An Heirloom Christmas: Millsaps family treasures hand-quilted stockings

By Tabitha Evans Moore, Editor & Publisher

Elizabeth Millsap’s heirloom stocking hangs in her Nashville home. It’s one of 65 handmade by Ann Millsaps and her daughter, Gina, from the quilts of Mary High Prince. {Photo Provided}

They’re made from quilts loving pieced together by her great-great-grandmother, Mary High Prince, and now, they hang on the stairway at the front entrance of her Nashville home. To Lynchburg native, Elizabeth Millsaps, and her daughter Ella Clare Merkel, they contain history and love and family … all sewn into a single heirloom … a handmade Christmas stocking.

They are a reminder of the way life used to be for most folks in Moore County and a nudge to always be grateful. The life Elizabeth and her daughter enjoy now is very different from the childhood her father, Joe, lived then.

“My dad was in elementary school before they got electricity in their homes,” Elizabeth says. “It’s astonishing to me when he talks about his childhood that electricity, which we so readily take for granted, is that new as part of our world.”

Elizabeth left Lynchburg in 1992 to attend Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. She and her daughter, Ella Clare, now live in Nashville, where Elizabeth works as a lobbyist at Millsaps Gowan Government Relation, her own firm.

Her father, Joe, lived in a three room house in the Charity community with his parents and siblings. As was the norm in those days, all three siblings (Joe, Baxter, and Barbara) all slept in the same room. During the winter, Joe’s dad heated the home with a wood stove that sometimes burned out in the middle of the night. To keep warm, everyone slept under stacks of handmade quilts they kept in the closet.

Mary High Prince {Photo Provided}

Elizabeth says her father’s great grandmother worked as a well-known seamstress in Moore County with a reputation for fine handwork, but especially embroidery. In 1930, she died at the age of 90, when Joe was just six weeks old. The quilts Mary High Prince handmade stayed in the family – getting handed down from one generation to another as heirlooms.

Then in 2000, Joe’s wife, Ann, and their daughter, Gina, decided to pass some of the quilts down in a different way. As they sorted through them, several were too tattered and worn to repair. And so, they devised a plan to gently cut them into enough squares to make 65 stockings for relatives.

“They spent a day planning how to cut them, and then two more days cutting, pressing and sewing them together,” says Elizabeth. “Each of my dad’s siblings gift for Christmas that year that was enough stockings for their children and grandchildren.”

Millsaps says that her mother and sister added a lace cuff to all the girl’s stockings made from the lace trim of old, vintage sheets they found stored with the quilts.

“My mother found a trash bag of old sheets in the attic and took all of the handmade lace trim from the pillow cases and soaked them for days to get them white again. She then cut off that trim to make a pretty cuff for each stocking,” she says.

Today those stocking sit spread across the country in the homes of the descendants of Mary High Prince filled with Christmas goodies and reminding all of us of the true meaning of Christmas … family. •