YOUR TOWN: Stitches on display: 'It wasn't ours. It was history'

Posted: Jan. 14, 2014 7:15 am Updated: Feb. 4, 2014 9:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

MENDON, Ill. -- A gift from mother to daughter put some Mendon area history in stitches -- and on display.

"Many years ago when my mother was breaking up her housekeeping in Chicago and moving to Forsyth, Mo., for her retirement, she handed me a bag full of quilt projects," said Linda Shilt McInvale, better known in this area by her middle name Georgann. "I've always been a sewer, a stitcher. My mother was, too."

McInvale put the bag into her own stash of stuff where it sat until she cleaned out her sewing room two years ago. Inside, she found a treasure -- quilt blocks with hand-embroidered designs and signatures, including family names she recognized from the Mendon area.

"My sister and I thought it was probably a project that Grandma's quilt guild from church had done and never got finished," McInvale said. "We decided we couldn't let this go. It was too much a part of history and Adams County to let it be thrown away or deteriorate."

So the sisters -- McInvale from Floresville, Texas, southeast of San Antonio, and Ellen Daw from Columbus, Ohio -- put together a quilt from the blocks, then McInvale brought it home to quilt by hand.

In the meantime, the sisters learned from family members that the names on the quilt blocks were friends of their mother, the late Dorothy Dittmer Shilt, not their grandmother Mary Dittmer.

"Those people were my mother's classmates, like a home ec class," McInvale said.

Shilt started high school at Coatsburg, then transferred her junior year to Mendon Township High School. But in the winter of 1931-32, she contracted scarlet fever, which quarantined the family for the rest of the school year.

"She was home from school a long time. Our supposition was the class made this and had given the blocks to my mother like a card," McInvale said.

Many of the names on the 17 blocks were from the Class of 1933, which would have been Shilt's class, but she didn't complete her high school work and graduate until 1935.

"One of the blocks was by her teacher, Mrs. (Stella) Oliver. We had grown up hearing about Mrs. Oliver. She must have been a real influence on my mother's life," McInvale said.

Other names on the blocks, Elizabeth and Doris Tieken and Della Tenvorde, were cousins of Shilt.

Three blocks featuring only a signature and no other design were cut down and combined into one. Twelve blocks went into the quilt, and the sisters turned another four, with designs too large to cut down, into a bed runner.

"The only block in the quilt that is not original was my mother's signature block," McInvale said.

"I had my mother's 4-H book from her clothing project done at the same time period," Daw said. "We just enlarged her signature, and Georgann embroidered around it. If you didn't know, you wouldn't know it wasn't one of the originals."

It was a labor of love for the sisters to honor Shilt, an avid seamstress and knitter who took up quilting after she retired.

"It felt like a fun connection with Mom's past," Daw said. "As we were making it, we said we have to give this back to the area. It wasn't ours. It was history."

The sisters brought the quilt to a family gathering last summer in Carthage, handing it over to their aunts and uncle -- Delores Dempsey of Pittsfield, Donald and Bernice Dittmer of Coatsburg and Rosemary Ashbaker of O'Fallon.

"They asked us to display it someplace where people could see it," Donald Dittmer said, so the quilt was presented to the Adams County Olde Tyme Association for its Round Barn Museum at the fairgrounds near Mendon.

"It has drawn a lot of attention from relatives from the ones who made the blocks. They have come to see it and appreciate seeing it up there," said Jeanne Lubbe, who oversees the museum. "It's a good addition to our collection."

The friendship, or signature, quilt was popular in Shilt's school days and still today -- and it's unique for the museum.

"We have other quilts up there that are older, but none that have anything like this," Lubbe said.





A friendship quilt with blocks made by classmates of the late Dorothy Dittmer Shilt is on display at the Adams County Olde Tyme Association's Round Barn Museum near Mendon.

The barn is open the second Sunday of the month from May through October, with volunteers at the museum starting in late March to get ready to open.

Dittmer's daughters, Ellen Daw and Linda Georgann McInvale, put together a quilt from the blocks, and an aunt researched the names.

Names listed on the quilt were:

º Thelma Uppinghouse, who married Clifton McCabe and lived in Mendon.

º Fern Stratman (Schnelle) of Quincy.

º Kathleen Robertson (Hesse) of Dallas, Texas.

º Ruth Whitefield (Adkinson) of Rogers, Ark.

º Lois and Alice Mealiff, sisters who married brothers Cary and Clyde Elston and lived in Mendon.

º Helen Shriver, who married a Hirst and became a teacher.

º Carol McClung (Krasuski) of Loveland, Colo.

º Nora Jane McCormick who married Cappy Haistings and lived in Mendon.

º Lucille Schlosser (Wehner) who lived in Warsaw.

º Mary A. Reece.

º Virginia Robertson.

º Helen Oller, who married Floyd Stratman.

º Stella Oliver, Dittmer's home ec teacher.

º Elizabeth and Doris Tieken and Della Tenvorde, cousins of Dittmer.

Daw and McInvale also added a block for their mom, who married George Shilt and lived in Brookfield, a suburb of Chicago, until moving to Forsyth, Mo. She went to college after her youngest child was in school and became an elementary school teacher.