Sunday, May 26, 2013

Polly Wheelock’s Masterpiece!

When I arrived in Illinois ---and was being shuttled to Ottawa, I knew we were heading to a museum, but I had no idea that I would be coming face to face, and hand to fabric – with one of the most magnificent quilts I have seen in my life.

I don’t say that lightly!

And I honestly can say that the best WAS saved for last in this case.

I’m going to quote an excerpt about Polly and her quilt from “History From The Heart  A Two-Century Heritage of Illinois Quilts and Quiltmaking, Quilt Paths Across Illinois" by E Duane Elbert & Rachel Kamm Elbert where they describe Polly’s quilt as a “Complex version of the heavenly spectrum” and you will soon see why!

They write:

Unfortunately, age, dirt and light have dulled the original impact that Polly’s intricately pieced Stars and Rainbows must have possessed when it left the quilting frame…

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Book image of Polly’s Quilt.

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Me, holding Polly’s Quilt!

Polly Wheelock, who was born in Connecticut in 1785, arrived in Northern Illinois at mid-nineteenth century.  It is possible that she brought this quilt with her in 1850 when she accompanied Almena and John Clifford from upstate New York to LaSalle County.

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It is equally plausible that she brought the scraps with her and completed the quilt after the family settled in Serena Township.

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The quilt, which desceneded in the Clifford family before being donated to the LaSalle County Historical Society, is attributed to Polly, but where it was made is uncertain.  Nevertheless, it remains a tribute to the creativity that can be found in each generation.

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Looking at the quilt today raises questions about the maker’s motivation and personal vision.  One can only imagine the thoughts that crossed the minds, but probably not the lips, of Polly’s nineteenth-century friends and neighbors.

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((My thimble on one of the diamonds in one of the rainbows!))

Without question, Polly Wheelock set a brisk creative pace for the innovative Illinois quilters who followed her.  In her own way, Polly clearly demonstrated what a creative mind can accomplish with a stack of scraps and a desire to capture a rainbow.

It was this quilt that inspired me to create this Meme yesterday:


I think this suits me, and Polly – to a T!

There are many many photos of the quilt in the following slide show.  Too many to simply capture in a blog post.  I hope you will enjoy them.  Feel free to visit the album and really LOOK at the photos by clicking the photo link below.

Polly Wheelock's Rainbow Quilt, Utica IL 2013

Dear Polly, you left me SEW INSPIRED!

And thanks to Polly’s family for seeing that this fabulous example of nineteenth-century art and innovation through fabric was donated to a museum where it can be cared for!

Be sure to like our Quiltville Friends Page on Facebook for more fun!


  1. WOW!! What an amazing quilt, and how awesome that you were able to actually see it in person. It is so busy, has so much going on - I would imagine you could look at it for days, and still see new things. Love it! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Polly's quilt is truly amazing for ANY generation.

    "Mentally Creative"...I LOVE IT!

  4. Holy Smokes, Batman! Thank you so very much for sharing the images of this magnificent quilt. What an absolute treasure they have. The talent in our "Foremothers" is breath-taking.
    Unfortunately, I've come to quilting late in life, however, I can still aspire to quilting love in every quilt I make.
    Although Miss Polly was a creative wonder, you, Miss Bonnie, inspire me at every turn. Thanks for that.

  5. That quilt leaves my speechless. Thanks for sharing the quilt and a bit of history.
    You see and do the most amazing things.

  6. Polly's quilt really inspires me to continue quilting and to follow my own muse. Thank you for sharing your trip to the museum.

  7. the simple of act of doing what you love without angst over perfectionistic tendencies....we could all learn a lesson here....astonishing!

  8. This is a quilt I just have to "WOW".

  9. Wow! Thanks for sharing and yes that was an amazingly complicated quilt in so many ways! No scrap wasted, no idle hands, and what creativity! Kathy Aho in MN

  10. oh my Bonnie, what a treasure! Thank you so much for bringing it to us!

  11. and..you got to TOUCH it!!! putting your thimble on it really helps to put into perspective the size and complexity of the piecing...thanks for sharing this wonder!

  12. What an amazing quilt!!! What a quirky and fun gal Polly must have been! :o) Thanks for sharing all those great pics, too! Awesome! And yes.....I'm SO inspired! :o)

  13. The quilt is awesome!!! What a beautiful creation Polly made. How many of us have the patience to create such a treasure? Thank you for sharing!

  14. Wow, the picture in the book doesn't do it justice. Thank you for bringing it to the light and taking new pics. What a complex beautiful quilt. I wonder what her quilting friend was working on at the same time. vbg

  15. Oh Bonnie, you and Polly just inspired me beyond my dreams. What an amazing quilt and history. How lucky you were to have not only been able to see it, but to touch it and photograph it. And, how very lucky for us that you shared this. Thank you. Truly inspirational.


  16. And we thought Bonnie was the master of small scraps! Wowza! such tiny pieces and blocks! No scrap was too small for Polly to use and use them to a fantastic advantage, she did!

  17. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  18. You can tell by looking at the quilt it was made from a lot of love and I would be interested to know the story that goes with this astonishing quilt.
    That shows we don't need all the gadgets we have for quilting, for this one is so beautiful and thank you for sharing this treasure.

  19. Sampler Quilt Gone Wild!!!!!!! I love it. I like those 9 patches with the quarter square triangle units. Truly amazing.

  20. That quilt has a little bit of everything doesn't it?! Lovely!!

  21. What an amazing piece of work, and how tiny some of those pieces are! Oh my! Is there any idea of how many pieces are in the quilt? Jaw-dropping!

  22. The quilt is fascinating! I would love to see it up close and see how that center medallion was achieved. Those diamond rainbows! Wow!

  23. Such an amazing piece of art! Thanks for sharing it.

  24. Astonishing! My favorite thing is it's wild eccentricity - so much more interesting to me than if the quilt had been technically 'perfect.'

    You're right - I'll bet this raised quite a few eyebrows among her Victorian-era neighbors. Good for her!

  25. I just finished a quilt with tiny squares and triangles. Strip pieced. By machine. I'll have it machine quilted. I am humbled beyond words by Polly's quilt.

  26. Simply unbelievable! Thanks for sharing such a treasure with us Bonnie!

  27. Thank you Bonnie for so many close-ups! When looking at the picture of the whole quilt, it looks almost monotone. It's not until you see the close-up pictures that you can tell what a colorful quilt this had been when Polly made it. Yes, this quilt surely raised a few eyebrows of her contemporaries! Thank you so much for bringing yet another wonderful creation for us to enjoy with you!

  28. Do you ever wonder if any of your quilts will be around 150 years from now?? Or even 50 + years from now??

  29. Anonymous6:21 PM EDT

    MY WORD --- what a interesting and beautiful quilt. Think of the imagination she had, and the skill! I will be studying your photos in detail. Just love these quilts that are so much in the mind of the antique quilt maker.

    THANKS, have a wonderful weekend.

  30. What a beautiful example of workmanship--especially the drafting!!! Those rainbows of diamonds are beyond belief. I own that book and I'm going to take it off the shelf and check that beauty out. The years mellow a quilt so beautifully!

  31. What an amazing quilt! Almost need Brenda P or another serious quilt/mathmetician working on that one, like the Dear Jane book!!! I'm sure we'd have to use Linda Franz "Quilted Diamonds" special techniques to accomplish it. Thanks for showing this quilt and the photo's for someone like myself on the other side of the world!!
    W. Australia

  32. Anonymous6:46 AM EDT

    This is such an amasing piece. It is like she took all the creativity of er whole life and poured it all, all her hopes and dreams into this one single piece. Breathtaking.

  33. Thank you so much for sharing this masterpiece. Polly Wheelock is like a quilter's Rembrandt. What a joyful expression of a creative life.

  34. Thank You Bonnie for the wonderful slide show. I felt I was there with you. That has to be the most wonderful quilt in the world. We won't see a pattern for that one. Nancy P.

  35. Wow!!! What an amazing quilt. The complexity of it is mind boggling!!!
    I love the muted colours.


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