Dear Jane
Don't know who "Jane" is or was? Google "Jane Stickle 1863 quilt and find out!

Katherine Jane Kinkade Stickle
circa 1906

Among quilters, the words “Dear Jane” do not begin a personal letter. Rather, they conjure images of 225 geometric designs drawn from a 150-year-old quilt. Hand-stitched during the long years of the Civil War, “the Jane Stickle Quilt” is currently entrusted to Vermont's Bennington Museum and is so highly valued, it is available for public viewing only six weeks each year.

Measuring 80” square, the Jane Stickle Quilt features 169 center blocks, each 4-1/2” square and displaying an original pattern. The large outside border is constructed of cone-shaped triangles bound with scalloped edges, and one corner block is constructed from more than 30 tiny pieces. Those who have done the math report there are 5,602 pieces overall.

Little is known about Jane Blakely Stickle. She was born in 1817 and though she married, did not have a family of her own. Researcher and author Brenda Papdakis tracked Jane through census records and surmises that she lived her later years alone in a boarding house. It was in that venue that Jane created her wartime quilt, finishing in 1863.

For quilters the world over, recreating Jane Stickle's masterpiece is the ultimate challenge, akin to a mountaineer climbing Mt. Everest. It's a decision not to be made hastily, and those who take on the project know it will probably take several years to finish.

Former quilt shop owner Shelley Stallard of East Jordan embarked on her Dear Jane journey in 2004, She had discovered Dear Jane, Papkakis's definitive book on both Stickle and her quilt, and decided this might be the perfect distraction from watching her only child getting ready to “leave the nest.”

It did help, according to Shelley, and along the way she discovered resources that made her task easier. All of the designs had been charted and included in the Dear Jane book, and before she finished the blocks in 2008, she found a Dear Jane CD that printed templates and piecing foundations. Adding the triangular borders, machine quilting it (herself) and binding took another five years. It was completely and officially finished at the beginning of 2013.

Another helpful discovery – there were other quilters itching for a big project. Together they formed a local chapter of “Janiacs” (pronounced “Jane-ee-ackks”) a national network support group for those pursuing the formidable Dear Jane. “We all helped each other with the blocks.” Shelley recalled. “It was more about the friendships that developed and the support we gave to each other. I still feel a kinship with my 'Jane girls'.”

Persistence and devotion paid off. Shelley finished her Dear Jane in the winter months of 2013, naming it her “Empty Nest Jane.” Compared with photos of the original, one can see it's as identical to the 1863 original as 21st-century fabrics can make it.  

Jeannette Kling of Charlevoix also participated in that local chapter of “Janiacs,” finishing her Dear Jane in late 2012. Hers is a bit different in that she reversed some of the light vs. dark values, especially in the triangular border. The border's black fabric puts stunning emphasis on the 169 colorful blocks it surrounds.

“After reviewing the [Dear Jane]book I decided to make the alternate Isosceles triangles in black along with the border,” Jeannette explained. “I didn't have an original plan for fabric but just wanted to make it scrappy, like a real civil war-era quilt. I think the black helped to ground all the myriad of fabrics that I used.”

Jeannette went on to say that she took a little license in the overall look of her Dear Jane. “I tried to apply some "law and order" in the arrangement of the blocks. I didn't put them in the same order that Jane Stickle did. I wanted to create an 'Around the World' (another traditional quilt pattern) effect.”

The Dear Janes together highlighted “Quilts by the Bay!”, a June 2013 quilt show sponsored by the Little Traverse Bay Quilters Guild in Petoskey, MI. Viewers' questions ranged from, “It took them how long to finish?” to “Are you sure only one woman thought up all these patterns?” Most guests simply stood still and stared, trying to take in the variety of color and complex patterns.

There was also this thought: After meeting the challenge of Jane Stickle's Quilt, what's the next challenge? How do you top that?

Any suggestions? Send them to .


Additional "Dear Jane Goodies"

In June of 2013, approximately one week before the 2013 Quilt Show, the Guild got a surprise. There were three more completed Dear Jane quilts in the area, and the owners wanted to make them available for viewing at our regular meeting. Judy Ettma took care of logistics and details, and this was the result:

Five beautiful finished Dear Janes



Special thanks to Sylvia Hepler who drove from Drummond Island to share with us her Dear Jane --which she finished within a single calendar year. Sylvia said she hand-appliqued 95% of version.  

back to Guild Archive - June 2013