Friday, December 30, 2011

Quilts and Stories

This has been a really tough month for my family in terms of loss. The last two of my father's siblings died within two weeks of each other. I have traveled to both Memorial services and grieved with my cousins the loss of a father and uncle, my Uncle Bill, and then the loss of a mother and aunt, my Aunt Susie. Yesterday at Aunt Susie's service my cousin Ginger and I were reflecting on the thought that we are now the "elder" generation of our family. A woman said to us, "You are now the keepers of the stories," which I guess we are. And there are stories, which we loved hearing and love telling, about this family surviving the depression in the oil fields of Wyoming and the wilds of Montana.

Before I left, Ginger presented me with two old quilts that her mother had kept, and told me the story that went with them.


Our grandmother, the amazing Hazle, had pieced two quilt tops from a salesman's sample book of wool fabrics. One winter all five of her children ended up home sick, at the same time, with measles I think. She piled them all into bed together and when they started feeling better and bored with being sick, she gave them each a big needle and a ball of yarn and set them to work tying the quilts.


The quilt above is tied with gray yarn and the knots are secure and tight probably 80 years later.

The second quilt was tied with bright blue yarn and is a slightly different design, though some of the fabrics are the same, notably the light pink fabric.



These quilts are not beautiful and they are very old and very worn. Nothing a collector or museum would want, and not really useful as bed quilts. They are raggedy and heavy and scratchy. But there is that story about all the brothers and sisters helping to put together good, warm bedding for the family, probably having a good time in the process and a distraction from being sick. And they come from the hands of my grandmother and all my aunts and uncles and my Dad. I think there is a little soul in that cloth.

I hung one of them over the railing in my studio today. It will keep me company as I work my own cloth. The other will go to my daughter if she wants it.

16 comments:

  1. For Christmas I received a book on "How to write an Autobiography" from my son. So now is the time to start writing those memories before it is too late. I have already started mine. How bout you?

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  2. I have to disagree. These quilts are the most beautiful quilts I have seen in a long time.

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  3. Nanette Fleischman5:30 AM

    I have one of those wool sample quilts also. It is the only thing my mother ever put together. She did mending, but not sewing. I love it. You are blessed to have it. My family grew up on a farm in Indiana. I wish I had those stories.
    Nanette

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  4. Those quilts are beautiful, they hold memories and links to your family. Those are best of all to have. They are a wonderful way to pass on your story (your family's) story onto your children and grandchildren.

    I have in a frame on my office wall a poem written by your grandmother Hazle. It was your Valentine greeting a number of years ago. It always makes me feel warm when I read it especially the last line, "But old friends to me are the salt of the earth." Happy New Year my dear old friend.

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  5. Wonderful stories. They radiate their history.

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  6. I think your old family quilts lend a nice lived-in look to your sparkling new studio. Old and new together, making new stories.

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  7. Every once in a while, when I'm telling a story, I want to call Mom and ask for a detail. But I just have to go with what I remember.
    Nicholas is now beginning to tolerate hearing a story for a second time--maybe he's understanding that someday the stories will be HIS responsibility. I have one of Bam's utility quilts. It's old and ragged from use. It is beautiful--not from the fabrics or the workmanship put into it--it's beautiful for all the stories it holds.

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  8. I love the graphic quality of your quilts. I have a worn salesman sample quilt of my Gram's, also. The stories are what make these quilts special. I also believe that there is a piece of each person in the tied knots watching over you. The quilt looks beautiful hanging watch over you. Happy New Year, Terri. You have been on my blog list for ages and you have inspired me over the years. Thank you. I wish you joy, happiness, fun, and creative successes in 2012. xo

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  9. How wonderful to have these keepsakes. To me they are beautiful and rich in love and memories. I would so love to have one of the crazy quilts that my grandmother made. I only have the memories. No one seems to know what happened to them. Wishing you more joy in the new year. I know how difficult these multiple deaths at the end of the year can be.

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  10. You will be (already are?) a wonderful keeper of the stories! I think the quilts ARE beautiful. I especially like the unusual design of the diamond one. I could see that easily translated into today's large scale prints and solids.

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  11. oh those quilts definitely have soul...enjoy being the keeper

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  12. The quilt looks good over the railing in your studio. And it will draw the eye upward, making the marvel of the space more evident.

    The trick is to make the stories as fascinating to the next generation as they were to you -- I'm thinking of Sofia!

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  13. My good friend Marjorie told me, when she was 90, that aches and pains were not the worst thing about getting older. It was starting to lose people you cared about. I think she was right. Those quilts will be a lovely reminder. I have had some quilts that my mother started for 30 years - I still cannot bring myself to finish them. I take them out, look at them, remember and put them back! They still smell of my family home, cigarettes and Tweed. One day I will get them finished and give them to my daughter and my grandchildren.

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  14. I think the quilts are beautiful as is the story behind them. Glad you are hanging it for others to see.

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  15. Brenda7:01 AM

    Terry, it is a huge responsibility carrying on the stories for all the family....but you are a great storyteller and that will serve us all well.

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  16. I think you've gotten the message that those quilts are beautiful.

    And yeah, isn't it weird that we're now the elders (or nearly so), and the keepers of the tales...

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