Historium quilts connect generations of talent, learning

Jakie Berry, left, and her daughter, Marguerite Berry Chawansky with a family-photo transfer quilt Marguerite made for her mom.

Marguerite Berry Chawansky’s favorite fabrics are batiks, which she used to make the quilt she’s holding here. She likes the fabric so much, she even named her cat Batik.

This bright New York Beauty quilt brightens up the room.

Those familiar with quilting’s techniques and challenges are amazed by the tiny, thin points on this pieced Sunburst quilt with appliqued ribbon-and-bow border now displayed at the Historium.

This red Double Wedding Ring quilt was started by Marguerite Fowler and finished by her daughter, Jakie Berry, with help from Ella Berry.

Marguerite Berry Chawansky made this blue-and-yellow sampler quilt now on display at the Historium.

In its eight years of existence, quilts have been one of the most popular attractions for the Ozark County Historium as volunteers endeavor to highlight local quilters and their creations by displaying their colorful works. One of the reasons people are so attracted to quilting is the fact that quilts connect generations. The Historium’s newest display illustrates that quality, as it features quilts from one family spanning three and four generations of quilters.

Jakie Berry of Dora and her daughter, Marguerite Berry Chawansky, of West Jefferson, Ohio, are carrying on traditions handed down to them from Jakie’s mother-in-law, Ella Alms Berry, Ella’s mother, Emma Biers Alms, and from Marguerite’s great-great-aunt, Mary Tetrick. In addition, Jakie Berry’s mother, Marguerite Fowler, passed along her love of quilting to her daughter and granddaughter; Marguerite inherited quilting from both sides of her family! 


Grandma Ella

The quilting journey began for Marguerite when she was only 7 years old and was spending the summer with her grandma, Ella Berry. She learned to sew that summer on a treadle sewing machine, and Grandma Berry made sure she learned to do things right.

“My first quilt was a Four-Patch, and Grandma watched me closely,” recalls Marguerite. “The corners of the blocks had to meet perfectly or she would make me take it out. I took out a lot of blocks that summer! But to this day I am a meticulous quilter because Grandma made me do it right.”

Today, Marguerite owns her own quilting business, doing custom machine quilting for customers from all across the United States. She has mastered many piecing and quilting techniques, some of them rooted in modern technology. But Marguerite still treasures that first quilt, the simple four-patch made to her grandmother’s specifications.

Jakie didn’t learn to quilt until a few years after her young daughter, when she was about 30 years old. She, too, learned from Grandma Ella.

“She had kept on at me to learn to piece a quilt, and I finally gave in,” Jakie remembers. “I told her I wanted to make a Grandmother’s Flower Garden. When I said that, she replied, ‘You would pick a hard one!’”

Composed entirely of tiny hexagons and requiring set-in seams, the pattern is usually not a good choice for beginners. But Jakie liked the pattern and plugged along on the quilt for seven years, finally finishing it on her late husband, John’s, birthday. From then on, he was a staunch supporter of his wife’s hobby.


The top tells her what it needs

Since that Flower Garden beginning, Jakie has made dozens of quilts, many of them appliqued, a technique she loves. She enjoys hand quilting, too, and often has a quilt in a frame at her home. Jakie is also a member of the Dora Quilt Club that meets on Tuesday mornings to quilt together the old-fashioned way – gathered together around a quilt frame. Other members of her club are Marty Uhlmann, Martha Martin, Julie Pippin, Pat Cureton, Mary Johnston and Tamara Griswold.

Marguerite prefers the modern way of finishing a quilt; her favorite tool is her Gammill Quilting Machine, made by the well-known company based in West Plains. Each quilt top she works on is unique because the quilting on each one is custom designed, all done “free hand”; Marguerite lets each top tell her what it needs. One of her personal favorites is a large, king-size “stack and whack” quilt featuring a wildlife fabric that she uses as a bedspread in her home.

“The pattern creates a kaleidoscope effect,” she points out. “From only one piece of fabric, you get so many different blocks!”

Marguerite’s favorite fabrics are batiks; in fact, she likes batiks so much she even named one of her cats Batik. And she says she prefers making large bed-size quilts – no wall-hangings for this professional. 


Each quilt has a story

Her mother’s quilts are more traditional and old-fashioned. One of Jakie’s favorites is a quilt featuring butterflies made from folded vintage hankies appliqued onto background squares with blanket stitch. As with all of Jakie’s quilts, there is a story that goes with it.

“My husband, John, and I had some neighbors many years ago who seemed lonely,” Jakie begins. “John felt sorry for them because they never seemed to go anywhere to visit folks, and no one ever visited them. So, one day he said, ‘Let’s go see them.’ I made a banana cream pie, and we took it. When that old man saw me carrying in that pie, he got so excited he jumped up and down. It just thrilled them that we had come to see them and had brought a pie!

“We visited, and I told them I was making a quilt using some of my mother’s old hankies. Not long after that, the old couple came to visit us, and she was carrying a paper sack. In that sack, she had brought me handkerchiefs, some of hers and some that her sister in Pennsylvania had sent. I used those hankies in my butterfly quilt, and I always think of that old couple when I look at it.”  

Another favorite is a Double Wedding Ring set together with a beautiful red fabric. Jakie’s mother, the late Marguerite Fowler of Lecompte, Louisianaa, started piecing the quilt using scraps from Jakie’s baby dresses before she passed away at a much-too-early age. Jakie inherited the pieces, but there weren’t enough to finish a quilt. Her mother-in-law, Ella, found a red that just matched and helped Jakie piece more rings to make it come out right. They worked together to set the top together. The quilt is a true family treasure, beautifully spanning generations in one colorful creation.

Jakie’s love of applique was probably influenced by a very old quilt she inherited from her husband’s great-aunt, Mary Tetrick. The white quilt features yellow and blue wreaths of flowers and is lovely, even though it is well over 100 years old.

 “Before she died, Aunt Mary wanted this quilt to go to someone who would really appreciate it and take care of it,” Jakie says. “She knew I loved quilts, so she gave it to me. I also treasure a Nine-Patch made by Grandma Berry’s mother, Emma Biers Alms, which is also more than 100 years old.”

Another special appliqued quilt in the current Historium exhibit yields another story, that of the time the tables were turned and Jakie was able to teach something about quilting to her mother-in-law, Ella Berry.

“By this time, Grandma Ella was living with John and me, and we decided she needed a new sewing machine to replace her old treadle,” smiles Jakie. “So we bought her a brand-new Singer in a beautiful cabinet, and it even had a built-in zig-zag stitch. But Grandma was afraid to use it! So, I taught her to zig-zag by making an appliqued tulip quilt top with her on it.”


The Historium exhibit

About two dozen of these showpiece quilts are now on display in the Historium, including these mentioned, and each one is unique and special. And as varied as the techniques and fabric choices of the different generations are, the quilts are still somehow connected – by their makers who share a love of turning bits of fabric into beautifully patterned quilts that resonate with personality and charm. 

These quilts can be viewed during the Historium’s regular hours, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The exhibition, which will run through Aug. 31,  is free and open to all. For more information, call the Historium at 417-679-2400 or email janettaber@gmail.com

Ozark County Times

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