Decades after St. Louis quilter’s death, her project is finished
ST. LOUIS – In the 1960s, when Judy Dethloff was growing up in south St. Louis, neighbors would sometimes get to talking about her being an only child.
“I always told people I am not spoiled,” said Judy, now 61. “I don’t have a horse.”
She did have a trampoline and canopy bed, though.
“I used them both,” she assured.
Truth told, her parents tried to have more children. After a few miscarriages, they called it good. Her father, who had a knack for adding fresh air to a stale conversation, would say Judy broke the mold, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Over the years and well into her adulthood, Judy’s parents stayed in the same house. They didn’t throw much away. Just in case they needed a used part off something or values spiked on, say, warped vinyl records.
After her father died, her mother, Susan, moved into a much smaller home right next to Judy on Nagel Avenue. Susan purged a lot of belongings and passed on others to Judy, including a large quilt that Judy’s great-grandmother, Anastasia, never finished.
Fifty-five years since Anastasia died, Judy only recalls two stories about her. That her home in rural St. Charles County was haunted by two slaves in chains, and that her husband died from a heart attack while repairing fence.
Scraps of fabric stitched into the quilt and a few other records offer more clues to what Anastasia was sewing about so long ago. But perhaps more of a legacy than her bedspread is four generations of women who knew less and less about Anastasia, yet didn’t have the heart to throw the unfinished quilt away, nor abandon it to the moths in the attic.
And while Anastasia came from a large household, her story survives today because of an only child at the end of a branch in her family tree bucked a stereotype and gave the quilt away.
“My mother was adamant that I was going to share,” Judy said.
Judy wasn’t just an only child, she didn’t have children. She lies dogs. Has a pragmatic way of looking at heirlooms.
“If lightning strikes me today, who is going to want my stuff?” she said. “So before I am dead, I try to find someone who would appreciate what I have to give it to them. Because there is nobody after me. I am the end of the line. And my mom was with me on that.”
About 10 years ago, Judy formed a bond of friendship with Jaime Lueders that allowed Anastasia’s quilt to move along, closer to completion. Judy and Jaime were both techs at St. Louis Hills Veterinary Clinic. On the side, Jaime was fostering a black lab named Mable that suddenly had six puppies.
“It was so much fun,” recalled Jaime, 35, of Webster Groves. “There were little puppies everywhere.”
Even though she already had two dogs, Judy adopted Mable.
“Judy is the sweetest, kindest-hearted person you will ever meet,” said Jaime. “It was love at first sight between the two.”
Judy described Jaime as organic. She grew up in Kansas sewing with her mother and was attending a weekly quilting group around the time Judy and her mother were going through old storage bins.
For Jaime’s baby shower, Judy gave Jaime her baby quilt, a cradle, baby doll and lace table runners, all items from her father’s side of the family. From her mother’s side, she gave Jaime her great-grandmother Anastasia’s unfinished quilt.
Jaime was excited and also a little intimidated about finishing a project that was started decades ago. She was relatively new to quilting. She could tell that Anastasia had spent a lot of time crafting patterns with scraps of cloth from around her life.
“It makes you wonder about the story behind where the fabric came from,” Jaime said.
Perhaps Anastasia’s father, Thomas Fanning, saw himself as a lucky man.
Originally from Ireland, he married Martina Bowles in the mid-1800s. Martina was one of six children born to Walter and Rose Bowles. They had 2,000 acres along the Civre River in St. Charles County, according to the local history book, “Dog Prairie Tales,” which describes Walter this way: “His slaves with hand tools were quite efficient for working between the tree stumps which were usually left in the field until natural decay erased them.”
The farm was just off the edge of Missouri’s Little Dixie area and smack in the middle of a contentious national debate. German immigrants who also flocked to the area tended to be antislavery. Scots-Irish immigrants, who primarily made their way west more slowly, and through Southern states, were not.
After Walter died, his 2,000 acres were divided up among family. Thomas and Martina Fanning took on a chunk of it, and, in 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War, Anastasia was born along with a twin brother, Walter, according to an archivist’s interpretation of baptism records written in Latin at nearby St. Paul Catholic Church in St. Paul.
In 1888, her older sister stood up with Anastasia, when she married Joseph Patten (later spelled Patton) in the same church. By 1892, Anastasia had given birth to a daughter and son. After that, the young couple moved to the Dardenne Prairie area and had a string of six more children by 1906.
The brief oral history of Anastasia passed down to her great-granddaughter, Judy, matches genealogy records. Her husband died in 1907, while Anastasia was in her late 30s. Four of her eight children also died young.
Anastasia, who went by Anna Patton and Grannie Patton, died in 1963. Some records say she was born in 1869, others say 1868. The widow lived to be 94 or 95. One word is chiseled above her name on the tombstone: “Mother.”
Margaret was one of Anastasia’s children who made it to adulthood. She inherited Anastasia’s unfinished quilt. After Margaret, who died in her late 90s, the quilt was handed down to Margaret’s daughter, Susan, who passed it along to her daughter, Judy, who gave it to Jaime, her friend from thevet clinic.
But Jaime ended up having second thoughts about Judy’s gift.
“She gave the quilt to me before I had kids, when I had more spare time,” Jaime said.
Jaime didn’t just want somebody to take it off her busy hands. She wanted a proper suitor committed to finishing the job. So Jaime posted a description of the quilt on the Webster Groves Buy Nothing public Facebook page, which offers these instructions: “Just give away what you don’t want or need and enjoy the warm feeling in your heart and additional space in your house.”
Sheila Lenkman, 51, of Brentwood made the most compelling case to keep it. She’s a professional seamstress and instructor at MADE _ a 32,000-square-foot facility at 5127 Delmar Boulevard that has a lot of equipment for artists and entrepreneurs to use and learn on, anything from a digital oscilloscope to a long-arm quilter.
“It touched me that nobody could throw this away,” Sheila said.
Anastasia finished the top of the quilt. It has 20 Dresden plates, a popular pattern from the 1920s and 1930s, in which leftover scraps were turned into beautiful arrangements.
“It’s the fabric of your life _ whatever you have around you,” Sheila said. “Little bits and pieces from projects you’ve already made.”
While much of Anastasia’s story hasn’t survived, Sheila drew some conclusions. Anastasia was thrifty. She sewed straight. She had a good eye for color and layout.
A sliver of plain menswear is tucked into a pattern here, a lamb with a red bow on its neck there. Look closer, there are flowers, boats and young boys and girls. Oddly, one piece of blue fits fine and matches no other.
“Who knows what these fabrics started out as, but these were the things she touched everyday,” Sheila said.
She tells Anastasia’s story to people who want to hear it at community events at MADE. She shows a small, black and white picture of Anastasia dressed up in front of a house. Sheila invites people passin by and her students to help work on the quilt, which is nearly finished.
A few months ago, Anastasia’s great-granddaughter, Judy, sewed her name and her mother’s name into the quilt, which are easily lost in the sea of threads.
No regrets about giving the quilt away.
“It’s going on to happier places,” she said.
Once completed, the quilt will hang above the work station where people are learning to sew.