The Clover Hill Presbyterian Church’s quilting group has worked on some impressive quilts in its 22-year existence, but the most recent one set a unique record. Measuring 123 inches by 74 inches, the quilt top contains more than 1,400 2-inch squares from polyester material, all expertly sewn together by the late Mildred Connatser.
“This is the biggest quilt we’ve ever done,” said Sara Harless.
The quilt top came to Clover Hill Quilters in a fortuitous series of circumstances for the owner, Frank Connatser, of Friendsville. After his wife died on Dec. 29, 2016, he found the quilt top among her other quilting projects and wanted to finish it. As Connatser asked a friend if he could offer advice on who could do the work, Clover Hill Church member David West drove past. Knowing Clover Hill had a quilters’ group, the friend suggested contacting West and his wife, Barbara. Connatser did so, and Barbara approached the group about finishing the special quilt.
“It was like all the stars aligned,” she said with a laugh.
Polyester is not a good choice for a quilt, plus some of the stitches were deteriorating when the quilters got it. As an additional challenge, the binding had already been sewed onto the top although that’s normally the final step after the batting and backing are added.
Norma Lynn said, “The first thing that struck me is that polyester is not an acceptable material for making a quilt, but his wife did an excellent job. She was really a perfectionist as far as her points were concerned,” where the squares were joined together.
“I thought at first it would be impossible to quilt because it would have raised the seams up and make it look like a waffle on top. So we decided we’d have to tie it, which is an old-fashioned way of joining the ‘sandwich,’” the top, batting and backing. The challenge of having the binding already in place was met by the quilters, as well. “We figured out a way to take the backing and fold it under and stitch it to the top,” Lynn said. “It took awhile. We worked on it for several Thursdays, plus the mental part, thinking about how to do it. But it turned out better than I thought it would.”
Connatser was very pleased with the work of the Clover Hill Quilters.
“I’m glad these girls quilted it,” he said. “Mama might have sewed it regular and ruined it. This is just a show quilt. It’s not to use. It’s just for looks.” To protect the quilt, he was told not to wash it, sit on it, hang it to show or sleep under it. Because the thread Mildred Connatser used to sew the pieces together is now fragile, pulling or tugging would break the threads of connection, Lynn explained.
He said he didn’t know why his wife made the top so large. “She just went to sewing these pieces together and didn’t quit until she got it this big. It’s the biggest quilt I ever seen.” Supposition is that she may have made the quilt large enough to cover a bus in honor of her husband’s work of driving a school bus on the Friendsville route for 60 years. “It was Bus 30,” Connatser said.
Mildred Connatser was a prolific quilter. “I guess Mama made better than 30 quilts in her time,” Connatser said. When he saw how many quilts she had before her death, he told her she needed to start giving them away. Although she had been offered $1,000 for one of them, she turned it down; she would never take any money, Connatser said. Now that she’s gone, he is gifting her legacy to others.
Connatser has asked the quilters to do another of “Mama’s quilts” from materials found with her supplies. He said, “I brought them the squares, but it won’t be nearly this big.” These squares are of cotton and won’t pose the same challenges as the polyester quilt did.
Connatser and his wife celebrated 66 years together before her death. They have six children and 12 grandchildren, each of whom have a quilt.