Saturday, November 15, 2008

Great-Grandmother's Quilt

Of course, the key to successful blogging is having decent photos of what you are talking about and the key to decent photos are photos taken in natural daylight. Flash really doesn't get the job done. But between the whole earth tilting on its axis so that it gets dark before I get home from work, and the fact that we have had non-stop rain for days, my photo ops have been few and far between. I woke up this morning excited because it was, indeed, daylight, and no water was coming down from the sky. But I had discounted wind. Wind is a problem when you are trying to photograph a quilt like this one right before the whole thing came tumbling down:

But I finally got a photo of this, my great-grandmother's quilt.

My great-grandmother was Daisy Snell Payne. (I love the name Daisy, don't you? It sounds so sturdy and honest and old fashioned.) I don't have a photo to show you, but I can tell you that she looked like a proper great-grandmother, full-figured with an impressive bosom upon which her favorite brooch rested. She wore glasses and had grey hair. She died during WWII, in 1944, I believe, of cancer, according to my father. He remembers her as an enthusiastic quilter, with a quilting rack suspended from ropes from the ceiling of one of the bedrooms in the old farmhouse. The rack would be lowered when her sewing bee came over to help quilt the quilts she had handpieced together.

My family has dozens and dozens of quilts pieced by her and quilted by her quilting bee. There are no labels on them, of course, but she was the mother of five boys and no girls, so we are pretty sure she did them all. I have several of them and this quilt is one of them. I was inspired in 2005 to re-create this quilt. I'm not certain why, as I had only made one other quilt in my life. I had no pattern, no experience in dealing with triangles, and no clue how to do a 'Y' seam. I don't know what I was thinking. I think my great-grandmother, whom I never met, must have been giving me some quilting guidance as I made it.

Daisy's quilt is made from feedsack fabrics except for the pink borders and setting triangles. It is all handpieced. In addition, her feedsack strips and her muslin strips in her blocks are not uniform. The feedsack strips are slightly narrower, probably because she had more of the cheap muslin laying around and in her farmhouse even the feedsack fabric was a precious commodity. Also, on all of her quilts, she never made a separate binding, she simply folded over the muslin backing from back to front and created a straight grain "binding".

You can see from these photos that these quilts were meant to be used, to keep her family of five boys warm during cold Alabama nights. I know there was no central heating in the house - only fireplaces. My family didn't get gas heaters in the house until after the war. You can also see where mice must have "borrowed" from the quilt to make their own nests warm.

When I made my version, I decided to make my muslin strips and feedsack reproduction fabrics the same width. I actually just stripped pieced the fabrics (my fabric strips were cut 2 1/2 inches wide) and then cut 60 degree triangles. Doing it this way creates the triangles with the muslin centers, but it also creates "negative" triangles. I still have those left over and my plan was to make a throw-sized quilt out of them, but I still haven't managed to do anything with them yet.

I sewed three triangles together, starting one quarter inch from the large end of the triangles (so I could later sew the 'Y' seam when I joined the blocks together). Then I would sew three more together, and then join the two halves, again, starting and stopping one quarter inch from the large end of the triangles. When it came time to join the blocks together, I read up on 'Y' seams and then just plunged in. Some turned out great like this one. Some were not as good. But I decided not to worry over it; Daisy's quilts weren't perfect either.

Good 'Y' seam here:
Not so good here:

As you can see, Daisy quilted her version with mostly an outline quilting stitch. I had mine professionally quilted since my first quilt taught me that I do not like machine quilting (and I don't do much of anything by hand, much less quilting). Carol Lyon from the Lyon Den Quilting quilted this for me and she did a really great job, especially since I was a new quilter, and let's just say not everything was perfectly square. She is a good person.

My version did include a separate bias binding sewed on after the quilting was done, and I used the same fabric for both the borders and setting triangles. I was able to find a similar pink fabric to match the original Daisy had used.

I would have to say this was the most satisfying project I have ever done. (I still believe Daisy must have been helping me the whole way!) My version of Daisy's quilt is the one that drapes my bed, and the quilt I travel with. I'm unsure of the name of this block; the closest I have been able to identify is "Spider Web", but usually spider web blocks are scrappier, using both the positive and negative triangles. If anyone out there has any idea of what else this block might be called, please let me know.

Parting shot: a white squirrel. We have two white squirrels that live in my neighborhood. Any day I see one of them, I consider it to be a good omen and guarantee that I will have a good day:


Vicki W said...

See, i told you you needed to write out all of your stories!

KimP said...

I'm not sure my family wants me to write out ALL of my stories! But I've got a ton of 'em!

Morah said...

Wow! I love the quilts, the story and your determination to finish.

Fulvia said...

Love the story and the quilt. A white squirrel is also new to me--good shot. I am curious about the fact that your photos, as far as I can tell, are not 'clickable.' I actually want that feature but do not know how you did that. Can you please share? Thanks.

KimP said...

Fulvia, I really don't know how to make the photos non-clickable - I would actually like to make them clickable! If you have any insight on how to make them clickable, I would love to hear it. I just upload my photos onto blogger and they naturally seem to be non-clickable. Clearly, I need technical help!