, , , ,

Finding Inspiration in Quilts

by Erica Vetsch


Erica and Linda’s Dodge County World War One Red Cross Signature Quilt

As a writer, I find inspiration in quilts because each quilt has a story to tell. Foulard fabrics, Civil War quilt blocks, Baltimore quilts, heritage blocks, I love them all. Because I write historical fiction set in America, I have an affinity for quilts, a truly unique American art form.

Perhaps the most striking intersection of my writing and my quilting came several years ago when my daughter and I visited the Dodge County, MN historical society museum. It was there that I saw my first Signature Quilt. Before then, I was unfamiliar with this popular fund-raising method of the early twentieth century.

As my daughter and I toured the tiny museum in an old church, we saw the quilt, red crosses on white background with dozens of names embroidered all over it. The docent described the history of the quilt. Local residents, for a small donation, could have their names embroidered on the quilt in red thread, and when the quilt was full and complete, it would be raffled or auctioned off. All proceeds would be donated to the Red Cross to aid the American Expeditionary Forces of World War One.

Standing in that museum, hearing the story, reading the names, I was transfixed. Every name on the quilt represented a person, a business, a family of Dodge County, Minnesota. And every person had their own story. I knew then that I wanted to write a novel that featured a signature quilt.

Before long, as I studied the old quilt, the idea of creating my own Red Cross Signature Quilt came to me. It seemed natural to embroider the quilt with the names of Dodge County World War One veterans.

Erica basting the quilt

Erica basting the quilt


Erica and her SIL Linda (blue coat, long strawberry-blonde hair) getting the quilt on the display rack for the presentation

This was an ambitious project for an admittedly amateur quilter, so I enlisted the help of my sister-in-law, Linda Ambrose. I cut and pieced the blocks and compiled a list of veterans’ names, while Linda scribed their names in washable ink on the blocks. Then we set down to embroider. Many skeins of red floss later, we had dozens of blocks and it was time to piece the quilt. Linda is a master of organization, and she was a great help in laying out the quilt and helping me assemble it. Machine quilting and machine and hand binding finished the project.


The original world war one signature quilt in the foreground along with the quilt Erica and Linda made in the background at the museum

The quilt was dedicated on Veterans’ Day, 2012, and it now resides at the Dodge County Historical Society Museum in Mantorville, Minnesota. This project was a true labor of love, and I hope in the years to come, when people visit the museum, they will feel the pull of story, recognize the bravery of the veterans, and remember their sacrifice.


Erica and Linda with the board of directors of the museum on Veterans’ Day 2012.


evetsch-5Quilter/writer Erica Vetsch has loved quilts since… she was a little girl playing with scraps of fabric as her mother cut, pieced, and quilted in her basement sewing room. Though late to quilting and sewing herself, she has always loved quilts and their stories as the beautiful original American art form that they are. She currently writes historical romantic fiction, and she has way too many quilt tops pieced that she needs to get quilted! You can find Erica online at Erica’s Books on Amazon