen novels, set in England during a period of horse-drawn carriages and charming country houses. In my mind, I contrasted the Downton Abbey years—the first quarter of the 20th century of WWI, trains, the earliest automobiles, silent films—that was being recreated on TV—with the years a hundred years earlier of horse-drawn carriages and relatively quiet domestic life, described in the Austen novels. My Downton Abbey quilt was completed a few years later.

I was deeply interested in Crazy Quilts, having read that these quilts were inspired in part by the Japanese art works on display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. I asked Elly how I could use Crazy Quilting in Baltimores. One suggestion she made was for me to consider using them as cornerstones when I worked on wide borders. What a perfect solution! I was absolutely thrilled. I could embellish and embroider to my heart’s content while working on these colorful squares. I have used Crazy Quilt cornerstones in several of my large Baltimore quilts. You see them in the Jane Austen quilt, and the suggestion was first made by Elly, a truly inspiring and encouraging instructor. I also began to embellish the appliqué in my album blocks with embroidery, ribbon flowers, and beads. All this was at once challenging and great fun!

I think that most of us who work with our hands in fashioning an album block or in planning a quilt find our minds wandering while we ply our needle. I came to quilting around the time I turned 60. Much of my thoughts go back through all the years I’ve lived, the books and poetry I’ve read, the music I so enjoy listening to, memorable movies I have seen, the magnificent works of art I’ve enjoyed in art museums, etc.

While working on the Jane Austen quilt, I reviewed the Austen novels, thought of the memorable scenes in movie versions of the novels, and decided that all I needed in six blocks were the names of the two, who after many trials and tribulations, marry at the end of a long, complicated courtship. If you had read and enjoyed Persuasion as I did, you would recall the pain Anne Elliott experienced throughout the novel before Captain Wentworth finally proposes to her. Remembered are scenes taking place in Lyme and Bath.

Persuasion (1817)— Anne Elliott to marry Wentworth

I could have selected just one Jane Austen novel instead and have in the album blocks inscriptions about favorite scenes and episodes in a single novel. I chose instead to cover all six complete novels by Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility (1811)—Elinor Dashwood to marry Edward Ferrars

Pride and Prejudice (1813)—Lizzie Bennet to marry Mr. Darcy (Fitzwilliam Darcy)

Mansfield Park (1814)—Fanny Price to marry Edmund Bertram 

Emma (1815)—Emma Woodhouse to marry Mr. Knightley
Northanger Abbey (1817)—Catherine Morland to marry Henry Tilney

Only Yesterday, by Mildred Machiko Tahara of Honolulu, Hawaii; a Baltimore Album Quilt inspired by the characters and memorable scenes in "Downton Abbey," set in North England during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The hand appliqué in the nine blocks is lavishly embellished with embroidery and beadwork.  

Mildred sent the photo above of her "Downton Abbey" quilt, Only Yesterday. As she mentioned, she worked on these quilts at about the same time and reflected on the two time periods, a hundred years apart. If you are interested to learn more about the world during the time Austen wrote her books, click here to read Pride and Prejudice and the Regency World. You might also be interesting in seeing a quilt thought to have been made by the Austen women, in Barbara Brackman's post, The Austen Quilt.

The BAS is honored to receive this lovely gift from Mildred. In fact, in June, we held a tea to celebrate her beautiful work and learn more about her and her quilt. I loved studying Mildred's  embellishment techniques in her quilt, and I am privileged to teach the workshops sponsored by the BAS on these ribbon and embroidery skills. The first workshop will be held this month, when we will begin to stitch the Flower Basket, the center medallion In Praise of Jane Austen. Elly Sienkiewicz has kindly given us permission to use her patterns for the workshops, inspiring us as she inspired Mildred. 

Velvet leaves, ribbon-stitched stems, folded rosebuds, ultrasuede acorns and calyxes

Ribbon ferns, beaded ribbon trumpet flowers

Gathered wired-ribbon flowers with beaded centers

I have been working diligently to finish my version of the block, which I will share when I've finished. You may have seen glimpses of parts of it on our Instagram or Facebook pages. It will be exciting to see our Flower Baskets come to life!

Many thanks to Mildred Tahara, both for sharing her gifts of lavish stitchery through donating her quilt to BAS as a teaching tool, and for telling us the story behind her quilts. I love how she was thinking about the history and cultures of each era as she stitched. Stitching can be such a calming time for thoughtful reflection.

What about you? What do you think about when you are stitching?


  1. Beautiful! And that is an interesting question. Thoughts run through my head so fast I cannot begin to narrow them down. However one thing I always think when I am stitching is how lucky I am to have found something that gives me such peace. Thanks for sharing.

    1. As many thoughts as stitches! It is a peaceful practice, I agree.

  2. I really likes your blog! You have shared the whole concept really well and very beautifully soulful read!
    Thanks for sharing