CASPER — Women traveling the Oregon, Mormon and California trails more than 150 years ago would have stitched these same patterns.
They would have used all the fabric scraps they could find. Around the fire at night, they would have pulled out needle and thread to make quilt blocks representing a Christian cross and the evening star and birds flying through the air.
This summer, a group of volunteer quilters created a 16-block quilt composed of mid- to late-19th century designs to commemorate the National Historic Trails Center’s 10th anniversary. The quilt was donated Tuesday in a public presentation at the Trails Center.
Pioneer women quilted to commemorate significant life events such as births, marriages and journeys. The 10th anniversary quilt was created in that same vein and mirrors a contemporary, quilt-inspired artwork that was installed outside of the museum this summer.
“This serves as a tribute to pioneer women,” Trails Center interpreter Alex Rose said.
The idea came from a Trails Center volunteer, who led the staff to Ellen Green, a longtime quilter who grew up in Casper.
As a little girl, Green liked to imagine life on the trails. She was in awe of the women she heard about in stories, the ones who walked westward with their families in ill-fitting shoes, long sleeves and bonnets — even when pregnant.
“Every time we’d drive anyplace, I’d get this picture in my mind of what it would have been like,” Green said. “My God, they were really dedicated.”
Green recruited six of her friends from a local quilting group and the Casper Needle Guild to make the blocks. They flipped through quilting books to find designs from the mid-1800s, patterns that would have originated in the eastern and southeastern United States before migrating west with the pioneers.
It’s common for quilters to amass mountains of excess materials over the years, so the volunteers went to their private collections for fabric.
“We call it the stash,” Green said.
Additional materials were donated.
The women chose muted brown, green and cream fabric shades, colors that would have been most readily available to pioneers on the trail, Green said. The patterns range from Biblical themes, such as the Jacob’s Ladder design, to ones that reflect life, such as the log cabin block. Concentric squares represent the logs, and an inner square of red represents a warm hearth, Green said.
The Trails Center name is embroidered on the bottom of the quilt, along with the date of its 10th anniversary celebrations, Aug. 4.
Rose said he hopes to keep the quilt hanging in the Trails Center for years to come. Quilts have a habit of becoming family heirlooms, passed on from generation to generation. This one is no different.
“Quilts exude warmth for the body and soul,” Rose said. “Quilts are cherished and loved.”