Friday, August 27, 2010

family heirlooms

when i was home over the summer, i rummaged around in my parents' basement and found a treasure trove. a whole stack of finished quilts and half a dozen quilt tops which were sewn by hand by my great grandmother back in the 40s. mom says she remembers her grandma annie, who was ill and in bed at the time, sitting with stacks of squares, hexagons and also those beautiful yoyos (which i showed previously), just sewing away all day. now that's something i could get into - hanging out in bed (read: wearing pajamas)and sewing all day.

double wedding ring in purple - this one is my favorite (other than the yoyo)
i think what surprises me most is how vibrant, fresh and modern these are for being 70-80 years old. the fabrics my great grandmother chose would be something i would choose myself today. i believe it's a mix of flour sacks, old clothing and new fabrics (new in her time, of course). i think it proves that quilting is somehow timeless.

i remember using this one as a child and there are some frayed bits here and there that show its been loved.
it's also a bit more faded than the others.
i can see that there is a big difference between these, which are all hand-stitched and hand-quilted and the quilts i've made by machine today. i'm not sure that what i've done are heirlooms in the same sense as these are. i think my impatience enters into the picture and i want to quickly see a result. i need to learn from these to take my time. it certainly appears that it's worth it in the end.
hexagons - this one unfortunately has been up against a rusty grate and has some rust stains on it.
it's also been used and the edges are quite frayed. my grandmother must have used it.
i don't think i'll be going to quite the same level of detail on the bindings i tackle as the one on this hexagon quilt. and the binding is actually a bit frayed and needs replacing. but for me, binding is always the biggest challenge. i have a number of quilts which are "finished" except for the binding, which i guess means they're not finished at all.

what i'd love to know is whether my great grandmother did the quilting herself or if she had a group of ladies who got together and did the quilting. and how on earth, once she was bed-ridden, did she lay out these beautiful patterns? was it all just in her head and she pulled one square from one stack and one from another and sewed it as she went along - that's what my mother remembers. mom also remembers that her aunt had some of them quilted by a local quilting group, so it may be that my grandmother didn't do the finished quilting on all of these herself. they're large - at least queen-sized, all of them, so i think quilting would have been difficult without a frame of some sort.

in any case, i'm really happy to have them in my home and it makes me so happy to be using them. i'm pondering how to tackle the three finished tops i brought back as well - i simply must quilt them by hand to do honor to my great grandmother's work. but that seems a bit of a daunting job. maybe i can find a way to marry 20th and 21st centuries, but i'm still pondering that.

15 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Your heirlooms are stunning, you are so lucky to have these precious quilts with the stories of your family.
Ofcourse you feel a little bit overwhelmed by the task that lays ahead. You could compare it with building your new home. Just plan dates with yourself and your quilt, slowly but surely the quilts will be finished.

Have fun!!!!

Amanda said...

Oh, waht a wonderful find! I love the notion that they are frayed at the edges, signaling use. That is, after all, what they were made for probably.

We have several quilts in our home that we use all the time. When I am under one I always think of stories about others who used them!

rayfamily said...

What an amazing collection! Since I just got into quilting and am finishing my first one, I love it. It's amazing how I can get lost in it. Still I can't imagine what's involved in hand stitching everything. So beautiful! Do you know how long it would take for your great-grandmother to finish one?

What an awesome find on the finished quilt tops. I'm sure however you marry old and new technique, it will be a wonderful tribute to her that they're completed, loved and being enjoyed!

Lisa at Lil Fish Studios said...

They are just gorgeous. That first one absolutely looks fresh and modern. Amazing.

f8hasit said...

I have a few of my own grandmothers quilts that she made. One of them is the double wedding ring pattern as well! Mine aren't in as good condition as yours any longer...so I have them packed away to make sure they don't deteriate further...but darn if they aren't fabulous!

I didn't get that art of sewing like my mother and grandmother. Perhaps I should try again.
:-)

Karen Turner said...

Marvellous! Lucky you. I agree, hand stitching has such a timeless quality. The issue of time and stitching always intrigues me. We say we haven't the time these days, and yet with all our labour-saving devices - washing machines, microwaves, etc - surely we should have more time than our grandmothers ever did.

Snap said...

What beautiful treasures! Amazing what you find in the basement or attic!!! You are going to have a lot of fun figuring out how to finish and perhaps, repair some of the edges.Grandmothers are amazing folks.....

Clare Wassermann said...

what gorgeous things to have - you must finish them so that you can pass them to another family member one day - but don't put too much pressure on yourself - you will know when the time has come...maybe the dead of winter?

The Fragrant Muse said...

I am in love with quilts, especially soft old quilts. These are stunning.

Check out the heirloom on my blog - a vintage (1942) Chesterfield Cigarette Ad with a very special significance!

balletnews said...

a treasure trove indeed ! How utterly lovely. Have a great weekend

heidikins said...

Oh wow--those are lovely. Absolute gorgeousness.

xox

Lost Star said...

Wow, these are lovely!

Your post could not be more well timed as my mum just gave me a quilt she made me for my birthday. It is something I have always wanted and maybe one day, will be handed on. (Of course, it was made by sewing machine, not hand! I feel that maybe today, using a machine to do the bulk of the quilt is fine, but perhaps finish it off by hand?)

Andi said...

I have two quilts my great grandmother while she was still in the Azores before she immigrated to the U.S. I have lovingly repaired them and keep them stored away. I bring them out every once and a while and use them for a few days to remember my childhood and then store them away for safe-keeping.

Char said...

these are just gorgeous - i wish i had some of the ones my grandmother did - i remember the frame hanging from the ceiling in one of the bedrooms as she would sit and handstitch. beautiful.

Magpie said...

OMG - those are beautiful.