For the young women who worked at Hartville’s Asplin Basket Factory in the 1940s, lunch hour was social time.
They’d talk. They’d sing or read. Sometimes their boyfriends would show up, and they’d flirt.
“Boy, we made good use of that hour,” recalled Dorothy Bender Yoder, an Orrville resident who worked at the factory for about four years in the mid-’40s.
Often, the women — some of them just teenagers — would embroider or crochet. And at least twice, they combined their talents with the intention of creating friendship quilts, bed coverings made by combining blocks embroidered by different contributors and signed with their names.
One of those quilts will be the centerpiece of a program from 1 to 4 p.m. May 3 at Cornerstone Mennonite Church, 1260 Edison St. NW in Lake Township, near Hartville. The free program, sponsored by the Lake Township Historical Society, will also feature displays of quilts and baskets as well as talks about the basket factory and the company that eventually took it over, the Longaberger Co.
Friendship quilts are a type of signature quilt, which became popular in the United States in the mid-1800s, according to an article by Jessica F. Nicoll in the journal Uncoverings. The Asplin quilts probably should more accurately be called album quilts, because they were made from blocks with different designs.
The quilt that will be featured during the program was started in 1946 when one of the Asplin workers, Mary Wittmer Yoder, passed out blocks for her friends to embroider and finish with their names. But the quilt wasn’t completed until recently, when those blocks came into the hands of the historical society.
The squares had been combined into a quilt top, but the project had never been taken any further. It languished for years, until Mary Yoder’s daughter suggested she donate it to the historical group.
“It kind of got my wheels moving,” said Ruth Sturgill, a trustee of the historical society. Sturgill enlisted a friend, Mary Lapp Yoder, to add a border and mark the quilting lines, and then community members were invited to gather for four or five community quilting bees last fall to finish the job.
If Sturgill’s count is correct, 38 women helped with the quilting. Among them were some of the basket factory workers who had created the squares nearly 68 years ago.
Dorothy Bender Yoder, now 87, had forgotten about the quilt until it reappeared, but she remembers creating blocks for some of her friends who weren’t as skilled at embroidery.
“I’ll tell you, there was some competition about our work. … We tried to see who would do the best,” she said during a recent gathering at the church with three of her former co-workers, Hartville residents Verna Gingerich, 94, Esther Yoder, 87, and Edna Nisly Blough Miller, 87.
Some squares display the intricate satin stitches and French knots of the more experienced stitches. Others are made from more basic stitches.
There are flower baskets and butterflies, bouquets and bows. Each square bears the creator’s name in stitches — sometimes just a first name, but more often first and last.
One square is marked, simply, “Mother.” One is stitched with the names of Arthur and Olga Bloss, the basket factory manager and his wife. Another was created by Beulah Powell, who was the factory’s office manager at the time and whose husband, Glen, would later become the first mayor of Hartville.
Esther Yoder enjoyed reading the names of her old friends, many of whom have since died.
Making friendship quilts was common back then, she said. In fact, after an article about the historical society’s quilt appeared in the Amish and Mennonite newspaper The Budget, Hicksville resident Lillian Hulmuth was motivated to finish a second, smaller quilt from blocks made by workers at the Asplin factory in 1944.
The blocks had belonged to Hulmuth’s late aunt, a former Asplin worker named Mary Slabaugh. Sturgill said Hulmuth sold her quilt to the historical society for $45, the cost of her materials.
Both quilts will be displayed at the May 3 program, and the larger one will be exhibited at Hartville Hardware at a later date, Sturgill said.
They’re evidence of a bond formed so many years ago, a bond as tight as the quilts’ stitches.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.