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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Quilt Maker

My grandmother was a great quilt maker. She loved to keep busy. In the summer when she wasn't busy with the garden or preservation of foods she would spend time cutting out and piecing quilts. One of her favorites was a Flower Garden. She would use her homemade paper pattern and cut out all the pieces and then sit and hand piece the pieces together. Each piece had to be cut individually and sewn together. She would start with the middle piece and then sew the pieces around it to make the flower and then another row to make a second ring for the flower. After she was finished making all the flowers she would cut the pieces to put it together.
As far as the scraps she had to make the quilts sometimes she would use old shirts or blouses or dresses that couldn't be worn anymore she would cut out some pieces from those. Sometimes it was scraps of material people had given her. We also had a cousin that lived in Arizona that worked at some kind of a mill where she could get scraps from a garment factory. She would send a couple big boxes of these pieces a couple times a year. Those were neat because there was a lot of pieces alike and they made very pretty quilts. To finish up her quilts if we had the money she would buy cotton batting and muslin lining. If she didn't have any money to buy batting or lining she would use an old blanket for the middle and an old sheet for the lining.
Like I stated, she pieced quilts in the summer and in the winter she quilted them. Sometimes she would have as many as 15 quilt tops to quilt. As soon as the weather got too cold to sit outside on the porch she would have my grandfather go to the smokehouse to get her quilting frames.
There were four hooks in the ceiling of the living room. The quilting frame was 4 boards (like 1 by 1's) cut to fit the quilt. Along one side of each of the boards were tiny nails (like finishing nails). Twine strings with a loop on each end were used for hanging. 4 "C" clamps held the four boards together in a square. One loop of the twine string was set into the hook in the ceiling and the other through two boards and the "C" clamps held the two boards together.
After the quilt frame was assembled it was time to put up the quilt. the lining went in first it was fastened to all the tiny nails on each side of the quilt. Then the batting was laid on top of the quilt. It was slightly smaller than the lining. After the batting was set down the quilt was laid in place on the top. It was then basted together around the sides to keep all three pieces together. Now it was ready to hand quilt.
Depending how the top was pieced would depend on how it was quilted. In the case of the flower garden it was quilted around each piece -- a labor of love to be sure. In other quilts she would take a piece of chalk and mark a line and use a fan stitch to quilt the top. She would start at one end and quilt to the other end. Then the part she had quilted was rolled under the frame. She continued doing this until the entire quilt was finished. Then it was time to bind the quilt. The basting stitches would be removed and because she had allowed for the lining to be larger she would fold the lining over the top of the quilt and hand sew it to the top with invisible stitches. I was never any good at quilting because my stitches were too long and they were crooked and I would rather spend my time reading a book.
The quilt took up most of the living room so us kids were excited because we got to play on the floor underneath the quilt. The only problem was you had to watch out for your head because if you bumped the quilt Grandma would likely stick her fingers with the needle and that would upset her and she would get after you. I should point out also that she wore a thimble for quilting and she always used homemade beeswax to keep her needles sharpened.
Sometimes the neighbors would stop by in the afternoon to help her quilt. Sometimes there would be quiltings or social gatherings and they would come and stay all day.
At night when the quilting had ended for the day the quilt was rolled up to the ceiling on the twine strings at night , That was always exciting to me because you could see the patterns on the backside of the quilt.
When the morning chores were done the quilt would come back down for another day of quilting. It certainly kept one from being bored during those cold winter days and a brand new quilt kept us warm at night.
That's it for Today.


Sandra said...

A lovely story, Jenny. It reminds me so much of my mother and grandmother. Although I don't remember them making the flower garden, they did make the other two. I had the tumbling blocks on my bed for years when I was on the farm.

Mike Goad said...

Very interesting story. My mom and grandmother didn't quilt so I had no experience with it growing up. However, my wife started quilting many years ago and it is her passion. Her quilting frame, an oak triple roller, is set up permanently in this room and she is sewing right now. She blogs at Quilts....etc. While she does occasionally machine piece, she prefers hand piecing and hand quilting.

So, through her, I am familiar with quilting and the process, though I've never seen a quilting frame hanging from the ceiling.

Mike Goad (currently at home in Arkansas)
Haw Creek Out 'n About

Leno said...

Amazing story Jenny. I have always envied anyone that had the talent to do this. I have always wondered how they learned to do it. I also envy the memory you have to remember all these wonderful times. Once again, thank for sharing.