I love it when I discover something wonderfully Appalachian that I didn’t know about!
I was researching Appalachian funeral traditions for my 2021 story (oops, I think I just gave away that someone dies–well, several someone’s actually!). I knew about cooling boards, sitting up with the dead, hand-digging graves, silver dollars on the eyes (pennies turn the skin green), and draping a cloth soaked in soda water over the face to keep the skin from darkening. But coffin quilts–this was new!
Called coffin or graveyard quilts they would be stitched by a family to be revisited each time someone died. They were typically somber colors–grays, blacks, or browns. Patterns varied, but often included a large square in the center that was the “graveyard.” Pieces of fabric shaped like coffins would be embroidered with each family member’s names and basted to the outside edge. When that person died, their coffin would be moved to the center graveyard and sewn into place.
The quilt might be used to drape the actual coffin at the funeral or used to cover the deceased at the viewing. While it might seem morbid, I tend to think it strikes the right balance between acknowledging that we’re all going to die one day and honoring those who already have.
Because in the end, we’ll all find our spot in the graveyard!