A Patchwork Quilt – Sarah’s “Comfort”

a wabi-sabi treasure

Wabi-sabi Treasure © 2009 Bo Mackison

My great-grandmother, Sarah Margaret Smulling, was 18 years old when she made what she referred to in her diary as her  “comfort” and entered it in the county fair. She brought  home a blue ribbon. (still attached)

Embroidery Sampler © 2009 Bo Mackison

Sarah was born in 1866; she sewed and painted this coverlet c. 1884. She lived on a farm in Clark County, Missouri, near the town of Kahoka, where her older sister and brother-in-law had a millinery shop. Her sister brought home the scraps from her shop, and shared them with her younger sisters. Most evenings, after completing the farm chores, Sarah and her sisters would gather and each would sew or decorate their “comforts” or other pieced items.

Fan Applique © 2009 Bo Mackison

Since the girls were using scraps from a well-established and profitable shop, they had access to the finest of materials. Silk, damask, moire, chintze, brocade, velvet, and fine cotton – all were available for their use. Sarah  appliqued many designs on this piece, including this elaborate orange fan in the above photo.

Painted Swan © 2009 Bo Mackison

Sarah evidently had some talent in the arts. She was the only girl in the family who actually painted on her fabric. Most of the small paintings are of the more common varieties of flowers–daisies, violets, wild roses–but she also painted several butterflies and this swan.

The quilt is done in mostly browns, neutrals, and oranges. Sarah added a five inch wide swath of bright pink chintz to her quilt, a rather usual finishing touch. Though there are worn places in the more delicate fabric, I consider this a special heirloom.

More close-ups photographs of other sections of the quilt are in this flickr set.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Kimberley McGill says:

    Absolutely gorgeous, and what a lovely thing to have after all this time.

  2. For a sewer like me, this is one of the most exciting things you have ever shared, Bo, (even more exciting than the Road-Runner!!) The history, and the detailed embroidery are amazing. Sarah must have spent so much time with her “comfort” and the blue ribbon is well deserved. A magnificent family heirloom, and one I know you have, and will continue to treasure. Thank you so much for sharing the quilt with us. <3

  3. While looking at your latest post Bo, I scrolled back and found this wonderful quilt. How special to know that your great grandmother made it.

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