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Bringing a family tradition back home

February 23, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

March 17 is National Quilting Day, and for one original Canfield family, it will be the day a new business will officially open. The business deals with a tradition that has been in the Neff family for over five generations. Sisters Clare Neff and Betty Aberson are jointly opening a quilt shop at 17 West Main St. that's roots go back more than 150 years ago.

"In the mid- to late 1800s, my great-grandmother, Elenor Manchester would make quilts," Neff said. "She made the tiniest stitches, which was amazing considering she had one glass eye."

Manchester was a member of the early congregations of the Canfield Methodist Church. It was widely known that she was a master quilter and often church women would bring tops (the patchwork that makes the design on a quilt) to her to be sewed together.

Article Photos

Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Helen Neff, 13, a student at Canfield Village Middle School spent her Monday catching up on some quilting at Village Quilts, which opens later this month and continues a family tradition that dates back over five generations.

Manchester's craft was passed down from generation to generation and Neff really took to it. She said quilting had gone through stages, but it's re-emerging as a favored craft. She said following World War II, the country was experiencing great prosperity and quilting at the time was considered a task for the poor.

"No one wanted to be looked at as poor, so the people of that time bought blankets in the store," Neff said.

The earth and nature movements of the late '60s and '70s saw the craft make a comeback and it has been growing since, according to Neff.

Neff herself has been involved with quilting since an early age. Her grandmother worked with her granddaughters to perfect the skill that was considered to be something every girl needed to know.

Both Neff and Aberson gained the skill and as they grew into adulthood and went their separate ways, they always kept the skills that were passed on. Neff had moved to Florida and Aberson moved around five different states through the years as her husband was transferred. The sisters kept in touch though, and when they paid a visit, they would sit down at the quilting table and put a new one together.

Both sisters and their families eventually moved back to Canfield and continued their quilting skills. Neff belonged to a local quilting group for a short time, called TQGIBT (That Quilting Group I Belong To). During that time, Neff got involved with a dating project where people could bring in a quilt and have it dated. She said a lot were found to be in the 1800s.

Neff said the oldest one she saw is one that is currently under glass at the Loghurst Museum. That one dates back to the early 1800s. She said being involved in quilting moved her to study the craft's history.

"Quilting dates back thousands of years," she said. "The European quilts were often made from one piece of material with patterns sewn into it."

She said early pioneer women in America couldn't get the full piece of material, so they saved scraps and put them together to form a quilt. Old quilts could contain everything from flour sacks to old shirts, or whatever a pioneer woman could find.

"It is the history that drew me into quilting," Neff said.

Jumping ahead to 2012, Neff's family made a big business decision. They operate Multi Media Farms, a TV production company that was working out of an 1861 home at 17 West Main St. That business had grown and was moved to a larger facility where its mobile vehicles could park at the business. That brought the problem of what to do with the old home-business.

"We had done quilting as a pastime," Aberson said. "but we thought, wouldn't it be nice to have our own quilt shop."

That was all it took and the two sisters worked to set one up. They have all the materials and supplies stocked this month in preparation for the grand opening, but they decided to incorporate some interesting old artifacts like a vintage trunk to hold the materials and a cash register that is part of the family's history.

The register is a very heavy metal one that was used at Manchester Mercantile back in Canfield's earlier days. Neff said the mercantile sold quilting material, making it a fitting addition to the new quilt shop. In fact, Neff said she plans to have it refinished and use it in the business.

As for the future, there is another Neff ready to carry on the family tradition. Young Helen Neff, 13, a seventh -grader at Village Middle School has taken up the craft and is learning the art herself.

"It's a skill, a love, a tradition for us," Neff said.



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