CIVIL WAR ERA QUILT. (From left) Bertrand quilters Shirley Langenberg, Virginia Grafe and owner Rita Skiles of Huntley display the Civil War-era quilt Skiles salvaged from her grandparents’ home. The two Bertrand women spent over 200 hours over the last three months to complete a quilt that was started as far back as 1860. (Bertrand Herald Photo/Stuart Osborn).
Two Bertrand Quilters Get Chance To Work On Civil War Era Quilt
By Stuart Osborn
A Huntley woman’s effort to salvage an old metal clothes hamper from her grandparents’ house has resulted in a genealogical journey and a historically significant surprise.
It also gave two Bertrand quilters the opportunity to put their handiwork on an authentic Civil War-era quilt.
Fourteen years ago, Rita Skiles was gathering items from her deceased grandparents’ home in Huntley. “I couldn’t bear to see some of their things sold off, so after all the other relatives took what they wanted, I took what was left,” Skiles said. “I stored it and didn’t think about it much until I decided to clear out some things last year.”
As she rummaged through her salvaged items, she came across a metal clothes hamper stuffed full of towels and rags. She dug to the bottom and found a hand-sewn quilt top. She was intrigued by it and decided to try to learn more about the piece. She contacted the Central Nebraska Quilt Guild at the Nebraska Prairie Museum in Holdrege, who told her the top was “really old.”
Skiles’ next step was a trip to UNL’s International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln. When it came time for the center’s experts to look at her quilt top, Skiles related, “They all got real excited and it immediately attracted attention and everybody started to gather around.”
After examining the fabric, the experts told Skiles that the quilt top dates back to the Civil War. They then adjourned to study images of similar fabric samples on computer, which verified the fabric was common to the 1860-1865 era.
Skiles then decided, since it was only the quilt top, she would like to see a completed quilt, but she had no idea who she would contact about doing such a piece of work.
“It seems like everyone I talked to told me…you need to go see those Bertrand ladies. They all said the Bertrand ladies did a good job,” Skiles recalled. “Then, I didn’t know how to get hold of the Bertrand ladies, so I kept asking around until someone told me that there was some quilting going on at the Young at Heart Senior Center.”
That was last October and that was when local quilters Virginia Grafe and Shirley Langenberg came into the picture.
“Rita brought in the top, and she had purchased the bottom and the batting,” Shirley said. “We all looked and talked it over and she asked if we would take on the project. Virginia and I said we would.”
They have worked on the quilt since then. Virginia estimated the two have worked about 20 hours a week or over 200 hours on the project.
“We were very pleased that Rita asked us,” Shirley said. “Virginia and I are very honored that we got to work on a quilt that is over 150 years old. It was a wonderful opportunity.”
While the two Bertrand ladies stitched away, Rita did some genealogical research, which led her to even more surprises. “I’ve been able to figure out the quilt was originally made by my great-great grandmother, Delila Dilley, who lived in Pattonsburg, Missouri,” Skiles said. “It was likely handed down to her only daughter, my great grandmother Nancy Sims, and brought to the Alma area when she moved here. She probably didn’t finish it and it probably came down through the family to my grandfather, Guy Sims, who died in 1964. Guy and his wife Alice…their home was eventually sold, and now, I have the quilt.”
She said her genealogical research has led her to find family members she didn’t know she had as well as to give her a better idea of how her family came about. “There is even information showing that I have long-ago relatives who fought in the Revolutionary War and survived,” Skiles related.
Although the quilt has taken on a brownish-beige hue, Skiles said she was told by UNL that the fabric was originally colored with purples and lavenders. With that, she purchased accurate historical reproductions for the back and the batting and chose a light purple color for the edges of the quilt.
She added, “One of the things UNL doesn’t do is give a monetary value. We only know it’s from around the time of the Civil War. They did give me a certificate of authenticity and a fabric replica of it that I will have sewn onto the quilt.”
She said she has some antique bedroom furniture in her home and will display the quilt in that sort of antique setting. “The room has a lot of my family’s old photos, wedding photos and the like. I think the quilt will be at home there.”
What will become of the Civil War era quilt in the future?
She concluded, “I have a daughter and two sons. One of them will probably get it. If not, it might go to a museum. Until then, I’ll keep it with the family’s historical photos.”