Sunday, March 9, 2014


Good Morning, Class of ‘64

Quilting Bee - Morgan Weistling

A Crazy Quilt

Douglas Malloch

They do not make them anymore,
For quilts are cheaper at the store
Than woman's labor, though a wife
Men think the cheapest thing in life.
But now and then a quilt is spread
Upon quaint old walnut bed,
A crazy quilt of those days
That I am old enough to praise.

Some woman sewed these points and squares
Into a pattern like life's cares.
Here is a velvet that was strong,
The poplin that she wore so long,
A fragment from her daughter's dress,
Like her, a vanished loveliness;
Old patches of such things as these,
Old garments and old memories.

And what is life? A crazy quilt;
Sorrow and joy, and grace and guilt,
With here and there a square of blue
For some old happiness we knew;
And so the hand of time will take
The fragments of our lives and make,
Out of life's remnants, as they fall,
A thing of beauty, after all.


 Larry See

    While I was growing up, I slept under works of  art. We didn’t know that then; we simply needed them to keep warm. In winter, I slept under 4 or 5 works of art - quilts. Our “central heat” was a wood or coal heating stove in the living room. Very little heat made it to the upstairs bedrooms.
  It was normal to wake up in winter in those upstairs bedrooms with frost on the inside of the windows. When we got a snow storm from the northeast, there was snow on my bed in the morning. Getting undressed to go to bed was a bit chilly, but we warmed up quickly under that stack of quilts. It was great sleeping. 

Grandma's Flower Garden
Double Wedding Ring
     Mom made hundreds of quilts in her lifetime. Only in later years were they more decorative than necessary.
Her favorites were the Double Wedding Ring and the Flower Garden patterns.  
Tree of Life

 We draped the last quilt she made, a Double Wedding Ring, on her casket for the viewing and funeral. Six years later, my sister’s family did the same for her. They draped a quilt that she had made, a Tree of Life pattern, on her casket.

  A quilt has three parts, a pieced top, a fabric backing, and an insulating layer between them called the batting. The backing was whatever fabric was available and affordable. Cotton print feed sacks were often used.
Crazy Patch

The tops were usually painstakingly pieced in extremely attractive, intricate, geometric patterns. Sometimes random pieces, whatever was available with very little cutting, were used. I believe that these were called “crazy quilts” or “crazy patch” quilts. But those were the exceptions.

    Fabric was never bought for quilt pieces. Whatever was available was used, usually scraps left over from making clothes. Mom made many of our clothes, often from the feed sacks. It was lots of fun to look at a quilt and identify a favorite shirt, skirt, or dress. Color themes were often used if sufficient fabric was available. Occasionally, a particular type of fabric was used for all the pieces. I can remember all-wool, all-corduroy, and all-flannel quilts. Trading quilt pieces among the ladies in the neighborhood was common. The quilts were functional, beautiful, and often told unique stories.
 The tops were pieced in square blocks of uniform size. Each pattern was designed to produce these blocks. When the blocks were sewed together, that resulted in the uniformity of size of the completed quilts.
    The batting Mom used for many years was wool, an exceptional insulator. That made very warm quilts. Preparing the wool was quite a job. We always kept a fleece or two for quilts when we sheared the sheep. On a warm, sunny day, Mom washed the fleece in a wash tub on the old washboard, at least 3 or 4 times. Dust and dirt, grease, lanolin, and other things were in the wool. (Remember, the wool covered the entire sheep.) After thoroughly rinsing it, the fleece was laid out on clean grass to dry.  

Carding Wool
Carding Wool
      After drying, it had to be carded, usually just before use. Wool cards come in pairs and look like rectangular ping-pong paddles, about 6 x 9 inches, with offset handles. One surface of each card is covered with tiny curved, spring steel wires, all pointing toward the handle. They look a bit like tiny barbless fish hooks or oversize Velcro fasteners. A handful of wool was placed between them, and they were repeatedly slid apart in a motion much like dealing cards. The tiny wire hooks untangled the wool fibers and combed them, resulting in a small, flat rectangular “bat” of wool, about an inch thick. When sewn into the quilt, the bat was pressed together to a thickness of 1/8 inch or so.

Quilting Lines
      After the three layers were sandwiched together, the quilting process began. Quilting simply means sewing the three layers together to keep the batting from moving and forming thin or thick spots. Down coats are quilted for the same reason. Some patterns were quilted in straight lines, about 2 inches apart in both directions, a checkerboard pattern. The lines were marked with a yardstick and chalk. Other patterns were quilted following pattern lines. The objective was tiny, even stitches. If the pieced top were beautiful, the quilt was still not high quality if those tiny, even stitches were not there.

     There was a lazy, shortcut method of quilting called knotting. Brightly colored yarn and a darning needle was used. The yarn was pulled through from top to bottom and then back to the top about 1/4 inch away. Then it was tied in a square knot and the tag ends were cut to about one inch. The knots were about 4 - 5 inches apart in a random pattern. This was quick and easy to do - very functional, even attractive. But no prestige!
 Quilting frames were used to hold the material for the quilting process. Lap frames were made of two ovals of wood that fit inside each other, much like embroidery frames on steroids. They were about 16 x 24 inches.

A Quilting Party - Enoch Wood Perry - 1876

Larger frames on legs that sat on the floor and were a little longer than the width of the quilt so that an entire quilt would fit on them were also used. These had wooden rollers about 24 inches apart, the width of the quilt long. The ends of the quilt were attached to the two rollers with thumb tacks. One roller was rolled up to tighten the quilt. When an area had been quilted, a new section was rolled up, much like a scroll. At least 6 ladies could work around one of these frames so they were used for quilting bees and informal quilting parties. Mason built Mom’s large quilting frame. The wooden rollers were carved from chestnut fence rails. After quilting, the final step was to bind the edges, to hem them to keep them from ravelling.
Friendship Quilt
    Friendship quilts were made as gifts and for special occasions. Several different people each pieced a block, usually embroidering their name on it. Then all the blocks were sewn together and quilted, often a joint effort. The kids, spouses, and grandkids made a friendship quilt for Mom several years before she died, probably the only quilt she was ever given. 
Friendship Quilt
Each did a block (or one was done for each), making it a treasured keepsake.  Since I’m not very good with a needle, I painted our blocks and a block representing Mason. I recently saw a friendship quilt in the auditorium of a church-based college. Many churches in that denomination in West Virginia had each done a block. Then they were sewed together making a very impressive quilt.
Summertime Quilt Wash Day Folk Art Print
Quilting is probably the most pure form of folk art in America. Folk art today is almost exclusively decorative. I do a little tole painting but have never done a really functional item. 

Country Quilt Mustard House Folk Art Print
But the origins of folk art are based upon decorated functional items with the emphasis on functional. Original folk art first had to be functional. A century or two ago, when American folk art got started, there was very little color in the homes. There was blue sky, green grass, fall foliage, and some flowers, but that was about it for colors. That is why the colorful ginghams and calicos were so popular. Home woven fabrics were dyed with whatever pigments they could find. Some items were painted, often using home made milk paints, again using whatever pigments were available.
Country Quilt House Apple Tree Folk Art Print
(When paint became readily available and affordable, those same people painted everything that didn’t move, including some very beautiful oak, maple, and walnut woodwork and furniture. That’s the  paint that we laboriously strip - in our color-rich world, wood grain is again popular.)

Jean Quilt
    Folk art brought color into people’s lives, but much more important, it gave people an outlet for that artistic, creative urge that is a part of every human being. Random patchwork quilts would have been just as warm and could have been completed a lot quicker. Piecing a quilt exclusively with the bottoms of the legs of discarded blue jeans would have been very functional. Denim wears like iron, and that would have been quick and easy. But no one ever did that unless worn-out jeans was absolutely the only fabric available, and they were very, very cold.

 All quilts could have been made of one simple pattern - easier and quicker. But, instead, the artist in those ladies created some of the most fantastically intricate, beautiful designs imaginable.

Apple Core
  Quilts have warmed millions of bodies for many generations. As an example of the finer qualities, of that indomitable desire for beauty and creativity in everyday life, quilts warm hearts as well. 
 Far and near I sought
Utterance in a thought
A garden blooming, just for you;

So flowers that will not wilt
I stitched into a quilt,
My treasure-trove of memories for you.

Josephine Day Mickleson
How to Make an American Quilt
A tribute to the film - Music by Thomas Newman

from Aunt Jane of Kentucky
Recounts an elderly quilt-maker's memories of life in the rural south
 Find Aunt Jane of Kentucky for free at:
read online Aunt Jane of Kentucky:
Eliza Calvert Hall

How much piecin' a quilt is like livin' a life! You can give the same kind of pieces to two persons, and one will make a "nine-patch" and one'll make a "wild goose chase, " and there will be two quilts made out of the same kind of pieces, and jest as different as they can be. And that is jest the way with livin'. The Lord sends us the pieces, but we cut them out and put 'em together pretty much to suit ourselves, and there's a heap more in the cuttin' out and the sewin' than there is in the caliker*.
(Another collection of Aunt Jane stories was published in 1909 
as The Land of Long Ago - which is available as a 
free e-book for download at Google Books.)
After all, a woman didn't leave much behind in the world to show she'd been there. Even the children she bore and raised got their father's name. But her quilts, now that was something she could pass on.
Sandra Dallas

I don't care about age very much. I think back to the old people I knew when I was growing up, and they always seemed larger than life.
Chinua Achebe


  1. Does it have something to do with an apron????

  2. It could...think local dialect

  3. I think it is refering to a fabric of a lot of colors Calico!!!!.(caliker)