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Why did Ernest Haight make quilts and why does it matter?

Jonathan E Gregory, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Ernest B. Haight (1899-1992) started life where he ended it, in rural Butler County, Nebraska, a community where his grandparents and parents homesteaded in the early years of Euro-American settlement in the state. Educated at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln as an agricultural engineer, Haight returned in 1924 to his parents' 240 acres, called Eldorado, where he was reared and where he farmed for the rest of his working life, and together with Isabelle, his wife, reared two daughters and three sons. He carried on the way of life modeled by his parents and grandparents who participated as citizens and community members, chartered a church, and founded a school. In sum, fulfilling responsibility, sustaining community institutions, and serving others were revealed as the themes of Haight's life. Beginning in 1934, following a decade of personal losses and financial reversal, Haight began quiltmaking, which he continued for the remainder of his productive years. He applied his mechanical and materials knowledge gained as a boy in the machine shop on Eldorado and his professional engineering education to create efficient and accurate practices for making quilts entirely with a domestic sewing machine. Quiltmaking fed his soul through providing a creative and practical activity that also satisfied his need for intellectual challenge, helped him cope with difficult circumstances and losses, and offered opportunities to serve others by giving quilts to others and sharing his quiltmaking practices. As a male engaged in a typically feminine craft, Haight engaged his hobby in ways consistent with cultural ideals associated both with agrarian masculinity and the engineering profession in the early-twentieth century. Therefore, his quiltmaking practices expressed his masculinity rather than called it into question. As a master at machine quiltmaking practices during a resurgence in quiltmaking in the 1970s, Haight had the potential to influence the practices of a new generation of quiltmakers. However, his advanced age and his priority of service to others shaped his legacy into one of service to a small number of other quiltmakers and a large body of quilts shared with his family, friends, and neighbors.

Subject Area

Biographies|Gender studies|Textile Research

Recommended Citation

Gregory, Jonathan E, "Why did Ernest Haight make quilts and why does it matter?" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689925.