Southern magnolias: The women who made the famous Mt. Ida quilt

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 4/7/17

In 1851, a wedding brought 12 women together at the Mt. Ida Plantation in Talladega County to make a floral album quilt for the bride and groom.

The plantation, like the Old South, is gone. It burned to the ground in 1956 after being struck by …

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Southern magnolias: The women who made the famous Mt. Ida quilt

Posted

In 1851, a wedding brought 12 women together at the Mt. Ida Plantation in Talladega County to make a floral album quilt for the bride and groom.

The plantation, like the Old South, is gone. It burned to the ground in 1956 after being struck by lightning. Today, only five of its original six columns remain, relics of a civilization so famously gone with the wind.

The quilt, however, survives. It was donated to the Alabama Department of Archives and History in 1958 by the great-granddaughter of one of the quilt makers on the condition that “it should not be hidden in a trunk.”

In 2013, Talladega native Sarah Bliss Wright came to the Archives to assess its potential as a quilt study, or studying history by creating a quilt inspired by an antique quilt.

The focus in 2014 was “Quilts of the Civil War: 1850-1865.”

Soon, Wright had convinced 12 of her relatives and friends to help her recreate the Mt. Ida quilt.

Each woman lived on or near property that one of the original 12 women once called home. Several of the women could even visit the final resting places of their 19th century counterparts in their backyard.

The Mt. Ida Society held its inaugural meeting in January 2013. The women, none of whom were quilters, decided that their limited needle skills were sufficient to make a quilt one-fourth the size of the original.

They bought their fabric in Mobile, just as cotton from the plantation was once sent to Mobile and fabrics made the return journey to Talladega.

For batting, the women picked cotton from a field along Highway 21 and had it ginned in Tennessee.

While stitching their squares, Wright’s group also learned about the women of the plantation and the turbulent times in which they lived.

All of the original quilters belonged to the same church and were either related to the bride, Virginia Mallory; the groom, James Welch; or in some cases, both since the two were second cousins.

Ann Mallory, the mother of the bride, was building a house while preparing for the wedding.

Two weeks after the wedding, the groom’s niece, Ann Wallace, had a baby girl and named her Betty after her sister who had died in 1849 at age 16. Tragically, Wallace would succumb to typhoid fever when Betty was 3 years old.

The groom’s step-mother, Sarah Welch, was the daughter of a Methodist preacher who became a Baptist preacher’s wife. In 1855, she “burst the bands of Methodism,” according to the history of the Baptist church she joined.

The groom’s aunt, Mary Jane Welch, lost a son in the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

Several of the quilters had died or moved away by the time the Civil War began. Those who remained were forced to live through Rousseau’s Raid in July 1864, during which almost every private residence was entered by 2,000 cavalry.

The groom’s sister, Hannah Reynolds, became the owner of the wedding quilt when her brother moved to Florida following his wife’s death from yellow fever in 1876.

The replica Mt. Ida quilt was completed in February 2014 and was selected by the American Quilt Study Group to be exhibited around the United States.

The original quilt is on display at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts through April 16 in a collaborative exhibition with the Archives called “Sewn Together: Two Centuries of Alabama Quilts.”

The exhibit website, www.sewntogetheralabama.org., has a wealth of information about historical Alabama quilts as well as videos on quilt preservation and a Spotify playlist featuring more than 70 tracks.

Wright’s presentation on the making of the Mt. Ida quilt can be viewed on the Archives’ YouTube channel.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.