A Charming Puzzle

Jeanette Elliott, Collections Relocation Coordinator

Earlier this month one of our volunteers brought in a top for a quilt that she thought we might want for our collection. It had been dropped off at the office of the church she attends by a gentleman who was cleaning out his elderly mother’s home and found it in a closet. He knew the church had a quilting group and thought maybe they could use it. When the ladies took a look at the quilt top they deemed the fabric too weak to be quilted. They also had a hunch that there was something a little bit special about it - and boy, were they right!

As I often do when I have a textile conundrum, I turned to our resident expert, Pam Glew, for her opinion. We began to carefully spread the quilt top out so we could have a better look, when her eyes lit up and she excitedly announced we had an original “Charm Quilt” on our hands!


The pattern of the quilt top is quite simple - identically sized, hexagon-shaped pieces of printed cotton sewn together. What makes it special is that every hexagon is unique; not one piece of fabric matches another. In fact, many of the hexagons appear to be made from scraps, carefully pieced together to be large enough to form a patch. And to top it off, the entire quilt has been stitched by hand!


The history behind a “Charm Quilt” is based on a Victorian tradition of young, unmarried girls collecting unique buttons or beads, “charms” if you will, and putting them on a string. As the story goes, if a young lady could collect 999 different buttons, the 1000th would be brought to her by her one true love. Another version of the story is that mother would make her charm quilt of different patterns, except for two identical ones. Searching for the matching pair would entertain a bored and bedridden sick child.


Sadly, we are missing the story behind the quilt; the provenance that adds so much to the context and history of an artifact. But examining this quilt has been a real joy - so many colours, textures, and patterns of fabric. One can only imagine how long it took to gather all these little “charms”, each one different from the next!