Grandma's Quilts - Quilting using Scraps Tell a Story

I remember Grandmother "piecing" her quilt tops both by hand and with her "treadle" Singer sewing machine. Mostly, this was done during the cold winter days and on stormy days when there wasn't much else that could be done. This was before my time, but I'm sure many of you have heard of the "good old days" when flour came in cloth sacks.

Well, more than just flour came in those pretty, printed, cloth sacks. I recall the old folks talking about cornmeal, oatmeal, laying mash and even oats for livestock feed coming in those cloth sacks. Many women would wash these sacks and use them for clothing, tablecloths, dish towels, even underwear. I've slept under many a quilt that was made from these.

But, when I was small, Grandmother would save all our old clothes, or at least, the best pieces of them. Also, folks would give us old clothes they couldn't use anymore. She'd bring these home and cut these scraps of fabric up for quilt pieces. Mostly, these pieces would just be squares. It wasn't till her later years that she started working from patterns. I remember her piecing tops that had multicolored circles. 

She did one that had little "Dutch girls", as best as I can describe it. My very favorite was one that had big red and yellow apples on it.

My Grandfather had found some small trees and he cut and stripped them for poles to make her a quilting frame. It was hung from the ceiling, when not in use. She always had a quilt going. Outside of cooking, cleaning, gardening, canning, and mending our clothes, it was her only activity.

Oh, I hear you moaning, ladies! You're saying, "Cooking, cleaning, gardening, canning, and mending clothes!!! My gosh!!! Isn't that enough!!? Well, it's really not. Not when you consider that she didn't have any place to go for weeks at a time. She didn't have a TV. She didn't have a radio. She didn't even have electricity. She didn't drive. She didn't have money to spend on crossword puzzles or picture puzzles. We didn't even subscribe to a newspaper. 

She was lucky to have enough money to buy thread. Quilting was her "hobby", you might say. It was her way of taking a break and spending some quality time with her thoughts. It helped the family stay warm in the winter, but that was just icing on the cake. 

Quilting was her way of expressing her artistic side. She never "tied" her quilts. She would always stitch them by hand, and in such intricate patterns, too. I remember being amazed at the fine stitching, even as a little boy.

As I recall, the back of her quilt was always one piece of cloth, or maybe two or three joined together. I really can't remember, but I do know they were only one color on the back. I do remember some of her older quilts that were pieced on both sides. Most likely, that was before she could afford to buy cloth from the bolt. But, by the time I came along, she had opted to have her quilt backs all one color.

In the early years, she had used pieces of cloth as filler for the quilts. Most likely, it was the heavily worn sections from old clothes that she used for filler. She never filled them with goose down, cattail fuzz, cotton, wool or anything like that. Later on, she used pieces of old blankets that folks had given us. (I don't recall us ever having a store bought blanket.) I do recall her making quilts for other people. On these, she used store bought filler, of some sort.

My Mother and two Sisters inherited those old quilts. Lord knows we wore quite a few of them out, when we were children. Then too, Grandfather would take them into the hills and sleep on them on the nights when he had to make a run of shine. I imagine he wore out his share of them.

Being made from old pieces of worn out clothing, you might say they already had quite a bit of age on them to start with. Just like Grandmother, herself. To me, she seemed new and comforting, but she was already old and worn from the ways of the world.

Like those quilts, she pieced her life together as best she could with what she had.

-Jesse Taylor

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