Stitching together Eagle’s history
On Monday, the Eagle County Historical Society offers a vivid case in point during a presentation by lifelong area resident Melissa Trezise. For six generations, the women in he family have been quilt makers, and during her talk Monday, the 89-year-old artisan – known to everyone simply as “Mrs. Trezise” – will share both her craft and her stories.
“My mother learned quilting from her mother and I learned it from my mother,” she says.
Mrs. Trezise, in turn, has passed the skill on to her daughter and granddaughters – and now her great-granddaughter.
Mrs. Trezise notes the craft of making quilts dates back to the Crusades, when padded garments were fashioned for wear under armor. Practicality must have played a big role in popularity, Mrs. Trezise says, because quilted clothing would be warm and would help prevent chaffing.
While the craft was born in the old world, it truly took hold in America, where pioneer life necessitated frugality. Odd bits and pieces of fabric were preserved and eventually found their way into quilt designs.
“Quilts became family records,” she says. “In the old days, the quilt blocks all had names.”
Some of the names were biblical, others political. Often they reflected nature or home life.
“They have names like the “Flying Geese’ or “Log Cabin.’ There’s “Jacob’s Ladder’ and the “Start of Bethlehem’ – anyone who attempts that has my sympathy,” says Mrs. Trezise. “Quilting flourished mightily in the hands of pioneer women.”
Those pioneers included women like her grandmother – Melissa Damen Figgins. Frugal by nature, Figgins preserved every scrap of material she could for her quilts, folding paper to make block templates.
“I have one set of those templates left. It’s just full of holes from her pinning it on material,” says Mrs. Trezise.
While she also quilted from necessity, Mrs. Trezise’s mother, Mary Hester Figgins Larsen, loved her sewing, collecting patterns from magazines and newspapers and keeping sizeable fabric hordes for her creations. Larsen passed her love of quilting on to her daughter.
“I started out by making quilts for my dolls,” says Mrs. Trezise.
After she became engaged, the need to furnish bedding for her own home rekindled her interest.
“My quilt stash grew as different patterns challenged me,” she says.
Mrs. Trezise’s daughter, Mary Jo Gerard, learned the craft as her mother’s helper. Gerard also proved to be as intrigued by a challenge. Her pansy quilt is an unabashed work of art, featuring 30 unique embroidered flower designs. “We visited flower beds from here to Washington State for that quilt,” says Mrs. Trezise.
Anna Gerard and Missy Ford, Mrs. Trezise’s granddaughters, have fashioned their own quilts, as has 14-year-old Joanne Ford, to make their own contributions in a family tradition now spanning six generations.
Handiwork from all six women will be on display Monday. She also has hundreds of quilt blocks pieced together, waiting to be assembled as quilts, as well as two file cabinets full of patterns.
“I have lots for people to look at, I tell you,” she says with a grin.
Mrs. Trezise also has a flair for delivery, having taught for years at country schools in the Eagle Valley, including elementary students at the old downtown Eagle School.
Former pupils, in fact, remember her fondly. Eagle Mayor Roxie Deane, for example, says Mrs. Trezise was her “very favorite teacher – ever.”
As she prepares to share her quilting stories, Mrs. Trezise says it won’t be a just-for-ladies talk. Men will enjoy the history and the workmanship represented by the quilts on display, too she says.
“My husband once told me, “You know mother, we are both builders, we just use different materials,'” said Mrs. Trezise.