Wakefield Foundation exhibiting textiles

Published 7:06 pm Friday, September 20, 2019

Christine Searcy brings out the bed coverlet made by her great-great-grandmother, Mary Rhea, in the early 1860s. The wool-made spread has been stored in a cedar chest, and never dry cleaned. — Stephen H. Cowles Tidewater News


History was spread out for viewing on Wednesday morning in a large shed next to the home of Marvin and Gayle Lanier in Wakefield.

That’s when some members of the Wakefield Foundation brought textiles that will be displayed early next month. These weren’t just fabric samples. Christine Searcy took out from a protective container a wool bed coverlet. To look at it without knowing the history, one might easily think the object is just several years or a few decades old at best. The color is still that strong and clean.

In fact, the coverlet was made by Searcy’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Qualls Rhea, in Tennessee sometime in the early 1860s, likely 1862. In Thomas O. Huber’s book, “Wakefield Textiles and Their Stories,” the story tells that while she was once making dye, some Union soldiers came by to see what she was cooking, likely hoping for stew. They watched for awhile as she stirred the coloring, and then moved on without any disturbance.

For a more than 150 years, the coverlet has been wrapped up and stored in a cedar chest. She said there’s never been any professional dry cleaning done to it.

A closeup of the linen tattens, which have never been dry-cleaned. — Stephen H. Cowles Tidewater News

Though her own mother had a loom, Searcy herself has only done some crocheting, knitting and sewing.

Mert Felts then showed his contribution — linen tattens that were created in 1925 by sisters Estelle and Helen Joyner. One of these tattens was used to cover a communion table of Millfield Baptist Church. Felts said his grandmother, Ethel Felts, had salvaged and kept them when the church was clearing out objects. He added the tattens also have not been dry-cleaned, and would probably fall apart if so treated.

Visitors on Family Day/Homecoming, which is timed with the exhibition, will also see bedspreads with the names of members from Ivor United Methodist, Rocky Hock Methodist and Spring Hill Christian. The Ladies Aid Society at each of the aforementioned congregations sold squares to raise money for their churches.

Ralph Seely brought books that have both close-up images of the embroidered flowers and the typed-list of names. He pointed to one that included his dad, R.E. Seeley, who was from Ohio.

“Each church will get a copy of the book,” added Seeley.

In addition to the items described above, there will be rugs, quilts, a dress from a WWII parachute and a 1907 handmade wedding gown. The tools to convert textiles — yarn winders, spinning wheels, treadle sewing machine, large lace stretcher, quilting frame and a barn loom — will also be shown.

The day’s event will begin at 10 a.m. and continue to 3 p.m.

For more information, call Lanier at 899-6451 or Seeley at 899-5591, or visit www.wakefieldfoundation.org.