civil war era blanket

shear delight at thanksgiving point

by jani on May 21, 2012

What a wonderful experience, sharing at this years annual Lamb Festival at Thanksgiving Point. Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah,  is a gift to the community from Dr. Allen Ashton (one of the founders of Word Perfect) and his wife, Karen. It’s an amazing facility with hand-on discovery for all ages. The venue for the Lamb Festival was at Farm Country. This is a wonderful activity for the entire family – young and old!

Every year at Thanksgiving Point there’s a celebration of the shearing of the sheep. There are several weavers, spinners, local venders and of course sheep shearing demonstrations and lots of baby lambs!

weaving machine 1

sheep shearer 10

3 week old baby lamb 1

I was there by invitation, displaying my grandma, Mattie’s woven, wool blanket.

Many of the visitors that day were weavers. They stopped to examine this blanket, often commenting on the brilliance of this piece of work. I found out that it is most likely an overshot weave coverlet Linsey-woolsey (which is a linen warp and a woolen  weft).

weaver studying blanket 1

This blanket has a fascinating history! My grandma, Mathilda Theora Crawford Willett, was born on July 14, 1861. That right, my grandma was born at the onset of the Civil War in a confederate state. This is my history and it’s a horrible part that many of us share. My grandma, her parents and her forebear generations owned slaves. As one who marched in the civil rights marches of the sixties, I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around the dark history of my family roots. But as awful as it is to comprehend, it is a part of our past.

close-up of blanket 1

This blanket was made during my grandma’s ninth year in the summer of 1870. My grandma spent the summer on her grandparent’s sheep farm watching the former or “emancipated” slaves shear the sheep, clean and card the wool, spin it and dye it and finally weave it into this exquisite blanket. My great, great grandparents gifted this blanket to her at the end of that summer. My grandma gave it to her son, my dad, and now I have inherited it. The only way I can honor the hard work that went into this blanket, is to share this story… sometimes bringing me to tears. I can’t change history, I wish I could, but I can help educate. This is the main reason I always bring a photo of Jake, a former slave and an unsung hero, whenever I display Grandma Mattie’s blanket.

A photo of Jake and a picked cotton ball.

My dad told me the story of Jake. He worked in the cotton fields all his life and due to that arduous work, he constantly walked all hunched over. But with all this man had to endure, he would proudly lift his worn-out body to a straight and dignified standing position anytime a photo was taken. The people, I understand, laughed and made fun of this brave man. But nothing, not even the pain he must have suffered, ever stopped him from standing for his picture to be taken. In displaying this blanket, I honor Jake and all of those who suffered during this horrible part of our country’s history.

Please take a moment and think about this; may it never happen again!