Sunday, May 13, 2007

About my Quilting Grandmother
(the one quoted in the header)

Both of my grandmothers sewed but my father's mother was the quilter. We called her Grandmerner, Merner for short. She was born in 1891, grew up in a small town in North Texas and moved to Oklahoma after she was married. I think she said once that she'd lived through two depressions, as there was one in the 1890s as well. In any case, she was raising her young family during the Great Depression and she must have inherited a bit of that pioneer spirit as she seemed to have a gift for making the most of what little was available. She lived to be 97 and her husband, our Granddaddy lived to be 102. In their familes, this was not unusual. I remember pouring over the old leather bound family albums with photos from the 19th century and noticing in the family tree that even back then, many of our ancestors lived to be near 100.

Some of my fondest memories are of Christmas spent at my grandparents' in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1960s. There was nothing like sleeping under all those layers of blankets and quilts. It was colder than in Austin, where we lived, and the trees were barer (no live oaks) so it felt more like real winter. Sometimes there was even a blanket of snow and we would go sledding. Then there was the food. My favorite thing was her cornbread dressing. Merner spent most of the days when we were there creating these feasts, including homemade bread and pies. As soon as breakfast was cleared, she'd lean against the kitchen counter, focussed as a general plotting her next battle and then dive right into preparing lunch.

We were eight kids in our family, the only grandchildren. On Christmas morning, there was always a mountain of presents under the tree, often just small, practical items like shampoo or a notebook from Uncle Vince, who generally did his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and was still madly wrapping his presents in the funny papers on Christmas morning, but every year for each of us girls there was always a new flannel nightgown that Merner had made as well. During the school year, she'd make us dresses. We would go to the fabric store and look through pattern books and send her the numbers of patterns we liked and she'd make dresses from them. How spoiled we were!

When she made quilts for us, she incorporated fabrics from the dresses she'd made us, so we could revisit favorite dresses that way. She made probably hundreds of quilts, mainly for charity. She belonged to a quilt guild connected with her church (I think they just called it a quilting bee in those days) and they would make quilts to raffle off to raise money. They would gather every Thursday in the basement of the church where they were able to keep a big quilting frame set up and everyone would handquilt one of the members' quilt tops. I'll have to ask my sister more about how that all worked, how much they collaborated on quilts.

Most of my grandmother's quilts were scrap quilts, but she also made a few with just one fabric plus the muslin background, no doubt a piece she'd found on sale. One of my favorites of her quilts, which I would like to replicate someday, was a Drunkard's Path in pink with a cream background. When I was in college, she showed me a double wedding ring quilt that she said she would give me when I married. Later, after I'd married, I was too shy to ask her for it and apparently she'd forgotten. No one knows what happened to that quilt. Many others were apparently lost or destroyed over the years due to neglect.

My sister Lisa learned to quilt at Merner's quilting bee. She told me there was one very old member who was losing her vision and every time the group met, one of the members would stay behind afterward to carefully take out all the stitching she'd done.

Lisa and i sometimes talk about how different our quilting is from our grandmother's. Merner would probably roll over in her grave if she knew what we spend on fabric (most of her quilts were made with finds from the sale bin--something like 10 cents a yard), but then as I tell Lisa, "She's in heaven now, so she probably doesn't care about things like the price of fabric!"

Probably like a lot of quilters, I think we've salvaged a bit of the old pioneer spirit which seems to run in our family. Actually, living in Germany, where there is so little affordable fabric available, i sometimes think i can imagine how those pioneers felt out on the prairie, eagerly awaiting packages from Back East. I don't know what i'd do without my sister and cousin who send me fabric care packages from the States.

I suppose in some respects, blogging has come to replace the old quilting bees. It would be nice to belong to a "real" F2F group here in Hamburg, but i haven't had much luck finding one yet. The advantage of the internet is that people with similar tastes and interests can find each other, regardless of geography and you can chat about quilting without getting out of your pajamas. Difficult to weigh what modern quilters have lost and gained.

(Soon, I will post something about my other grandmother)

1 comment:

Hedgehog said...

This is really a lovely post. Thank you for sharing your memories.