The Quilts in Alias Grace

Quilts are an important component in Margaret Atwood’s novel. In our production, we will be focusing on the “winter quilts” and the “Tree of Paradise” quilt.

“The winter quilts were of deeper colors than the summer ones, with reds and oranges and blues and purples; some of them had silks and velvets and brocade pieces in them. When toward the sun. I see red and orange like the brightness of those quilts.”  Grace

“On my Tree of Paradise, I intend to put a border of snakes entwined; they will look like vines or just a cable pattern to others, as I will make the eyes very small, but they will be snakes to me; as without a snake or two, the main part of the story would be missing.” Grace

A Tree of Paradise (pictured above right) and four winter quilts (below) were handcrafted for the production by Gail Moehlman.

Read what she said about the making of the quilts in this Q & A:

How long have you been making quilts?

I have been making quilts for about 30 years.  I first started with the Quilt in a Day Book by Eleanor Burns making quilts for my kids.

How long did it take you to make each quilt?

I don’t really keep track of how long it takes to make a single quilt.  I started this project in mid- May, knowing I had until Sept 13th as a deadline.  I had them finished about September 1st. I had vacations and trips planned during that time, so I worked as much as possible when I had a chance. Some days I may have worked 13 hours or more, on other days maybe an hour or two. But I usually worked every single day when I was home. I mix it up as to what quilt I’m working on to keep it interesting.  I’d say it would take me at least 2 1/2 weeks working 10-12 hours a day, every day for a quilt. 

The Tree of Paradise quilt took longer because it was such an original and took different construction techniques to figure out. I pieced and quilted the quilts. Which means I made the tops first, then sandwiched the top with batting and a backing, and then sewed them together in a pattern. I hand sewed the bindings on. 

What are the patterns of each quilt?

The fabric is reproduction civil war. Colors are mentioned in the play. They refer to the winter quilts being in colors of blue, orange, red, purple. We used old fashioned quilt patterns that are referred to in the play. Easy patterns are mentioned. There is a Log Cabin with red fabric in the center of each block.  The red fabric represents the fire in the fireplace of the cabin. I used a lot of different fabrics for this one to represent scrappy quilts. The original purpose of quilts was to use up whatever scraps of fabric, old clothes, or feed sacks were available to turn into a useful quilt.

The orange and blue quilt is a Square in a Square in a Square block quilt or another name for this is an Economy block quilt. The red and yellowish quilt is called a Crossroads quilt which is a variation of a 9 patch. A 9 patch is mentioned in the play and is traditionally one of the first quilt patterns that a young girl would learn to make.

The blue and white quilt is made with Split star blocks and Log Cabin blocks.

And the most important is Tree of Paradise. This was the trickiest to make. The others were very straight forward. Grace explains this quilt in the play. I used the fabric from the costume dresses of Grace, Nancy, and Mary for the triangles in the middle of the tree.

Around the edges are twined, pieced snakes, you can even see the French knot eyes if you look closely. And it just so happens that my initials are the same as Grace’s, GM, so I embroidered our initials in the corner.