Thursday, August 13, 2009

Quilting - It's A Family Thing

I was born into and grew up with very talented and creative women in my family. My family lineage is steeped in generations of seamstresses, knitters, crocheters, tatters, quilters, and needle crafters to no end. For as long as I can remember, these things have been going on all around me.

I don't know much about my dad's family. I was taken away from them at a very young age and they were never talked about in our house. So I don't know whether or not there were creatively talented women in the Daniel family. In my adult years, it's something I've never researched. I've preferred to keep that distance my mother set for us early on. But I think I'm getting close to wanting to know more about where I come from, for I know there are TWO sides to a family and those two sides make up the whole of who I am genetically. It will be worth looking into someday. But all I've heard about my whole life is my mother's family and the rich heritage it offers it abundant ways.

Even my step dad's family offers quite a lot in the way of sewing, quilting, and creating through the generations. My mother found old quilts dating back to the late 1700's stored away in my step grandparents dairy barn in Arkansas. They were traced back to my step dad's mother's family in Ohio and Pennsylvania and were quite the treasures indeed. My mother was so taken with one of the quilts she found that she meticulously studied the pattern and the fabrics it was made of in order to make one herself. She recreated the pattern and searched far and wide until she found the exact same fabrics. It was beautiful when she finished. And it was pure pure joy for her to recreate this wondrous work of art.

A great aunt of mine in Texas is a nationally known quilter: Minnie Ola 'Olie' Perryman of Gatesville, Texas. She took that same pattern to make the same quilt for herself. A picture of her with that quilt with an article about the history of the Prickly Pear quilt are featured in the book 'Lone Stars: A Legacy Of Texas Quilts 1936-1986.'

My younger sister and I have been sewing and quilting since we were 'knee high to a grasshopper'. In the same tradition my grandmother learned to quilt from her mother, so did my sister and I learn the craft. My grandmother could recall being three years old and sitting next to her mother at the quilt frame with needle and thread quilting right along. My grandmother did the same thing with my sister and I when we were very young. We both learned to sew on her mother's old Singer treadle sewing machine. I was six and my sister was around five I think. We were the same ages sitting next to her at the quilt frame with needle in hand quilting right along also. My grandmother had my youngest daughter sitting beside her at the age of three showing her how to push the needle along in whatever quilt she had in the frame at the time.

I've spent all my life quilting. I've spent that life with my mothers family as deep inspiration for keeping the craft alive. My sister does the same thing. We both do quilting by hand as has been passed down in our family. The hand quilting is a preference. We know machine quilting seems to be THE thing to do these days. It's evident in monthly quilt publications as they advertise elaborate, expensive quilting machines and the quilts that have been produced by these machines. More and more quilters and their elaborately machined quilts are featured. Granted these quilts are beautiful, but they don't have the same look, feel, aesthetic quality, or artistic value as a hand quilted quilt has. Long gone is the simplicity that hand quilting offers.

These days I don't quilt so much. I have a sewing machine that is in non working order and don't have a quilt frame to my name any longer. I am also poor as a church mouse and not capable of changing these particular statuses at this time. I don't know when I will be able to change it. Not in the foreseeable future for sure. So to make up for it, I knit and crochet like crazy, preferring to knit. My sister on the other hand does have her sewing machine which is in working order and a quilt frame in hand and keeps them both busy.

My sister Rosanne, who lives in San Antonio, Texas spends a lot of time sitting at her quilt frame hand stitching along. Her 'significant other' gave her a Grace quilt frame for Christmas and she's had something going in it ever since. But she's been quilting for far longer than that.

She is a stay at home mom with a seven year old still in tow. She has a 22 year old who is still living at home also while she works and goes to school. But she's working to get her married off ASAP! In the midst of taking care of all that needs taking care of while wrangling kids, managing a household, taking care of 'significant other', and doing the daily 'must do's', she manages to find the time to sit at the frame and quilt some most every day...even in the horrendous heat Texas is currently experiencing - 105 degrees in San Antonio every day for the past two weeks for sure. And one of the air conditioners in her house conked out a while ago, so she is definitely feeling the heat in her house! But she marches right along on the quilt no matter what. I admire her tenacity.

I remember long after I married, left home and was living in Colorado, getting a letter in the mail from my grandmother in Texas bragging about my little sister and her first quilt. She was of junior high age at the time and had been working with my grandmother and great aunt Olie to make a beautiful Fan quilt. It was done in different shades of blue with white lace edging the fans. It was beautiful indeed. She's been quilting ever since. She's has always managed to stay in practice with quilting no matter her situation and how many times she's moved over the years.

Her current project is what you see in photos here. She says it's kind of a hodge podge of stuff in piecing and quilting. She sends me pictures of the progress and I'm always impressed with the ideas she comes up with as she goes along. She's doing lots of different quilting designs as she goes: so far there are little birds, and butterflies, and triangles. She has other ideas swirling around in her head about what to do next. It's so cool that she can do this and it just works as it goes. I can hardly wait to see the finished product.

She and I talk often, pretty much every day. We text all day long. (It's a good thing we each have unlimited texting on our phone plans!) We talk about everything and the conversations always turn to the quilting and the knitting. We talk about our family traditions in this regard. We are each adamant about pursuing the family heritage and traditions in the ways of crafting - especially quilting. We are determined to keep the craft of hand quilting alive, no matter how small that impact may be on the quilting community as a whole.

We see for ourselves at craft fairs, and quilt shows, and monthly quilt
publications, and advertising of all sorts in the world of quilting that hand quilting is falling by the way side. Even the Grace Quilt Frame company has branched out and created frames that will accommodate quilting machines. It's a sad fact. We live in world of needing instant gratification which is what machine quilting offers. No one wants to take the time to preserve history in newly made quilts. Quilting has become as commercial as everything else in this world. It's all about mass production and money. An art form that was formed out of necessity hundreds of years ago is rapidly becoming a lost art. That's a horribly sad fact also.

No matter how busy our lives get, me and mine will always make the time to sit at a quilt frame and plug along one hand stitch at a time until we've created the work of art we desire. There's not much family left on my mother's side. Most are gone now, including my mother and grandmother. My sister and I hope they can see what she and I do today and are proud that we keep at least family tradition alive.

Happy quilting...and happy day!


  1. Really loved this post, Kathleen...wonderful to hear and see a bit of your rich creative family heritage! Lots runs through your blood! :o) Fun to see your lovely sister at work on her quilt... I aspire to such quilted wonders. Thank you for sharing this special post with us. Happy Days! :o)

  2. What a fascinating post! (I come from a long line of creative people but the women in my family mainly knitted, crocheted or embroidered. They didn't quilt.) The replica quilts are beautiful and your sister's work is delightful. I love that little hand stitched bird and butterfly!