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Of Niddy-Noddies, Hetchels and Quilts

By Jim Mullett

They are distant memories, but vivid nonetheless.

John Corey recalls a frigid winter night. It might have been sometime in the late 1930s, in a house on the road leading to Havelock, just past the crooked bridge.

Shivering in his bed, he jumps out, hurries to the linen closet, grabs another quilt and tosses it on the bed. He doesn't like the extra weight, but it keeps out the cold.

Or it may have been the following day as he stands in the window of his large two-storey home watching the horse-drawn sleighs pull up to the front door. The ladies from nearby homesteads are dropping in to visit with his mother, share stories and make quilts.

Beds piled high with quilts, closet shelves stacked with quilt and accompanying coverlets, they all elicit fond memories for Corey.

The 70-year-old resident of Havelock, collector of textiles and restorer of Heritage homes, recalls how his mother, who died of cancer when he was 14, made quilts to give away.

"Some of the best quilts in our house went out as wedding presents," he says.

"Its a totally comforting memory, a romantic notion, a nurturing thing. There is something virtuous, personal and poignant about them. I even had a cousin who died last year and his wife decided to make quilts out of his clothes to give his sons."

For the past 50 years, Corey has amassed a textile collection of over 300 itemsover 70 per cent of which is New Brunswick-made quilts.

He can't quite remember exactly how it all started, although he has always been a collector.

But he does recall a visit to the Whitney Museum in New York while he was an art student.

"I saw a display of quilts there," he says. "There was a visual impact. Things were happening and there were these intense colours. The experienced started propelling me to buy quilts as visual objects."

There was his first, which he purchased during the sale of the old Venning farm in Smith Creek.

There is his oldest quilt dating back to the 1770s, which he picked up on Campobello Island.

And in between are the rest, one which somebody pulled out of the Havelock dump.

"I wish I knew who made that one," Corey says. "Its not in bad shape and there are some fabulous elements of weaving."

The remainder of the collection consists of floor coverings, bed ticks, which could be stuffed with straw or feathers, tablecloths, feed bags, a horse blanket from the 1840s, and an assortment of tools such as niddy-noddies for winding yarn and a hetchel for straightening fibres.

Until recently hes kept it all in his childhood home in Havelock where he still resides.

But today Corey is putting the finishing touches on a deal which will send the entire collection to the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.

Peter Larocque, a curator at the museum, is happy. He says they already have 170 similar items dating back to 1922. And with the addition of Coreys collection they will be one of the premium museums in the country for the study of domestic textiles.

Corey is also pleased. Its a chance to pass on the treasures as well as the memories.

"Im selling them so I can get rich," he jokes. "But really, Im 70 now and single, and something has to be done with them. This way theyll be available to the province. I feel Im contributing to the understanding of our personal heritage."

Today Corey acknowledges the changing of the times and the use of commercial textiles over the home-grown variety.

"They may be just as lovely," he concedes. "But I think there is something missing."

To make his point he relates a recent incident in Hampton after a funeral.

"Afterwards we went to the Resource Centre and there was a quilt hanging there. It was in the process of being made and they had set it aside for the next meeting of the quilting group. It made me realize that whats missing is the whole social thing of quilting."

(Appeared in the April 1, 2003 issue of the Kings County Record, Sussex)


John Corey with two tools used for quilt making. In his right hand, he holds a niddy-noddy used for winding yarn. In his left hand, a hetchel for straightening fibres.


A member of the Saunders Family, Kings County, New Brunswick

Pieced quilt, c. 1890 cottons and silks Log Cabin Light and Shadow


Mrs. Robert Prosser, Petitcodiac, New Brunswick
Pieced Quilt, about 1935; Broken Star or Blazing Star pattern


A.E.F. (maker unidentified) Hibernia, Queens County, New Brunswick Blanket c. 1850-1875 twill woven wool Stripes pattern


Annie MacKay Bateman, Shediac Cape, New Brunswick Applique quilt, about 1875 Princess Plumes pattern