By Robert G. Russell for the Tillamook County Historical Society
The Tillamook County Historical Society (TCHS) recently held a meeting in a sunny back room of the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook. It was an opportunity to combine our monthly meeting with a special event – in this case, a “bed shoot”. What is a rotating bed? You are not alone if you don’t know. It turned out that only two members of our group knew what it was.
The Latimer is housed in a comfortable two-room former schoolhouse, nestled in a rural residential setting on the banks of the Wilson River. From the moment we entered the wood-scented building, a wonderful spell fell on everyone. We were there, gathered about the history of Tillamook, and we were surrounded by it. All around us were treasure troves of beautiful fabrics and artwork, all showing signs of care and love. In every corner were examples of living history – wall hangings, bedspreads and personal heirlooms, created with a kind of devotion and attention to detail that gives hope for humanity. It was a lot to take in, and we hadn’t even made it to bed to turn over.
After a brief business meeting, we were greeted by our hosts, Carol Weber and Lorraine Woodward. Both have been deeply involved with the Latimer Center for many years and have yards and yards of quilting knowledge in their heads. They rounded us up and took us further into the Latimer Catacombs, eventually descending into a storage area that looked like an early version of Bed Bath & Beyond. There were floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with quilts and artwork. Lorrain explained that everything in these storage areas had gone through a careful cleaning and preservation process, including after being frozen to remove mold and wool and silk critters.
There, in the center of the last room, was a solitary bed, the bed we had come to see. It didn’t seem to spin, at least not yet.
“Does anyone here NOT know what a bed turn is?” Lorraine asked. I had a nervous moment, then I looked around and saw that almost all of our hands were up. Phew!
“A bumper is how we show quilts and tell their stories,” Lorraine continued, peeling back the top quilt to reveal many more stacked below. “Today we start with this one, a ‘crazy quilt’ that took over two years to create.”
We all leaned over and touched the top quilt, marveling at the really crazy odd-sized pieces of fabric, sewn together and decorated with incredibly detailed embroidery. I heard myself say what I thought: “Who could have time to do something like that?”
Carol answered the question: “These types of quilts were mostly made by hobby women,” she said. “They often had servants who did the housework and the children, so they could take on a project like this. Back then, pigtails were status symbols.
Next is a distinctive quilt that is said to have been made by none other than Rosa Kilchis. An accompanying document explained that Rosa was the daughter of Chief Kilchis, although there was some discussion as to whether this was accurate. The quilt was bright and colorful, seemingly modern, with diametrical lines dividing it into quadrants.
Carol offered an interpretation: “It’s also a crazy quilt, as you can tell from the random shapes of the pieces. The story goes that the lines in this room represent important pathways the tribe used as means of escape.
“To escape what? someone asked.
There was a moment of hesitation, then: “We? Or maybe raids from other tribes? We thought about it for a moment, and Lorraine folded up Rosa’s quilt to reveal the next story.
Carol and Lorraine shared another 15 or 20 quilts over the next 45 minutes, taking turns with stories and offering detailed explanations of the various materials used. There were familiar shirting fabrics from the late 1800s, there were flour sacks, old curtains, and several special dyes that could only come from a certain time and place. The overall effect of these stories on the crowd was a mixture of amazement and inspiration. I remember thinking “If these people could make these amazing quilts, then each of us must be capable of almost anything!”
It was a wonderful event, and we all left refreshed. It underscored something we all knew: that the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center is one of Tillamook’s gems. It features rotating exhibits, interpretive tours, a research library, and a gift shop. They also offer weaving instructions and listings for using their amazing looms. The Latimer’s mission is to preserve, promote, exhibit, facilitate creation and provide education in the textile arts. If you would like to drop by or would like to arrange a bed change for your community group, call 503-842-8622. The Latimer is located at 2105 Wilson River Loop Road, just 400 yards east of the 101.
The Tillamook County Historical Society is a local non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Tillamook’s history and sharing it with the community. A founding member of the Tillamook County History Alliance, the TCHS meets once a month on the second Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. in the Hatfield Room of the Tillamook Library, Main Branch. Consider joining them on June 14 when Sally Rissel leads her famous “Old House Walking Tour” through downtown Tillamook. They will meet at Hoquarton House at 1 p.m. on June 14.
For more information, call Rob at 503-523-8387.