by Helen DePrima
Hand-made quilts equal love – gifts for a new baby, for a bride, for a daughter, incorporating her favorite dresses from childhood. I suspect most quilters don’t keep much of their own work, scattering their hours of planning, cutting, and stitching among friends and family like wildflower seeds into random gardens. I’ve lost track of how many baby quilts I’ve given away, some started from scratch and others incorporating patches and fabrics from older quilts.
I didn’t grow up with quilts or quilters, although I still have a baby quilt given to my mother before my birth. On winter nights, my family snuggled under old-fashioned feather ticks sheathed in calico or in sateen for special guests. I didn’t come to quilting until I decided to make one for my daughter’s third birthday. I designed it myself, sort of Grandma Moses meets Peter Max. Pretty crude -- my hand quilting looked more like battlefield surgery, far from an expert’s ten stitches per inch, but my daughter liked the animals and her name embroidered on the barn’s roof. Over the years, I’ve replaced most of the stitching and mended the edges worn ragged by love.
I’ve resisted buying quilts, telling myself I can duplicate the design. I did purchase one, both because of its colors and because of its backing, sturdy fabric from hundred-pound bags of chicken feed, complete with the silhouette of a handsome rooster. I like to picture a woman stitching away by lamplight – most farms wouldn’t have had electricity in the late 19th century – choosing patches cut from worn-out shirts and outgrown dresses, making thrifty one-eighth inch seams I’ve had to reinforce. It’s not a presentation quilt or even one to compete at the county fair, but the colors still glow probably a hundred years later.
One of the quilts I completed purely as a labor of love, donated to a fund-raising auction for the Central Virginia Equine Rescue. Someone liked it well enough to bid nearly three hundred dollars; I enjoyed thinking of the sale price converted into bales of good hay or maybe vet bills paid to care for abused and neglected horses and mules.
One project I plan to start soon will go to a cousin in Kentucky to pass down through his family, my grandfather’s blue handkerchiefs bordered by strips my grandmother saved from his work shirts. The old farm has been swallowed up by Interstate expansion, but I can at least pass on part of its legacy.
by Liz Flaherty
I remember the Sunbonnet Sue quilt that was always on my sister's bed. As with many things of hers, I coveted it. I wonder if she still has it somewhere. Maybe she'd like me to have it...no, probably not. We both have quilts that came from our mom and aunts and our grandmother. They're memories with love in every stitch, all 10 of them per inch.
When I retired in 2011, right near the top of my list of things I wanted to do was to make a bed-size quilt for each of my grandkids. That's seven.
Yes, seven. And no, I'd never made a quilt before. It took about four years, and the quilts got progressively better. I've made several since, but none that have meant as much as those seven.
But quilting gets under your skin. And into your books. In A Soft Place to Fall, the heroine owns a quilt shop. In my only historical book ever, Home to Singing Trees, the ladies at Gilead Church (the church I grew up in much later) had a quilting bee. The ladies presented the Wedding Ring quilt to Sarah Mary Williamson, the story's heroine, who'd helped make it. In Back to McGuffey's, Kate receives quilts to replace the bedding she's lost in a fire. In my work-in-progress, a yarn, fabric, and floss shop called In Stitches is front and center in the setting.
When I'm having trouble writing, I turn to the sewing machine and cutting table for...I'm not sure for what. I don't think it's inspiration, but after a while, my voice comes back and I usually know what it's trying to say. And sometimes I have a couple of quilt blocks to show for my muse's down time.
This is such a wonderful post, ladies, about preserving family history through quilting! I’m always in awe of people who are talented enough to create something like quilts or knitted garments. This year I became a grandmother for the first time and was thrilled to give my daughter the quilt made for her father by his grandmother, seventy years ago. It’s showing its age, but I’m hoping it will last another generation.ReplyDelete
Hi Janice -- glad you enjoyed our memories. How wonderful that you had such an historic quilt to pass on to your first grandchild. My daughter had a Sunbonnet Sue quilt made for me, but it didn't survive being loved to death. There's maybe one or two blocks in decent enough shape to make a pillow top.Delete
Ah, nostalgia hit. I have a couple of lovely memories of sitting with my grandmother at her weekly sew circle at her church in Marshalltown, Iowa. They made quilts and gave them away, and my sister and I each got one--I can see that quilt as clearly as can be. By the way, a colleague, Gini Athey, a professional quilter and pattern publisher, if you will, wrote "Quilts Galore," a popular novel and book 1 of her Wolf Creek Series. The quilt shops around here stock her books. Quilters might enjoy it. Thanks for the post!ReplyDelete
Quilts make great centerpieces for writing. In the Benni Harper mystery series by Earlene Fowler, each book's title is the name of a quilt pattern. Earlene and I have become good long-distance friends; I highly recommend her books.Delete
They both sound great!Delete
I've made a number of baby blanket quilts, but I keep thinking I'd like to get into it more. There are such fascinating patterns. The simplicity of the Log Cabin quilt is wonderful - the way the blocks are turned and the colors arranged can make it completely different every time you look at it. I've also bought a couple of quilts at an Amish farmhouse quilt/fabric shop. The woman who ran it explained that she and her daughters made the quilts during the winter.ReplyDelete
Hi Callie -- yes, baby quilts are great projects, almost instant gratification and small enough to quilt by hand. I made one by piecing together extra squares my aunt (whom I taught to quilt) had left over from a large log cabin design. My husband made me a fine big frame on which to quilt my larger efforts, but I've found I can do just as well lap-quilting on an 18-inch hoop while watching TV or even riding on long car trips.Delete
I love the Log Cabin pattern. If I could only have one favorite, that is probably it.Delete
I love those quilts, especially the farm and the red, white, and blue quilt. When I fly in to visit my mother who lives at the base of the Texas panhandle (the flattest spot on Earth) I always think I'd love to make a quilt duplicating the pattern of the fields below. For a long time, I made a baby quilt for each of my nieces' and nephews' babies, but about the time I started writing, quilting time got scarce. Confession: the last quilt, a blue baby block quilt, is half-pieced and the baby is now in elementery school. In the meantime, I've done a few tote bags and such.ReplyDelete
Isn't that old quilt handsome? I tried to photograph the logo on feed sack backing, but the quilter had turned it inside out so the image was too faint. I completely understand your unfinished project. I had started my donated quilt maybe thirty years earlier; by the time I finished it, I didn't even like the colors -- glad someone bid on it for the horse rescue. And you're so right about seeing potential patterns flying above the plains. My author friend Earlene Fowler makes the same observation in her mystery Kansas Troubles.Delete
I love antique quilts & have a few, but they’ve been used and loved hard.Delete
I have never learned to quilt but we were blessed with quilts my husband's grandmother's on both sides worked on. They are postage stamp quilts and hand quilted.....talk about a lot of work and not letting an scrap go to waste! My gifts are baby blankets crocheted or knitted. All my 37 nieces, nephews, greats and great-greats have one, many that I've had to repair and refurbish over the years. When I managed people for a living I made 53 blankets for my staff who were expecting little ones. For some of them, I got the call right after their parents so I could start working on their blanket. Two people even brought in paint chips so I could make the crib size blanket match everything else in the nursery. I understand completely the idea of using your creativity differently until your muses return. These days spinning fiber into yarn helps my characters decide what is going to happen next! Loved the posts. Hope you inspire other to share their gifts, writing and otherwise!ReplyDelete
I envy your spinning -- I carded some rovings into a nice soft batt but never got any farther than that. I like hand quilting because it's peaceful work that doesn't take a lot of concentration once the piecing is done.Delete
I love knitted and crocheted blankets, but confess I can’t do either.Delete
I grew up cutting quilt blocks for my mother, but I've never made one myself. I have a top my mom pieced together for my oldest daughter, but never lived to do the batting and quilting. I took a couple of classes to see if I had any aptitude to finish it. Found out that I don't. Do love quilts and going to quilt shows in the area. Nice post ladies.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Roz. My interest surprised me. Although I loved to sew, the artistry of quilting is actually beyond me.Delete
My grandma made me a Sunbonnet Sue for my bed. She made so many double wedding ring quilts for others. She really wanted one for herself, even named the colors she would make, but she never seemed to make the time. I bought her the fabric and gave it to her; I told her to make it and keep it. She did. I don't think she ever put on a bed and used it, but she made it and kept it. I inherited it after my grandparents had both passed away.ReplyDelete
I was blessed with many quilts from her, but that's the one I treasure the most.
Great story about your grandmother's prize quilt. My aunt made a lovely Log Cabin, courthouse steps version, which I gave to me daughter. I found extra squares she had left over and worked them into a baby quilt for a young cousin's first baby.Delete
I love that story!Delete
What a great gift for your daughter. I have a doll quilt my great grandmother made for my parents’ little girl who died in 1941. I never knew either of them, but like knowing they touched the quilt.ReplyDelete
This answer was for Janice—I should know I can never do this on my phone!Delete
Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog post.Much thanks again.
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