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Historical Society’s ‘Textile Treasure’ exhibit features 1800s work

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Sewing has made history in the north country one stitch at a time, and related crafting, tools and machinery are featured in the Jefferson County Historical Society’s “Textile Treasure” exhibit.

The exhibit, in the main gallery at the Paddock mansion, 228 Washington St., takes visitors as far back as the early 1800s with coverlets that were the work of Harry Tyler, who built his own looms and wove blankets in Henderson from 1834 to 1858.

“One of the things known for in his manufacturing process was creating a coverlet symmetrical to both sides,” said William G. Wood, executive director. “What I’ve seen from individuals is there’s an intricate design and process to this. It’s labor-intensive. It’s a historical tradition.”

Near a blue-and-white Tyler coverlet are an antique loom, christening outfits, a red and blue quilt made from 1812 military uniforms, a spinning wheel from the mid-1850s and an authentic Davis Sewing Machine made by Watertown resident Job Davis in the mid-1800s.

“This is only a piece of our collection,” Mr. Wood said.

Throughout the next several months, agency volunteers and staff will rotate exhibit items to include other pieces.

Also featured in the exhibit is a miniature coverlet made by Watertown resident Mary B. Knapp. Given to the Historical Society in the 1990s, the square coverlet depicts latticework on the mansion.

Mrs. Knapp, 66, said she’s never sold her work, and either donates it or simply enjoys teaching others how to quilt. She began quilting in the 1970s, and has continued into her retirement. She was a biology teacher at Watertown High School until 2001.

Mrs. Knapp has published quilting books and has made many quilts of various patterns for her family, friends and charities.

“I get bored if I sit around doing nothing,” she said. “I’m completely self-taught. Quilts are made to show creativity, and appreciation for the person you’re giving it to.”

Some of her favorite patterns, Mrs. Knapp said, are the Peony Block and the Forbidden Fruit, both from the 1800s. Whether the end products are hand- or machine-sewn, Mrs. Knapp said, they’re meant to last a lifetime, either on display or as functional items.

“You have a chance to express yourself,” she said.

Coinciding with the exhibit, Mrs. Knapp will lead a workshop on learning to draft tree quilt blocks at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Historical Society. Preregistration is required by calling the agency at 782-3491, and a $10 entrance fee is required. Seating is limited to 20 people. Materials and a light lunch will be provided.

At 1 p.m. that day, Mrs. Knapp will host a free talk and book signing for her recently published book, “Star Quilts.” Proceeds will benefit the Historical Society.

Mr. Wood said people like Mrs. Knapp help preserve traditions that started centuries ago.

“Maybe this is a reassurance of (quilting), I don’t know,” he said. “When you work on it and complete it, you can create something that can last generations.”

The agency is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

For more information about the agency, including admission fees, visit www.jeffersoncountyhistory.org.

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