FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

The Quilt in the Corner Closet

It all started with me looking for blanket in the linen closet downstairs.  It was cool sitting down while working on my server in mid-January and I finally had to admit to myself that even tough old dad’s legs get cold at times.

Not immediately spotting a manly colored blanket, I began looking through the shelves for something with a hunting scene or even one of our now long-married sons old blankets with trucks on it from their youth. 

Lifting a foot or two of the stack of blankets exposed a decidedly old faded blue material to the light.  Ugh.  Old.  Ugly color.  Why did we have something like that in the closet? 

Curious, I uncovered more of the quilt thinking I’d ask my wife if it could be used for camping or covering the tomatoes during a frost.

And then from somewhere, way back in the dusty vaults of my memory, I remembered holding this slick material in one hand and a stuffed bear in the other.  

It was the blanket from my early life.  I’d forgotten that my mother had given it to my wife decades ago. 

Why did that knowledge change my opinion of the attractiveness and value of this old collection of vintage cloth? 

Memories.  Reference points.  Love.  All embodied in a child-sized blanket that probably qualifies for landmark status under historical laws in many communities.

My wife makes memories out of cloth today.  Her blankets aren’t plain.  They are beautiful.  When she makes them for our grandchildren, they are designed with each specific grandchild in mind.  They wouldn’t be ‘right’ for someone else.

Our daughters and daughters-in-law make quilts too.  Their skills are approaching those of my wife.  As time and age slow her down and make it more difficult to sit at a sewing machine or bent over quilting frames, the younger generation will overtake the productivity of grandma. 

She’ll be there keeping her hand in the mix.  You couldn’t keep her out.  Much of her time will be spent teaching her granddaughters the quilting and knitting skills she learned from her mother and grandmother, just like she did with her daughters.

Our granddaughters have already picked up the quilting bug.  The wall above her sewing machine is covered with mini-wall hanging quilts that they have made for grandma.  The wee lasses started early.  Some of the creations were completed when they were two.  Looking at the wall, one can see the progression of time representing the ages of the girls in the neatness of their stitch.

The offer of a Picasso to replace the scene on the wall would be summarily shunned.  The little wall hangings are treasure to grandma.  They have both real and intrinsic value in her world.

Grandma’s quilts will eventually be stored away in the homes of the mature women who once were young sewing crafters.  They’ll be taken out from time to time and shown to their daughters.  “See – grandma’s label is on the back.” “She made this for me when I turned eight or when I moved into my new bedroom or when I graduated from high school or when we got married.”

They’ll have value both real and intrinsic in the worlds of these ladies too.  The fabric of the day may look different but the gold offered still wouldn’t buy them. 

You can’t put a price on memories and reference points and love.

Seeds of Never-Seen Dreams from Kayann Short on Vimeo.

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8 September 2010 Posted by | Family History | , | Leave a comment

My Mother Was a Quilter

A cascade of vintage quilting fabric brought back memories of growing up with a mother who was a quilter.  As the caboose in the family, I frequented the quilting bees she attended because there was no one at home to tend me.

My parents raised my older siblings during the depression and were grateful to have the cloth from flour sacks to make pajama’s, aprons and probably play blouses to wear under my sister’s jumpers.

Even though I was born two decades later than them, I also heard the constant refrain; “Wear it out.  Use it up or do without”.  The extreme lessons learned in the depression never left my parents minds.

Hence, the pattern of the vintage fabric produced a flashback of laying my bored, tired young body under a quilt frame with a quilt stretched across it.  Surrounding me were the legs of a dozen women wearing similarly patterned dresses, thick hose and ‘sturdy’ shoes.  I can still hear their constant chatter, laughter and the occasional ‘Ouch!’ from an errant stitch.  Once the “chickens in the coop” started to cluck, my eyes rarely stayed open for more than two minutes.  Maybe someone should sell that sound as a sleep aid for children and men.

Of course I married a quilter.  Not necessarily by conscious thought, but certainly to my delight.  The craft has passed on to our daughters and daughters-in-law.  When I sit in my chair in the living room and they all gather to discuss their latest projects, designs and favorite fabric patterns, the two minute rule is still in effect.  Cackle, cackle, ….. snore….

Unfortunately, all of the guys in our family think there is a downside to our wives hobby.  Sometimes we are dragged by them, (usually screaming), to a fabric store.

Reading the Pickles comic strip makes me think its creator has a copy of the security tapes from my visits to these stores.  I’m obviously the inspiration for the strips covering this subject.



Mom’s quilting legacy lives on in the current generations.  They don’t make many quilts out of old Levi’s and worn out shirts like Mom did, but they do help several quilting stores remain viable in our area.

I’m glad the legacy is being passed on to our granddaughters.  They are full of creative ideas and are bonding with the older quilters in the family in ways that make me smile.

I wonder how far back the quilting talent can be traced in their lineage.  It was probably less ‘fun’ for the earlier generations.  Our grandmothers were sewing clothing to wear and quilts to warm their beds rather than the current creations that are produced under less pressure and thus with probably a little more enjoyment of the work.

Looking at some of the designs in my grandmothers old quilts makes me think that there was more than a little whimsy stitched into their designs though.  The patterns are obvious, but when you explore the stitches closely, you often discover the quilters initials and other signature stitch designs.  If you spend just a few minutes more, you can see the elongated, crooked and loose stitches that were made by the young folks in the family who were being taught the craft as they sat in on a quilting bee.

All the quilts our ladies have made are Treasure.  Pure Treasure.

That’s family history you can touch!

16 July 2009 Posted by | Research Tips | , , , , | Leave a comment