Monday, March 16, 2015

Old Quilts

Hexies with Yarn Ties
I am naturally drawn to old quilts. It doesn't matter how ugly or worn they are. I believe each quilt has a story. It's a story that I may never be able to fully decipher, but one that is worthy of contemplating and spending time thinking about. No matter how flawed a quilt may be, there is something of interest and value within those fibers.

Wool Quilt
Some old quilts were crafted with well-honed skills. Time, effort, and skill went into each design and every stitch. But just because a quilt was made in the "olden days" it doesn't mean it was automatically stitched as a piece of art. Sometimes an old quilt was made simply to provide warmth for the family. And sometimes quality stitching or design was the last thing on the quilters mind. Quilts were how families kept warm! Poorly heated homes frequently had chilly bedrooms! A quilt was what provided a cozy and warm place to sleep. 

Yarn Tied and Muslin
Yardage for any quilt is fairly expensive these days. I suspect purchasing quilting fabric could have been even more of a hardship in days gone by. Many old quilts that are still around to be viewed and appreciated are made from scraps of garments. When a dress or shirt grew to be too small or tattered to be worn, the good parts of the garment were cut out to be used as quilt blocks. Inventive. Thrifty. Waste not, want not.

Strips and Scraps
Sometimes {frequently} if a selected fabric was not large enough to create a whole strip or block, the seamstress stitched pieces together to create a whole. Usually they would use the same fabric to create a whole, but occasionally they would simply add another fabric to the strip or piece to make the whole. Can you see the black stripe in the quilt above that becomes a white stripe part way through? That was a common trait with thrifty quilters.  I have several old quilts that my great-grandmother made. She was super thrifty! Many of the pieces have been stitched together to make a block. Fortunately, most of her piecing was with the same color and type of fabric of the original piece. By using great-grandmother's method, the eye forgives or doesn't see the patchwork, instead, looking at the whole for the full-effect.

Log Cabin
Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is my all-time favorite old quilt. I found it years ago while hiking to an old Civil War fort. While others were intent upon finding old bullets and exploring cannons, I was mesmerized by a log cabin quilt on display in the visitor's center. It was made of all wool fabrics, each which had been a part of the uniform of a Civil War soldier. As is tradition with authentic log cabin quilts, the center of each block was a square of orange wool. The quilt was old, worn, and drab. It also spoke of loyalty, truth, respect, and patriotism.

Sensational Hand Quilting
This beautiful appliqued quilt is one I found recently in a private museum. It was made in 1855 which would make it smack, dab in the middle of the Oregon Trail era. Because it was viewed near the Idaho and Oregon border, one would naturally assume that this quilt was made by a pioneer woman. The materials were quality, still holding together very well with no fraying or fading. But the amazing thing about this old quilt --- the stitching! The hand-stitching for this quilting was amazing! Super tiny stitches were evenly stitched on the entire quilt top. Mostly squares, a flower with heart-shaped petals were scattered in selected places in the design. This quilt exemplifies stitching perfection!

All That Work for $4.00
This quilt is a true beauty! I do worry about that pin, though. Will it cause rust on that pretty quilt top? There's no cover or protection for this quilt. Next time I go, dare I take a quality, modern quilt pin and ask them if I could replace the one they are using? Would that be ungracious and tacky of me?

Scrappy Quilt
This old quilt was made by a woman I call Mary. I believe that's what they said her name was, but since I cannot remember clearly, let's just say it was. Mary was not a quilter. She probably never made a quilt in her life. But, like many of us, she had her quilt-y dreams. For years she would take a 9 1/2" square piece of muslin and then sew scraps of fabric in a circulating pattern around a focal point. When she passed away, huge stacks of these blocks were found with her belongings. Such devotion and dedication to a cause deserved to reach its conclusion. A faithful quilter took some of the blocks, squared them, pressed them, and stitched them together to make a quilt top that speaks volumes. The story of the history of this quilt, along with the many types of textiles and fabric designs share of times passed that only a quilter would understand. 

Every quilt has a story. If only they could talk. They cannot, so it is our task as those who love and appreciate the stories they tell to figure them out. Do you have an old quilt in your life?

Like a Coat of Many Colors


  1. I have a quilt made by my husband's grandmother for him when he was a boy. Lots of memories for him there. My mother makes quilts now and they are beautiful. Someday, they too will be old quilts.

  2. I do love old quilts too. There is just something so beautiful in the worn samplers of life in another time.


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