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Fabric of life

Oldham County’s Klingenfus
puts 15 of her quilts on display

A Nov. 15 dinner lecture
will feature quilt appraiser Lynch

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (November 2006) – Before there were TVs, microwaves and soccer games, mothers and grandmothers spent many evenings sewing and quilting. But these activities were more than mere chores; they were a way to relax and enjoy creating something that could be passed on for years to come.

Trip Around The World

Photo by Helen McKinney

Ruth Klingenfus’ “Trip Around the World”
quilt is on display at the Oldham
County History Center through Jan. 2.

Like many other ladies of her generation, Ruth Melone Klingenfus was raised around female relatives who taught her the art of needle handiwork. In honor of her accomplishments and as a way of telling her life’s story, 15 of Klingenfus’ pieced and appliquéd quilts will be displayed at the Oldham County History Center from Oct. 28 through Jan. 2, 2007.
Klingenfus, 84, has an extensive quilt collection. “These quilts become stories of her memories and events in Oldham County,” said Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center. “I think it is interesting to link artifacts with people’s stories because it puts the artifact in context.”
Klingenfus didn’t actually begin quilting until after she married in the 1950s. She was born in Oldham County and raised by her grandmother. A double cousin of her grandmother’s taught her to quilt.
She has a special quilt in her collection made by her great-grandmother, Susan Hall Ward, who lived in Floydsburg. Born in 1825, Ward lived to be 95 years old. “She would do beautiful handwork,” said Klingenfus.
The Klingenfus Quilt Exhibit will hang in the Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum, and several activities are planned for the exhibit. A Quilt Appraisal will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11. Sarah Jane Lynch, an antique quilt and doll collector, will conduct the appraisal in the Rob Morris Chapel adjacent to the History Center. A $5 appraisal fee will be charged.
A dinner lecture will be held at 6 p.m. at the Irish Rover, Too on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Lynch will be the featured speaker for this event and described herself as a lover of quilts for more than 30 years.
Her husband runs an auction business, a career that has fostered her interest in antique quilts and dolls. An antique doll collector since the late 1970s, Lynch said that collecting doll quilts along with the dolls seemed like the natural thing to do.
Lynch likes to repair old quilts and said she prefers turn of the century or older quilts. It’s interesting to see the same patterns used by so many different people, said Lynch, who has been a member of the Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society.
“A quilt is as old as it’s newest fabric,” said Lynch. She likes finding out about a families’ history through a quilt. By studying the fabrics used on a quilt, the age of the quilt can be determined.
“Her quilt collection spans 150 years, so you can see some of the changes in style through the type of quilt and fabrics that have been used over time,” said Theiss. Videotapes have also been made of Klingenfus talking about her quilts that will be kept at the History Center.

Butterfly Quilt

Photo by Helen McKinney

Ruth Klingenfus’ “Butterfly” quilt
was made using handkerchiefs
from her friends that were then
folded to make the butterflies.

Klingenfus has used a lot of scraps for her quilts from clothes she had made her four children when they were young. She has also used old handkerchiefs and traded scraps with other quilters to make quilt blocks.
One of her favorite quilts in the collection is a Friendship Quilt, made by Klingenfus and her friends. One block made by her sister-in-law depicts a tree. Beneath that rests a swing, and sandbox in which their children used to play. Her sister quilted an owl in her block of the quilt representative of her nickname, “Hoot.”
Quilts are often good fundraising projects, said Klingenfus. She remembers contributing to one when the Ronald McDonald House was begun in Louisville. A tree was appliquéd on it, with the roots representing the people who had helped with the construction of the building, the limbs representing the companies that had assisted in the project, and the leaves the individuals that had donated time and money.
“Quilting is a rewarding way to spend your time,” said Klingenfus. “There is so much history and artwork in quilts,” she said, citing the quilts made in slavery times that were hung on fences and used as codes for escaping slaves.
“It is an interesting way to leave (a record of) your heritage behind,” said Klingenfus. She hopes her quilts have been appreciated and she will be remembered by them.
Klingenfus is a member of the 54-member Log Cabin Quilters, who have framed and marked a quilt top that was pieced by Klingenfus’ friend, Margie Heillman, for exhibit visitors to stitch. The quilt top will be auctioned off at next year’s Oldham County Historical Society Annual Gala. The Log Cabin Quilters have a Quilters Day Out on the third Saturday of March, which was attended by 500 people last year.
Along with her husband, Carl, Klingenfus was an early member of the Historical Society. Quilting truly has been a labor of love for this Oldham County native and something she can leave behind forever.

• Cost for the Nov. 15 dinner lecture at the Irish Rover Too is $15 for History Center members; $18 for non-members. To make reservations or for more information, call (502) 222-0826.

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