Saturday, January 15, 2011

My quilting heritage

When I visited my family in December my Mom dug out a few quilt tops that she had inherited when her mother passed away and they cleaned out the house. My Mom was never a quilter, she mostly made clothes for us when we were kids, although she did make a few applique pillows and things like that. Now that I'm the quilter in the family, she gave them to me. =)

My Grandma had been a seamstress in a clothing factory, and would use whatever scraps she had to make quilts. I've seen a few of her quilts and to be honest - they're not beautiful. She used polyester or cotton/poly blends because that was what they were making clothes from where she worked. And her eye for color was... well, eccentric I guess. I loved my grandma... I promise, and I'd never want to speak ill of the dead. But her quilts were never meant to be art pieces, they were functional, practical, 'waste-not-want-not' blankets. So forgive me when I warn you that this particular quilt top is ugly as sin.

The blocks themselves are not that bad... a variety of fabrics, mostly men's shirting, cotton & some cotton/poly blends (I'm guessing based on feel and shininess... I'm certainly no expert). It's all machine sewn. And she changed up the orientation of the half square triangles in some of the blocks. Can anyone tell me what these blocks are called? Do they have a pattern name?

The only real 'sin' in this quilt are the fabrics she chose to border the blocks & in the sashing. It feels like a really poor quality cotton, and good lord Grandma... what's with the little red & yellow kids? It really does clash with the blocks. But my Mom said that she thinks Grandma had used the blue and yellow fabrics to make dresses for some of my cousins. So... again, waste not want not.

It's now up to me to finish it up. I've seriously considered un-picking the blocks and using a solid blue for the borders & sashing to remake the top, then to at least preserve Grandma's intent... use the blue 'dancing children' fabric in the backing. But then I showed it to a friend, he argued that, you know - this is the real deal. This is a woman who worked and used what she had available to make something functional, and that I should preserve her choices. It's a strong argument. And honestly, this is one of only two things I have that my Grandma actually made (she was much more of a cook / baker, and what I wouldn't give for one more jar of her currant jam!!). But if I finish it up as is... it's unlikely that I'll actually display it in my home. Whereas if it were just the blocks & a plain blue background, I'd proudly display it on my sofa or bed.

So what do you think? How should I finish it up?

Next up is a top from *her* mother... my Great-Grandmother. And this one is much more in my color palette & taste. I just love this bow-tie pattern.

Looking at the fabrics... they feel like they're all cotton, one of the yellows is a waffle weave, and the sashing fabric is a very loose weave, but they're generally in good shape. The thing that cracks me up is that some of them look *exactly* like some of the reproduction 1930s fabrics that are popular right now. Except, you know, these are most likely *actual* 1930s fabrics!

Unfortunately, as they say on Antiques Roadshow, there are some condition issues. The yellow waffle weave in particular seems to be pulling away from the fabrics it's sewn to. So there are some seams that need repair. Does anyone have any advice for that?

The blocks were hand pieced, and then the yellow sashing was machine sewn on later. I'm wondering if my Great-Grandma did that or if maybe my Grandma inherited the blocks & sewed on the sashing.

Without getting too sappy, I do feel honored to be carrying on the tradition of quilting in my family. Both of these projects will be huge undertakings, and I'm not sure if my skill is quite up to it yet. But at least with the one from my Grandma, I know she would want it finished up and used to pieces. I'm fairly certain that she's the source of my Mother's and my strong practicality gene (if there is such a thing) and she wouldn't want her quilt top just sitting around gathering dust for another generation. The yellow one though... will need a careful hand, so I might hold on to it for a while.


IamSusie said...

From the photo, the top one isn't as bad as you describe. Grandma at least sprinkled the red around here and there to good effect. I think that block is the shoo fly which was one that my own grandma also liked. I don't think you should modify it at all. My thinking is that once you get started changing it, you'll want to change everything and that isn't worth it. I have an odd quilt from my grandma that I keep in the car for cold drives or picnics.

You should do an homage to this quit using the same block which is an easy one to do, but use fabrics you prefer that are similar to these, but more effective.

The bottom one is really nice. I think you can repair the pulling seams with some top stitching, but the fabrics on these old quilts is sometimes so delicate that once you fix one area, it goes bad in another. It doesn't look like it has much quilting, so that is probably what is putting stress on the seams.

Lucky you to have the family quilts!

Kaye said...

I vaguely remember a CRAFT blog entry where they highlighted how to fix seams on old quilts.

I remember thinking it was a pretty clever fix.

But like they say in Antiques Roadshow--should you repair it? Not like you'd ever sell it, but...

I think the sin part of Grandma's quilt is that people were wearing CLOTHES made with some of those fabrics. LOL!

So cool to inherit these!

Michael5000 said...

Not ugly as sin! Festive in a tapestry sort of way! The gold really pops with the red and blue!