Friday, February 22, 2013

Turning Down the Quilt

How well I remember the days when visiting my grandmother.  At the end of a busy day I would always find the bed turned down, just so.  The freshly laundered and line-dried sheets and pillowcases would not have a wrinkle in them.  It wasn't until many years later I learned that she had painstakingly ironed them.  (Don't look too close here, you will find wrinkles!)  
Time seemed to tick slower then.  In fact, even the sound of time pleasantly resonated through the hardwoods of a Mantle or Grandfather Clock nearby.
And the quilts!  I don't remember the patterns, but I remember the cheery colors and the smell of their being hung on the line.
Isn't it amazing how kind acts of service can be so influential?  Today I try to recapture those feelings in the quilts I make and give others, especially to my family.  

I have both of my guest rooms ready to provide comfort for visitors. Pillowcases, quilts and even a Mantle Clock can be found.  It's just something I've learned through the loving hands of a grandmother, decades ago.

But of late, this is the only interested guest I've had...  

The Black Ear-tufted Squirrel is indigenous to ponderosa pine forests, and we've got plenty here in Black Forest.  He not only lodges in them, but relies on them for a food source.  Well, today he's getting a bit of amendment to his pine diet by eating the birdseed falling from a bird feeder overhead. 

The quilt featured in this post is one I've had hanging in my closet, unfinished, waiting for vintage jadeite fabric for the outside border and binding prior to quilting.  Barring a trip to Kansas to catch every estate sale, my search proved fruitless.  In this process, I learned it's not only my favorite vintage color, but many others', as well.  So, I did the unthinkable and purchased a yard or so of contemporary Kona Cotton Solid Aloe to allow this quilt to be quilted in (what else?) feathers.

To close, here's a sneak peek at another of my enduring* projects, which is getting closer to the quilting process!  It's made entirely of vintage materials, including repurposed pillowcase fabric.  I have one more block to do but ran out of old pillowcases.

*"Enduring" means it waits and waits and waits....

So, the next time you have visitors, I hope you remember to Turn Down the Quilt and allow time to slowly tick by as you enjoy their visit.  And I also hope that these seeds of love you plant will blossom in a continued legacy through the lives of your loved ones, as it has in mine.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The 1930s Grandmother's Fan Quilt

I've recently finished quilting a c.1930s Grandmother's Fan quilt top I found antiquing!  Many of the fabrics were likely taken from cloth sacks that held a variety of staple goods, from sugar to flour to animal feed.  

I wish I would have taken a picture of a certain quilt block before machine quilting it in continuous curves and feathers, because on the muslin fabric background you could barely read “Great West…Denver, Co…Table & Pr…”.  So I got on the internet and searched using this cryptic information, knowing I would come up with a vintage sugar sack somewhere...

Within seconds I found that the maker of this vintage quilt top used “Great Western Sugar Co.” sugar sacks.  These sacks were printed with non-permanent ink so that the graphics could be washed out once they were empty. The plain cotton fabric could then be used for household linens, clothing and quilts, such as in this utilitarian Grandmother’s Fan.  Pictured here is a sugar sack just like those used in the construction of this quilt.  I had to buy it just for sentimentality!

Once I finished quilting the top, and after binding it to reduce fraying, I washed it in my washing machine in cold water using gentle detergent and Oxy, hoping the colors wouldn’t bleed.  There were many age spots typical of a vintage piece that Oxy does well to remove.  And no, I didn’t test the fabrics before washing or use Retayne to hold colors.  This was perhaps a foolish move, considering I didn’t know how old the maker’s fabric stash was to determine a possible transfer of dye. Original stains faded, but new ones didn't appear.  Phew!

A bit of history on the Grandmother’s Fan quilt:  this pattern first appeared in print in a Ladies Art Company catalog of 1897. Prior to that, fans were common motifs in late nineteenth century crazy quilts. Their popularity likely was due to the fad for decorating in the Japanese style, which was prompted by Americans' exposure to Japanese art at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. By the 1930s, fans were standard favorites for quilt patterns.

The 1930s quilts represent my most favorite genre of quilting because of the brilliant thrift the women used to create useful yet beautiful quilts from what they had.  I’m also emotionally connected to ‘30s quilts because I remember sleeping underneath them as a child when visiting my grandparents. 

The Great Depression of the 1930s was the longest and most severe economic crisis in American history. It impacted jobs, standards of living, well-being and many areas of American popular culture. It also created a sense of connectedness among those who experienced the period. Passed on orally in many families, the experience of life in hard times has become part of the common heritage of millions of Americans.

The generations who lived through the Depression are now elderly and soon the living voices describing those times will pass. One of the lasting artifacts of the era will be its quilts - quilts made by women who lived by the saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." The beauty and functionality they created from recycled fabrics gleaned from feed and flour sacks, old clothes and scraps left over from dressmaking left a legacy of quiltmaking tradition. 
These quilts are excellent examples of material culture allowing us a glimpse into the lives of women who may have otherwise been overlooked or invisible, but who made up the better part of the backbone of our country during "hard times". In future posts you’ll see many more '30s finished quilt tops to honor a tenacious tendency to provide warmth, beauty and emotional stability in their homes despite economic instability.