Saltwater Taffy Quilt
“Saltwater Taffy”
52″ x 52″
By Becca Fenstermaker
Vintage Reimagined

The March challenge for the Island Batik Ambassadors, Vintage Reimagined, provoked a predictable reaction in me: I reached for a book.

And not just any book! I love to feel connected to my projects and feel that my best work comes out when I dig deep into the story of the quilt and make it personal (see “Come In, Sit Down, Relax, Converse” and “Shelter”). I reached for New Jersey Quilts 1777 to 1950: Contributions to an American Tradition.

A whole lot of quilts in the book spoke to me, but the deepest feeling of connection came from “Double X Variation,” a quilt made in 1895 by Clarence B. Lashley. He was 11 years old at the time.

Double X Variation by Clarence Lashley, 1895
Double X Variation by Clarence Lashley, 1895

Clarence Lashley

My family’s roots run deep in New Jersey, and Clarence grew up in the area where my mother was raised for most of her life–in fact, she went to school with some Lashleys. I was born and raised not far from Scullville myself.

Clarence, one of twelve children, learned needlework from his mother because due to poor health, he stayed home while the other children of the house helped out on the farm. His mother dyed sugar and feed bags for quilts, which are likely some of the materials used to make the Double X Variation. You can find more information about the quilt at the Quilt Index, a fantastic reference for quiltmakers.

I got to thinking about what 11-year-old Clarence would have done differently had he made this quilt today. He seemed to love playing with colors, so of course the fabrics would be vivid and cheerful. When I was 11, I lived in Sea Isle City, a short drive from Scullville, and what I remember with fondness from those days was time spent at the beach and on the boardwalk. So when I took a look at the Island Batik Ditty squares that I had on hand, I decided that salt water taffy would be my inspiration.

Salt water taffy became a local treat shortly before Clarence made his first quilts, so he could easily have been familiar with the candy. In fact, the shop that I’m most familiar with, Shriver’s, has been in business since 1898–maybe Clarence went there himself!

My Version

I used EQ8 to draw the block and then to lay out the quilt. Since I was working with 10″ squares of fabric for the foreground of the blocks (I had two of each fabric), I had to do some calculations to ensure that I could manage with what I had on hand. With careful planning and the help of an AccuQuilt Go! cutter and the 8″ Go! Qube, it was possible, although I would have been more comfortable with a fat quarter. I had yardage of the background fabric (Swirl in Parchment), and went shopping for the blue sashing fabrics. I chose a basic and a blender that reminded me of the ocean and summertime. I played with a couple of ideas on the design wall (looking at yellow stars was one idea that went out the window), but it didn’t take long to make a decision, especially after running the photos through a black and white filter.

Saltwater Taffy Quilt

When the time for quilting came along, I chose Hobbs Tuscany Collection silk batting for a lightweight and summery quilt. I’ve used Hobbs silk batts before and loved it–it quilts beautifully, it’s easy to get the needle through when stitching the binding, and it provides warmth in cooler weather but is breathable enough to use year-round. (I did receive some as part of the Island Batik Ambassador package, but this happened to come from my own stash.)

I used a subtly variegated Aurifil 50wt thread in coral with the walking foot on my Bernina 550QE to quilt a continuous spiral to suggest the ripples of a splash and continue that summery ocean look. This quilting has gotten a lot of attention and questions, and my answer to you is: “Buy Jacquie Gering’s book.”

Saltwater Taffy Quilt
“Saltwater Taffy”, 52″ x 52″. By Becca Fenstermaker.

I used the same blue blender from the sashing stars for the binding, and then took “Saltwater Taffy” on tour. We went to the boardwalk and bought some salt water taffy, of course.

Saltwater Taffy Quilt
This is the view from the Ocean City, NJ, Music Pier.

We went to the lake next to the cotton mill where Clarence worked in later years–and where he acquired scraps for many of his later quilts. Yes, Clarence continued to make quilt tops for his entire life. He hand-pieced, machine-pieced, appliqued, embroidered–but I don’t think he ever quilted any of his own work. His wife, Anna, collaborated with him on some of his quilts.

Saltwater Taffy Quilt
It’s hard to see, but the now unused mill where Clarence became a foreman is across the lake behind the quilt. Locals are familiar with it as the old Wheaton factory.

And, of course, we visited Clarence and Anna.

gravestone of Anna Mary and Clarence B. Lashley

I think Clarence would be proud to know that he’s remembered.

Saltwater Taffy Quilt

Linked to: Friday Foto Fun at Powered By Quilting, Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter, TGIFF at What a Hoot Quilts, My Quilt Infatuation, Inspiration Thursday at Clever Chameleon Quilting, Let’s Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts, Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts

The March challenge for the Island Batik Ambassadors, Vintage Reimagined, provoked a predictable reaction in me: I reached for a book. Read more about the Saltwater Taffy quilt and the 11-year-old boy who made the original quilt top that inspired it

21 Replies to “Saltwater Taffy: A Vintage Quilt Reimagined

  1. What a great story and so much fun all the little personal and historical pieces. However, you left me pining for salt water taffy…and the New Jersey salt air – different than Maine’s.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen! I’ve never been a huge taffy fan myself (FUDGE PLEASE), but there’s just something quintessentially Jersey shore about it to me, so I’m always trying to find a flavor that I like.

    1. Thank you! I enjoyed everything about this project, from the research to the stitching to the photo shoot.

  2. Clarence, what a tribute to a wonderful boy who developed into a remarkable man. His wife, Anna, I have the same first name, although I use my second name, and Clarence died when I was 5. How did he manage to design, cut, trim and stitch , without the modern tools we have today? Love the colours you chose, and this will be a quilt that shines with remembrance.

  3. Wow – what a beautiful photo in front of that church! I thoroughly enjoyed this quilt’s inspiration story. It is heartwarming to think of a young boy at the end of the 19th century learning to quilt, and doing it so well, judging by that inspiration piece. Very nice to think of him quilting throughout his life – I may have to do some more research into his story! Your interpretation of his quilt is very pretty with the blues of your background.

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