Ada Ruth Marler Knight said she cried when she saw the hand crafted quilt for the first time.
“How could anyone not see the Lord’s hand in this?” the retired longtime lunchroom lady said. “Yes, I just cried.”
The colorful hand sewn quilt Knight held in her arms as she sat in the Pea River Historical Society office building on Main Street in Enterprise is still a source of wonder to her as she reflects on how it made its way from New Brockton to California and back home again.
The 52-inch by 65-inch quilt is comprised of 30 squares, each personalized with a name embroidered on it.
The common denominator of each square is an “f” shape design that identifies the quilt as a Friendship Quilt, Knight said. “A Friendship Quilt was usually made of several cloth squares from the same pattern
and created as a reminder of dear friends and beloved relatives.”
Friendship quilts took a lot of time to create because the individual fabric squares were distributed to friends or family, collected back up when finished and then pieced together into a single sheet of fabric.
Each person involved in the making of a Friendship Quilt stitched an individual block, all of the same pattern and when finished, the name of that person was hand-embroidered onto that block.
Individual blocks on a quilt may have been made over several years and sometimes they were not put together into a quilt until years later
When all the individual squares were finished, under normal circumstances, they were then pieced together and the quilt top was put into the quilting frames to be completed. Knight’s well-traveled collection of 30 squares did not originally make it that far.
In November 2017, Pea River Historical Society President Doug Bradley received an email from Joanne Kaplan of Ventura, Calif.
Bradley said that Kaplan explained that she had found the 30 pieced together squares at a flea market in California. “Personally I take pleasure in finishing quilts made in the Depression or post Depression years when women ‘made do’ and reused fabric, patching where necessary,” she told Bradley, adding that after having completed the quilt she was hoping to find its rightful owner.
The fact that many of the squares contained not only people’s names and dates but towns to include New Brockton, Elba, Andalusia and Troy led Kaplan’s search to the Wiregrass.
Contacting the Pea River Historical Society in her quest to find the quilt’s home, Kaplan said she hoped that someone would recognize the names. “If these are their birth dates (on the quilt squares), some of the women would be in their 80s now,” Kaplan noted.
In Kaplan’s correspondence with Bradley she said that her hope was that the quilt ends up “closer to where it was created.
“Perhaps someone will remember the women when they see the quilt,” Kaplan said, adding that her guess is that the fabric is from the 1930s. “Hopefully some of the women are still living and can be found.”
Armed with a list of 30 names and a phone book, Bradley said that he set out to find someone in Coffee County who knew of the quilt’s existence.
In January 2018, Bradley called Kim Marler and asked her if she knew Annie Ruth Marler or Ada Ruth Marler and explained why he was asking.
“My sister-in-law Kim Marler called me and said she had gotten a call from Mr. Bradley,” Knight said. “He asked if she knew an Ada Ruth Marler and if so was she still living?
“When she told him ‘yes’ and that I was her sister-in-law, he said he had received an email from a lady in California who had a quilt that she wondered if anyone from this area would like to have.
“The quilt was a Friendship Quilt with names embroidered on it, and one of which was mine,” Knight said. “A Friendship Quilt is made from unique squares pieced together. Each square was made by an individual who furnished the material and embroidered a name on it. Thus, no two squares are alike.
“My mother, Annie Ruth Marler, made one square for herself and one for me,” Knight said, adding that she would have been a teenager at the time. “I know mama embroidered all those names on it because that’s my mama’s writing,” Knight said, tracing the embroidered signatures with her fingers.
Knight said that the dates on some of the squares are the dates of the sewer’s birth and that judging by the last names of some of the women on the quilt, she thinks that the quilt was pieced together between 1953 and 1958. “I married in 1958 but the quilt had my maiden name Marler on it,” she said. “By this I know the quilt is between 60 and 65 years old.
“I don’t know who made the quilt or how it made it to California but I called Mr. Bradley and told him I would love to have it,” Knight said. “Of all the ladies named on the quilt that I know, I am the only one living and Mr. Bradley was kind enough to give me the quilt.”
Bradley said he contacted Kaplan to let her know the results of his research. “The dates on the squares are their dates of birth,” Bradley said. “It was a quilt made by those ladies who were apparently good friends.”
Kaplan told Bradley that she would mail the quilt after the holidays, adding that her city was currently in the state of emergency as a result of the Thomas Fire that broke out near Santa Paula Dec. 4, 2017, scorching more than 282,000 acres, burning more than 1,000 structures and forcing more than 94,000 people from their homes in Ventura County and Santa Barbara County.
“Our city lost almost 200 structures in the hills about our house and also the Botanical Gardens where I volunteer burned to the ground,” Kaplan told Bradley. “Smoke and ash are all around and will be for some time.
“I am thrilled that you found some history for the quilt,” Kaplan told Bradley. “While I completed many quilts from tops I purchased and they are all from the Depression era, this is the first and only top which has a history identified.”
Knight grew up in New Brockton the eldest of the five daughters and four sons of Annie Ruth and Johnie Marler. “There were 15 years from the oldest to the youngest,” Knight said. “The babies were twins.”
Marler said she lived around New Brockton all her life. When she married she moved to the New Haven Community near Ino.
Knight worked at the now defunct Alatex Textile Mill in Andalusia for 10 years and then worked at the Elba Schools in the lunchroom for 16 years. “Everywhere I go, they still know the lunchroom ladies,” Knight said laughing. “People that I don’t even recognize say to me ‘Didn’t you used to work in the lunch room?’”
Some have suggested that Knight hang the quilt for display, some have suggested that she use it on a bed. “Another one of my sisters-in-law gave me a quilt rack,” she said, adding that she still hasn’t completely grasped that she has the historic treasure.
“I guess I am like a child at Christmas,” Knight said. “Thank you, Mr. Bradley, for giving this heirloom a home with someone who will treasure it.
“How in this world—except for the Lord— the Lord can do anything,” Knight said smoothing the cotton squares with her hands and shaking her head. “Not many people would have gone to this much trouble to get this to us but how else but through the Lord could this have happened?”