Friday, January 13, 2012

I have been encouraged to write about my great grandmothers quilt.  First off it was made in the late 1800's--probably 1875-1890) from flour sacks...yes cloth flour sacks that she acquired over time. A short--very short--version of the story of her life.  Skip down to the next paragraph if you don't want to read it and just read about the quilt...

My great-grandmother was born in Ireland in 1864...She came to the US on a sailing ship in 1868 and learned to write from a woman who asked that she write something every day...She did...at first it was things like "I saw 3 birds today." and as she grew up the journal entries "grew up" too with messages about her life---the good and the bad.  She had more than a hundred journals at her death in 1968 just a few days before her 104th birthday.  I have had the privilege of reading most of her journals which are now archived and available only to family members or those with a reason to use them for research (I took notes as she was an incredible lady).  She lost everything in that house to a fire--the quilt was the one loss she grieved for the longest.  I do have her notes about the quilt tho...no pictures.

Now back to the quilt....she, my great-grandmother-Gertrude Dean,  was able to occasionally keep 1 flour sack for her quilt.  The rest were made into clothing for her husband, children and herself.  (Times were hard, money was tight, but as she said in the mid 1960's no one knew times were hard they just lived and enjoyed life as it came so don't pity her or anyone else of that time.)  She decided to learn to embroider...she wanted to make something "fancy" and not the plain, utilitarian things that she always had as something for her first "real house" (think walls with windows and a door, roof, kitchen/living room combination and 2 bedrooms--1 for she and hubby and 1 for the kids--all 5 of them) not the dugout shanty against a hill that they had lived in for years.  She would make a quilt for their bed. Yes it was still utilitarian but this one would be beautiful and have embroidery on it--she could dream of a fine house.  She found someone about 3 miles away and would walk over once every 2 weeks to learn a new stitch.  She could not go more often as work had to be done first and weather had to be taken int account.  She saved up for "real embroidery thread" by  using only half as much coffee (and only throwing out the grounds every other day) in each pot every day so she could save up for for a fine needle, thread and the highly desirable "real" hoop not stretchers made from tree branches.  Her quilt was coffee dyed cloth with white thread embroidery. Sewing thread was pulled from the sacks...but real thread or embroidery thread came in a skein and was 2 skeins for a penny.  The embroidery would be white on the ecru sacks--double thickness (both thread and sacks) for strength..  She would dye the sacks then boil them in the wash water to set the dye.  Each of her blocks (the quilt was 5 feet by 6 feet and her bed barely 4 ft across--mine will dwarf hers) would be a different stitch in a different design with any variations she could think up. Additional blocks would be from what was left after making clothing--pieced together and little designs stitched on each one.  We now have names for most of the stitches she used--she just called it "fine embroidery stitches".  She would not be pleased with my hand sewn seams..stitches were 10 or 12 to the inch--tiny and almost machine like when she did them even when she was in her 90's!  Mine are bigger and not even...lets not go there...

My quilt will have 12 blocks...12 colors...12 months...and also gingham blocks (see previous post for one) and maybe some additional blocks of a soft print in the same colors as the gingham (all the blocks will be 12X12 inches square when finished)...I do need 99 blocks for my queen size bed after all (9ft. X11ft. so it hangs over the edges and hides the box springs too--both sides and at the foot) .  I am using unbleached muslin for the embroidered blocks.  Embroidery thread ($0.40 each skein) in 12 different colors all store bought just for the quilt...talk about frivolous.  I am thinking about using my "practice pieces" as a basis for pillow shams--with tiny blocks of the additional fabric as edgings as needed.  I just can't shake the feeling that I should not waste any of the material!! Gertrude Dean would not tolerate waste...use it, re-use it, make do with using it some more--the original recycling concept!

Peace,        

2 comments:

Gina Shillitani said...

Cynthia, that is really touching! I wish I had been able to know my grandparents or great-grandparents. Unfortunately both sets had passed away by the time I was born. I do not have a big family in any case. Well, not really.... that's a long story too :) Hugs and best of luck with your quilt! I will help you as much as I can!

AnneC said...

What a lovely story about your grandmother and her quilt! It is so nice that you knew her for many years and that you also know her through her journals. The quilt you are making seems even more of a treasure as it is influenced by your grandmother and honors her too. May the making be a labor of love and filled with joy!