Thursday, September 19, 2013

What is on the inside....

Over time if you asked this as a question - "what is inside?" the responses would vary.
I asked this the other day in a round about way and the response I got was a brand name.
Today, most would answer with perhaps cotton, bamboo, wool etc, that the inside was the batting or wadding.

But what about the other 'inside'. The inside of discovery, the inside of necessity or scarcity?
The stories of pioneering women who had to fill their quilts with leaves or corn husks to provide some protection from the cold. The scarcity of fabrics due to the taxes and regulations imposed by the mother country of England to protect their own industries and to stifle any that would start in the new world. That inside was a matter or life or death as the bitter winters froze many to their ends.

I was fiddling with a quilt the other day that I picked up last year on my way driving from San Fran to LA.
I love to stop here and there and take the back roads through the towns. The scenery is stark and the climate is dry and hot.

This quilt was heavy and a bit out of character but I loved the prints in it and bought it and stuffed it in the back of the SUV along with everything else. By this stage on my journey the car was getting very full.

So last week I snipped out some of the ties and started to take the backing off and what did I find inside but a very old, very worn turkey red and homespun check quilt. I haven't taken any more apart yet as I have a think about what to do next.

But to ask this in another way, the emotional way. What is inside? The feelings the efforts, the memories that the quilt holds.
I want to share with you this statement.  Marguerite Ickis, who you might know as the author of the 'Standard Book of Quilt Making and Collecting' that was first published in 1949 documented this quote from her great grandmother.
For me, this sums up what is inside…

"It took me more than twenty years, nearly twenty five, I reckon, in the evening after supper when the children were all put to bed. My whole life was in that quilt. It scares me sometimes when I look at it. All my joys and all my sorrows are stitched into those little pieces. When I was proud of the boys and when I was down-right provoked and angry with them. When the girls annoyed me or when they gave me a warm feeling around my heart. And John too. he was stitched into that quilt and all the thirty years we were married. Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I sat there hating him as I pieced the patches together. So they are all in that quilt, my hopes and fears, my joys and sorrows, my loves and hates. I tremble sometimes when I remember what that quilt knows about me." *

I just wish I had a photo of this quilt to share with you, I would love to see it. But I imagine many past quilts would hold this emotion in the patches and the stitches. Perhaps it was a quilt like this?
Sunburst - 1840 - Rhea Goldman Gallery
It also shows how quilt making has changed over the decades, or even in larger chunks of time of the centuries.
Today we make quilts with a different perspective as we are now in yet another century. One that is dominated by technology. Where ideas and patterns can be accessed in an instant. Fabrics purchased in abundance of choice and quantity at the click of a mouse and delivered to your door.  New tools and methods for speed and accuracy have taken on a whole new way of 'making'.  Instead of twenty five years its now often a day to turn around a quilt. It is a new era as 'modern' quilt makers now take the stage. 
But as history repeats itself, the quilt makers of the nineteenth century thought the ones of the twentieth century were the modern makers.  As the new century dawned and between the wars and the great depression tastes changed and society placed different demands on women creating a different perspective on the quilt.  I wonder what the quilt makers of the 1700s or1800s would think of it all now? Or what is now on the 'inside'?

*Quote taken from America's Quilts and Coverlets by Carelton L. Stafford and Robert Bishop. Weathervane Books New York 1972


  1. Another beautiful reminder of what quilting is, or perhaps used to be. More than just a decorator item! Love this story. xx

  2. Love this piece of history. At the moment i am hand piecing 1/2 inch hexagons together and lots of the same thoughts have so far passed through my mind whilst doing so. It will take me many more years to finish my piecing so my quilt will always tell me a story. Thats what i love about quilting!

  3. Words to make us think....the necessity of making quilts...did women enjoy making quilts under these circumstances? Or was it just a chore so that one's family were kept warm?
    In these modern times, how lucky many of us are, to have such wonderful fabrics available to us and not have the deadline of having a quilt done before a bitter winter sets in.