Friday, November 22, 2013

Meet Quilter Olive May

Olive May was a prolific quilter.  I am happy to be able to share a few of her quilts today as well as some of her story.  I never knew Olive, but I think she's a kindered spirit.                          

Olive was born May 2, 1897 in Pittsburgh, PA.  Her grandparents immigrated to the United States in the mid-1800s from Germany.  Her father worked in a print shop.  Her mother was not literate so her father read the newspaper aloud each evening.  From these humble beginnings came a family who valued education.

Olive had two much older brothers, Harry and Theodore who were 10 and 8 when she arrived. 
The boys were known to torment her, throwing mice into the outhouse when she was there at night.
Harry became an architect and designed the house Olive and her husband lived in.
Theodore was a theatre director, taught at Carnegie Tech and painter later in life.
Olive loved the color purple.  One of many heirlooms left to her family was a set of amythest stemware.
  Olive was also artistic.  She also attended  Carnegie Institute of Technology.  While studying piano there, she was invited to the Mellon (Banking Family) family home to provide live music for their daughters' interpretive dance lessons.  Olive told her family how a fancy car and driver would arrive at the school and drive her and the dance instructor to the Mellon's enormous house.  There she played Debussy and Chopin while the girls learned avant-garde dance.  She went on to teach piano, teaching into her 70's.

Olive May married a trombone-playing electrical engineer in 1921, she was 24 years old.  The couple moved into the house her brother designed.  It is believed most of her quilts were hand stitched over a 40 year span in this home.  Her first husband passed away when Olive was 65.  He was entertaining at a banquet, telling jokes, when he suffered a massive fatal heart attack.
With the loss of her husband, Olive moved in with her daughters family.  They have many fond memories of Olive.  She hand quilted in a hoop as she sat in a favorite chair.   When her granddaughter joined her for lunch in her room they would pretend to take a train trip.  Sitting in their 'dining car' they would watch the scenery out the window periodically adding whistle noises.  Olive was known as Gam or Gammy to her grandchildren.  One of her quilts is marked this way.  Olive had a studio grand piano and entertained the family most nights after dinner.  The family had two pianos and duets were common.  
 Olive remarried in 1967.  Her second husband was also artistic.  He designed the pink tulip quilt she made.  He also assisted her in how it should be signed with a contemporary font - 'GAM' is inked on the quilt.  She chose to also add her own cursive signature 'Gammy' - embroidered in green thread on the white background of the quilt.
Olive May loved the color purple
Olive's Hand Quilting
Olive passed away in 1983. 
Poppy Quilt made by Olive for her daughter in 1972
In her 86 years, Olive May completed more than 30 quilts, all hand appliqued and hand quilted.  She did beautiful handwork, with tiny wonderful stitches.  She hand quilted in a hoop while sitting comfortably in a favorite chair.
Her quilts were distributed to friends, family, and the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, Colorado.  The remaining quilts need homes.  I never knew Olive May, but I know I would have liked her.  I am helping her family find homes for the quilts.  They are listed in our Etsy Shop, Collector With a Needle, links are also below.  If you know someone looking for a handmade vintage quilt please help Olive May's quilts find good homes.

UPDATE 11/30/2013 - A few more of Olive's quilts added to the Etsy shop HERE
(The shop is divided into two sections:  One with our patterns, the other with vintage treasures.
  • Bouquet Quilt SOLD HERE
  • Tulip Quilt SOLD HERE
  • Pair of Twin Quilts Purple SOLD HERE
  • Pansy Quilt  SOLD  HERE
UPDATE - Thank you, all the quilts have found loving quilty homes
Have a great week!


  1. What sweet quilts. It will be fun for the new owners to know Olive a bit.

  2. What a wonderful story, what wonderful quilts!

  3. Olive had a very interesting life and did lovely stitching.
    I hope her quilts all find good homes that will appreciate her work.

  4. That was a wonderful story and her quilts certainly reflect her talents.

  5. Wow! Lovely story, and lovely quilts too!

  6. I love it when the history of a quilt maker is known. I am trying to get my Mom to label the quilts she has made for us, and to document them in a quilt journal. She is not going into this easily. : )

  7. That an amazing amount of history that you know.....was Olive part of your family?

    Thanks for sharing this..... wonderful quilts she made!

  8. That's so great for you to help out. Lovely to know some history about this quilter.

  9. sweet quilts and always good to have some history of the maker attached to any handmade item~!


  10. What a great story - loved reading about her life. Now I'm going to go check out her quilts!

  11. I loved reading about Olive. I know you will find good homes for all of her quilts, Dawn.

  12. what a nice profile of Olive and her quilts.
    Beautiful vintage quilts!


Thanks for your comments!