Friday, September 9, 2016

Lena Wallace and Malaga 1937

Lena was born Helena Teresa Joost in South Dakota in 1888. At the age of 19 Lena married William Harry Wallace.  Lena and William moved to Malaga, Washington, in 1934.  The Wallace family were orchardists, growing apples like many of their farming neighbours.

Lena spent most of her married life in Malaga and when she died at the age of 84 she was survived by her four children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

My initial theory about the origins of Lena’s signature quilt was that it had been made for Lena by her friends.  The quilt was featured in the Down Under Quilts magazine in 2013 and this was what I wrote at the time:
“I found each of the twenty-five women on the quilt though  The name in the centre is Lena Wallace, aged 47, and I looked for a reason behind the quilt making.  The women were aged between 25 and 65, a few were in the work force but the majority were keeping house.  I could not find an event or occasion for Lena to celebrate with her friends.  What I did find was a clue in the 1940s census.  Lena’s parents were born in Germany and the language spoken at Lena’s childhood home was German.  I’d like to think that her friends were saying, ‘No matter what is happening in Europe and the rest of the world, we are your friends and neighbours and your home is here with us.’”

A few months ago a new thought struck me: maybe Lena made the quilt herself from blocks she collected from her friends.  I posed the question on the Facebook group Antique Signature Quilts and received a positive response.  There were many local women’s clubs during the 1930s and piecing blocks during a meeting was a popular activity (Quilting History Tidbits); also, during the 1930s friendship quilt craze women made more than one block to exchange with others.
The more I considered this new version the more it made sense of some of the quilt’s anomalies:
- there are three different dates on the quilt.  A group project would probably have recorded a single date.
- one of the women on the quilt, Sarah Cannon, died in 1936.  Lena might have been exchanged blocks for a period of time before she had enough to make the top, and Sarah’s would be included.
- Lena Wallace was a long-time member of the Malaga Homemakers, a church group known for its quilting activities.  Many of the women represented on the quilt attended the same church as Lena, but not all: one woman was Catholic and another was Jewish. Lena may have exchanged blocks in her church group but also with other women that she knew from the town.
- the four house blocks around Lena’s block are not made from 1930s material but are indigo and white and potentially fifty years older than the rest of the quilt.  Someone was saving this fabric for something special.

I am now fairly convinced that Lena made this quilt herself from blocks exchanged with her neighbours and her friends.  I plan to introduce you to those neighbours and friends over the next few months but first I want give you some ideas about making your own blocks - that’s next week’s post.


  1. I've been thinking about fabrics and I'm looking forward to next week's post for ideas on making the blocks.

    1. There will be a few options for making blocks, I'm getting excited myself!


I love your comments and am always happy to respond. If you want an answer, check that your profile settings include 'show my email address'; otherwise I can't send you a message.