When First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Longmont, Colo., established an archives committee, its members sifted through church cabinets, closets and cupboards for historic artifacts.
In the church vault, among photos, newspaper clippings and old communion trays, they spotted a suit box. Inside was a red and white quilt with painstakingly embroidered signatures and simple images: birds, flowers and insects, mostly.
Several squares bore the date 1895, making the seamstresses who created it parishioners of First Lutheran’s predecessor, the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Ryssby.
“It was a real treasure. We knew it,” said Bonnie Swanson, a member of the committee who, along with Jane Haeker, researched the quilt.
The quilt will be featured at the Interfaith Quilters of Longmont’s annual quilt sale and preview March 1-2. It was a natural fit, especially since the group meets weekly at First Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“When we found out about the quilt, we thought, ‘That’s just marvelous. We can feature this quilt,’ ” said the sale’s publicity coordinator, Donna Hudziak.
Coincidentally, the quilt was found just as the church prepares this year to mark the 135th anniversary of the Ryssby Church and the 75th anniversary of First Lutheran’s original sanctuary.
The Ryssby Church was organized Jan. 3, 1878. Exactly three years later, three acres of land on 63rd Street was donated for a church. The church was dedicated June 24, 1882. In 1938, the congregation moved to its new home on the southwest corner of Third Avenue and Terry Street.
The Ryssby Friendship Quilt, as it has been dubbed, belonged to John Mork, the architect who drew the plans for the parsonage across from the Ryssby Church. It was handed down for generations and found its way back to the church when one of Mork’s descendants moved out of the area and left the quilt to the church, according to Haeker and Swanson.
Because friendships quilts were often fundraisers for churches, they believe the quilt may have been used to raise money for the fledgling Ryssby Church
“They paid something like five cents or 10 cents or a quarter to get their names on the quilt,” Swanson said.
Possibly, the quilt was raffled. It includes 193 names of some of the church’s earliest parishioners. One square states: “Made by the Ladies of Sw. Luth. Sewing Society of Boulder.”
For a quilt that’s more than a century old, it was in remarkably good shape. In some spots, the embroidery floss had faded and thinned.
While it’s likely that current parishioners may be related to the people memorialized on the quilt, that’s difficult to verify. Some are simply signed with a last name, and there are 16 Andersons and 26 Johnsons listed. And while Haeker has tried to decipher the signatures, she’s at a loss when it comes to some.
“I’m still not 100 percent on all the names,” she said, pointing to a few inscrutable signatures.
Longmont quilt appraiser Jeananne Wright, who compiled a short history of the quilt, noted it was crafted in the redwork style, a term used to describe an embroidery technique in which a series of joined stitches create an image.
Redwork quilts were popular in the 1890s through the 1920s. The embroidered images, Wright reported, were often the same ones used on crazy quilt of the 1870s through 1890s. She appraised the quilt at $875.
“We’re being much more careful with it than we were at the beginning,” Swanson said, chuckling.