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July 22, 2013

Quilt features echoes of local history

By Mark Simonson Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A quilt that will be raffled off Wednesday in Springfield pays tribute to the area’s history, one stitch at a time. 

The quilt, embroidered by community members of the Springfield area, features animal patterns based on what was used by the Wardwell Sisters’ Sewing School, which existed in Springfield Center between 1891-1941. Hundreds of children in the area, mostly girls, learned needlework here during the summer months.

The winning ticket for the 38-by-54-inch quilt will be drawn at the conclusion of the Springfield Historical Society’s open house, which will run from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Community center. Refreshments will be served. 

The sewing school has its origins in tragedy. After a female suicide victim was pulled from Otsego Lake wearing ragged clothing held together by safety pins, some grew concerned that the young woman was not the only one untrained in the domestic art of sewing. Cora Blunck convinced Florence Wardwell to start a school, and instruction began on the Saturday following the Fourth of July in 1891 at the church parish house. 

The school became very popular, sometimes with as many as 30 students at a time, and several teachers lending their time and encouragement. A tradition began where the students would wear their Sunday best clothes and walk to the school for their lessons.

The “curriculum” began with the making of an iron or potholder with an animal design, such as those seen on today’s raffle quilt, worked into unbleached muslin and bound in red tape. Next came a suit of underwear and an apron. There were also classes in buttonholes and darning. Lilly Adams, affectionately known as “Aunt Lil’,” taught embroidery to the advanced pupils.

The Wardwell School wasn’t meant only for girls, as now and then a boy would slouch his way in, as atonement for bad behavior or to avoid a paddling. One boy once asked and was granted permission to go outside to get a drink of water, but never returned.

While learning to sew, the girls in the classes would learn to sing as well. For 50 years, there was always music at each class. The songs “Chickadee,” “A Little Boy Went Walking,” “Here’s A Ball for Baby,” “Piggy-wig and Piggy-wee,” all complete with gestures, were sung as the children developed their skills.

Every August, the students were invited to a picnic at the Wardwellss mansion, Pinehurst, to celebrate the summer’s successes. Medals were awarded for perfect attendance — silver for one year, gold for five years.

While Mrs. Wardwell died in 1912, other teachers carried on the school until 1941. After World War I, the classes were modernized, and the making of slips and dresses was added.

By the time World War II broke out, sewing was being taught in the public schools and machine-made clothing had ended the need for the school.

Tickets are still available for Wednesday’s drawings. The Springfield Historical Society is also open today from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Donations are $5 per ticket or five tickets for $20.