Art of Quilting Column July 05, 2009

Ouray County history grows on 'Magic Vine’

Ouray County is often called the Switzerland of America, and a trip to the historic town of Ouray convinces many a tourist that an authentic yodeler is right around the corner.

The rugged San Juan Mountains dwarf the quaint village with the famous snow-capped Mount Sneffels giving the geography its Alps appeal.

The county thrives on its history, based on the mountains’ rich ore and early mining camps. Members of the Ouray County Historical Society take pride in keeping that past alive.

One of the events sponsored annually by the society is a quilt show, and women get together to make a raffle quilt as a fundraiser during the show.

This year, 10 local women put together vintage fabrics from the 1930s, acquired and saved by the late Hazel Duckett Weston of Ouray. She collected two complete sets of syndicated quilt patterns published in the Denver Post during that decade.

To each newspaper pattern, Weston pinned scraps of material she intended to use when making the flower designs in the quilts.

Her family donated these quilt artifacts to the historical society after she died in 1985.

Her grandson, Roger Duckett, is a former owner of Duckett’s Market in Ouray.

Eventually, Weston’s patterns and fabrics came to the attention of historical society member Sue Hillhouse.

Hillhouse researched the patterns — more than 40 in all — and found that they were published under the name Nancy Page. The quilt names were “Magic Vine” and “Garden Bouquet,” Hillhouse says.

“I learned more about the role of quilt patterns to boost newspaper subscriptions during the Depression and of the impact these patterns had on the renewal of American women’s interest in quilting,” she says.

Nancy Page was the pen name of Florence LaGanke Harris, a home economist from Cleveland.

In addition to the series of patterns she published weekly, Harris told a fictional story about a group of quilters who gathered to make their blocks and discuss what colors to use for their cloth flowers.

The 23 flower blocks are made separately, then assembled and finished with an
appliquéd vine border and scalloped edge.

Among the flowers are phlox, milkwort, morning glory, cosmos and zinnia.

The “Magic Vine” quilt has remained popular through the years. In 2007, Eleanor Burns published a book of that title, which details the history of Harris and the quilt.

Burns is famous for her teaching, TV personality and books and is a celebrated industry role model.

Hillhouse says Burns’ book “also has a picture of Florence (aka Nancy Page) — the only one I have been able to locate.”

The Ouray County Historical Society will raffle its “Magic Vine” quilt during Octoberfest in early October.

The Ouray quilters still have patterns and fabric for Nancy Page’s “Garden Bouquet” quilt, which may be a project for another year, Hillhouse says.

That particular quilt is featured in the June/July 2009 issue of Quilters Newsletter magazine.

The unfinished vintage top was purchased at a quilt show, and the owner/collector, Beverly Dunivent of Olympia, Wash., had it completed on a longarm quilting machine.

“I chose a thin cotton batting and found a lavender solid in my stash that matched the borders for the binding,” Dunivent writes in the article.

These patterns from the 1930s promoted the art of quilting and, as Hillhouse says, “probably, we have all benefited from that.”

And I might say, we still are.

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