Art of Quiltng Column May 10, 2009

'Dear Jane’ letter delivers own creative stamp

So it began. The letter writer, Brenda Manges Papadakis of San Antonio, started a phenomenon nearly 17 years ago that circles the globe, brings 1,700 people together through an online quilting bee and has sold 90,000 copies of a book titled “Dear Jane,” now in its 19th printing.

Written by Papadakis, the book features the 225 patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle quilt. The letter above and many more appear in the book and detail Papadakis’ journey of drafting the 4 1/2-inch blocks and discovering the quilt maker’s history.

Obviously, the letters were penned to Stickle’s spirit or memory, as she made the quilt during the Civil War and died in 1896 at the age of 79.

Jane A. Blakely Stickle was born in Vermont, lived her married life in Shaftsbury and was buried in the cemetery behind the town’s First Baptist Church.

She signed her quilt, 80 1/4 inches by 80 1/4 inches in size, “In War Time 1863, Pieces 5,602, Jane A. Stickle.” The quilt is part of a collection kept at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vt. It is displayed yearly in September and October.

According to the museum’s Web site, Vermont had the highest number of soldiers per capita fighting in the Civil War — more than 32,000 in all. Records show that Jane Stickle had no children of her own, but she probably knew all of the young men serving from her small town. At least seven of her nephews also were in Vermont regiments.

The pieced and appliqued cotton quilt she made is technically challenging, consisting of 169 square blocks (not one is the same) and 52 larger isosceles triangle blocks forming the border. It’s finished with four corner blocks and a scalloped edge.

Papadakis, who has a background in mathematics education, writes in her book that she “was hypnotized by the geometric designs in Jane’s blocks and triangles.”

I recently spoke to Papadakis about her book and the entire Dear Jane movement, which covers 35 countries.

“My job was to get the book out there,” she says. What has happened since is really about “friendship and women and their art” all coming together through Jane Stickle.

But did she ever imagine such an overwhelming response, I asked.


“Not I, said the Little Red Hen,” was Papadakis’ humorous response.

The movement has developed its own vernacular. Because the original Dear Jane quilt is the mother of them all, Papadakis explains, all subsequent copies are referred to as Baby
Janes. When a person completes her first Baby Jane block, she becomes a Janiac.

Here in Grand Junction, a significant number of Janiacs have taken up the cause and are in different stages of making blocks and completing their quilts.

A finished Baby Jane with Civil War reproduction fabrics by Carolyn Hendrickson won best of show at last year’s Mesa County Fair. It also received a grand champion ribbon and an award of excellence from the Colorado Quilting Council.

She finished the quilt in 2007, piecing it by machine and appliqueing by hand. The final machine quilting was done by Laurie Gerse of Montrose.

Hendrickson’s quilt will be exhibited at the 2009 Capitol Quilt Show at the Denver statehouse from June 2 through Aug. 20.

Another Grand Junction quilter, Bonny Stonemark, made each of her blocks in light and dark values of a single color on a black background. She purchased Dear Jane software so she could design her full-size quilt on her home computer. The top is complete, and Stonemark plans to quilt it over the summer.

She also participates in Janiac groups online, including ones that sponsor block swaps and challenges. Go to http://www.dearjane.com for information.

Papadakis herself is working on a full-size Baby Jane at this time. At the Vermont Quilt Festival in 2000, she was given one made by more than 200 Janiacs around the world.

Papadakis also says she is ready to begin piecing a new version with 3-inch blocks.

She tells of a Las Vegas quilter, Stephanie Winn, who made a Baby Jane of 1-inch blocks.

In September, Papadakis will lecture and teach several techniques during the annual showing of the Dear Jane quilt at the Bennington Museum.

Wish I could be there, as I’m a Janiac, too. At this time, I’ve completed nine blocks in the top row. That makes me a Plain Jane because I haven’t tackled any of the more complicated triangular blocks. I can also use the signature Sherida-Jane 9, 0, 0, 191. But only fellow Janiacs will understand.

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