The Mount Hood Oregon Trail Quilt Show is a heritage exhibition and show that features unique
historical quilts from the collection of the Cascade Geographic Society. These include quilts from the Welch family, quilts from the Oregon Trail, those
stitched together by homesteaders, and even those from the turn-of the-century, the 1920’s, 1930’s,
World War II, and into the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Each of
the quilts have their own story to tell and this is accomplished with live interpretators and written interpretative signs.
In the early years, quilts were looked upon as utilitarian and were never thrown away.
They were repaired over and over again, which allowed the piece to become part of the daily lives of future generations.
In the old days, quilts were said to be made by “women with little formal education and certainly no artistic
training”. Quilting was just something they did, and, although most of
the work was indeed beautiful and outstanding, it was not generally looked upon as art in any sense of the word. This was just something they were expected to do.
Mount Hood Oregon Trail Quilt Show features a variety of quilts, ranging in date from the 1800’s to the 1990’s. Pieces that came across the Oregon Trail with captivating histories, or journeyed
across the sea from Europe, or were made right here in America, provide a glimpse into the craftsmanship of different periods,
and are a critical historical linkage.
The continuing influence of tradition is primarily what the Mount Hood Oregon Trail Quilt Show is all about. The old quilts were handed down through the family, possessed with the stories of lifetimes. And, while
the times have now changed, contemporary quilts are indeed generally looked upon as being works of
art that are often hung on walls or arranged in displays, but are also pieces that will most likely be handed down to future
The quilts featured at the Mount Hood Oregon Trail Quilt Show represent a wide spectrum of talent and expertise. There are those made by women who have stitched many quilts in their life, to those
which represent the craftsperson’s first attempt in their life at creating a quilt of their own.
There are several quilts from the Welch Family in the exhibit. Samuel
Welch was an Oregon Trail pioneer who made the journey in the early 1840’s. He
guided wagons down the dangerously-steep grades of the infamous Big Laurel Hill, where ropes were “snubbed” to
trees and the “Prairie Schooners” slowly lowered down the cliffs. He later ran a trading post at the mouth of
the Zig Zag River prior to settling in Lower Welches Valley in 1882 and establishing a ranch.
Samuel Welch was the “father” of Mount Hood's tourism. He
opened the first campground in 1888 and the first hotel in 1890. These range from Victorian “Crazy Quilts” to
a pillow made from a quilt square.
From the days of Samuel Welch, and from later members of the Welch family, the quilts represent a special history of
Mount Hood. They include a “Tulip Quilt” that was created by a superb
craftsperson, who achieved five stitches per inch. The tulips are appliquéd by
hand and are hand quilted. It is reminiscent of a fashionable pioneer piece whose
beauty and durability was worthy of “gracing” anyone’s bed.
Another quilt, known as the “Prairie Schooner Quilt”, traveled 2,000-plus miles over the Oregon Trail. It is very typical of the quilts that came over with the emigrants in trunks loaded
on the “Prairie Schooners” -- small farm wagons that measured between 3 1/2 feet wide by 12 to 18 feet long, with
sideboards rising-up 2 feet, and covered over with a canvas.
There are also two special quilts made by Lina Ditoma (November 11th,1897
to March 24th, 1992) in Naples, Italy. A master craftsperson, Ditoma’s
stitchwork on the quilts are so fine that they resemble the stitching of a sewing machine.
A “Block Quilt”, known as the “Gangster Quilt”, was made by Ditoma sometime in the 1920’s
or early 1930’s. It survived World War II, and came to America with her
in a steamer trunk by ship, which landed on Ellis Island in New York before coming to Oregon.
Nick-named the “Gangster Quilt” because of the material used, it is hand-quilted and hand stitched. It features herringbone designs from vests, suits, pants, and other dress clothes.
This “Block Quilt” is a good example of what women, in pioneer times through the 1940’s, would have made
by reusing old clothes in everyday utility quilts. In addition, it demonstrates
the kind of quality work that a talented craftsperson would have achieved.
Another “Block Quilt” made by Ditoma, was constructed between the 1920’s and the 1930’s. After World War II it came to Portland, Oregon, via a ship from Ellis Island, New
York. It is an excellent example of a quality quilt whose purpose was utilitarian,
and was continuously utilized until just recently.
Geographic Society will also feature a unique alternative to quilts at their Mount Hood Oregon Trail Quilt Show. Although these traditional hand-stitched blocks were used for bedding, they were also put to use in comforting
sick people. However, by April 18th, 1911, there was an alternative that people
could rely upon. This was a specially designed electric blanket known as the
“Electronet”, which was a garment used, according to advertisements, “in the cure of disease”.
The “Electronet” was wrapped around the sick person, plugged into a socket, and then the ingenuity of what
was then believed to be he best that modern medicine had to offer, was said to employ its magic. With 110 volts pulsing through this blanket and its accompanying electric cloth pillow and electric
cloth boots, the patient could be cured of rheumatism, gout, nervousness, kidney and liver ailments, and a whole lot of other
What was the cost of this alternative to wrapping up sick people in a quilt in 1911?
The “Electronet” cost a whopping $85.00! This computes to
over $1,669.00 in 2009 dollars!
Yet, in spite of the “Electronet”, quilts are the featured attraction of the Cascade Geographic Society’s
Mount Hood Oregon Trail Quilt Show. Every year, their collection grows and the
event gets bigger and bigger.
Cascade Geographic Society, an educational
non-profit, staffed by volunteers who believe in the preservation of Oregon history and hands-on education.
Rhododendron, OR 97049 503-622-4798
Copyright 2011, Cascade Geographic Society