Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Heirloom Quilts

I'm pushing spring, and not with much success! The clothesline on my back porch doesn't get much use for six months of the year. Although I love the smell of air-dried clothes and linens, they simply do not dry during the winter months. I've been 'testing' the clothesline this week, and things hung to dry are still damp after two days, so into the house they come, completing the drying process in front of the wood stove. This week I'm washing and drying old quilts and it's a project that has taken me down memory lane.

Many of my old quilts are not fancy, nor pieced patchwork, nor valuable by any stretch of the imagination. But they are special to me because they represent many things. They establish connection to my roots on many levels. These quilts were made by my great-grandmother and my grandmother, using scraps of fabrics my mother sent to grandma that were left-over from making dresses, blouses, and skirts for my sister and me during our teen-age years. As I look at these quilts I see the first dress I drafted a pattern from scratch to make (a replication of a Gunny Sak dress so popular in the 1970's). And I see a pantsuit smock of my sisters, and a long peasant dress of mine; a blouse of mom's and a school dress of mine. I could go on for a long time, describing the outfits that these fabrics made! What a walk down memory lane every time I look at these quilts! I have more than a half a dozen of these precious quilts, and although they are utilitarian and simple, they are the equivalent of 'comfort food' in the quilting world!

I have vivid memories of visiting at Grandma's house where mom, sis, and I would help Grandma and Great-grandma work on these quilts and others. Great-grandma and Great-grandpa lived with Grandma during their later years. Great-grandma was in her 80's and had a hard time hearing, so her days were spent quietly working on a project; usually a quilt. Each morning she would get up, eat her breakfast, and then shuffle over to her treadle sewing machine to start her quilting day. Grandma would keep her supplied in cut blocks. And quilt after quilt after quilt would result. Between the two of them, dozens and dozens and dozens of quilts were made and given to charity for those in need. It was a true gift from the heart; a full-time job for my two grandmas. All their quilts were tied on an old-fashioned quilting frame. Usually their designs were totally random, although some have a pattern of half-blocks made into diamonds or squares.

All this talk about quilts reminds me of the time that I, in my 'modernness' wanted a hand-quilted quilt. The grandmas were patient, but I got the idea that they thought me somewhat silly for wanting something so fancy. They were plain, English women who had lived practical lives, and a tied quilt was good enough. But, they loved me so went along with my idea. During a spring break from school our family visited the grandmas and together we quilted a quilt. I still have that quilt; thirty-some years later. And I treasure it yet! Four generations of quilters worked on creating a beautiful design that only we could love! Great-grandmother's stitches are long and rambled (she was old), Grandma's were medium in length and only somewhat crooked, Mom's were even and getting smaller, and mine were the smallest yet (I had a vision in my mind's eye as to how this was to look). It's a mis-matched quilt of many stitches! And a treasure to me forever! My four-generation quilt, made with love by four women --- great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and daughter. Just thinking about it makes me a little teary. Life has gone one and only Grandma and I remain. . .but the loving stitches of Great-grandmother and Mom remind me of who they were and who I am today.


  1. And I got a little teary thinking about you all working together on such a treasure of a quilt. God blessed you through the simple, yet precious English women in your life. Your quilts are treasures.

    Elizabeth Joy

  2. These quilts are valuable because they have so much of your heritage and memories wrapped up in them. What lovely pieces of your life to have!!

  3. I'm one of those folks who does laundry according to the weather, I save the heavy stuff for the warmest day of the week to hang on the line. I've got a few family heirloom quilts that I was thinking of airing on the line tomorrow.

  4. Ther are so many fabrics to look at in this quilt. What a treasure !


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