Reaching Across the Threads of Time
You will hear me say this often, I love the thought of touching something made by hand, crafted over time, and wonder about the person who made it. I feel when I touch that item I am actually touching that person’s hand. And how amazing that the object is still around after many years, or even decades so we can reach across time and enjoy what they made…to feel their hand.
Years ago if you weren’t rich, you had to make do with what you had or could piece together. Men and women took everyday items, merely scraps, and molded and shaped them into beautiful and practical items. Adult clothing that was worn in areas was patched. Or if it was too worn, cut up and made into a piece of clothing for their child, or saved to make into a quilt. In other words, waste not: want not. This piecing together eventually went from necessity to an art form.
During the late 1800s to early 1900s “Crazy Quilts” became the rage in America. There was no pattern to the design, just random scraps of fabric sewn together to make a large rectangle. The usual style was not to use batting and to cover all the seams with different colored embroidery stitches. Often the center of the fabric pieces were also covered in a design.
This brings me to one special woman who seemed to love that style of quilting .
The story goes, my Grandmother over time asked the local tailor if he would give her the wool scraps after he cut out a man’s suit or coat. She collected them all up and made her own “crazy quilt”.
She died when I was a child so I never got to ask her about it. I can only imagine the many hours she spent planning the lay out of the so called random pattern to make it all fit into that perfect rectangle. How did she feel about the colors and textures she placed next to each other? Did she wonder about who wore the suit the scraps came from? Or did she just enjoy the different textures and subtle patterns of the weaves?
At first glance, you may only notice the muted tones of browns and greys. Closer inspection and you see all the delightful details: delicate feminine flowers against all that masculinity. In the true style of that kind of quilt, she took the time to embellish the whole quilt with different embroidered flowers and stitches. Just like the random pattern of the quilt blocks, the style of the decoration varied, yet I am sure, very much planned. Random, yet planned.
This quilt showcases her ability to create many different stitches and designs. One can get lost in studying them. It feels like they are a story within a story.
I can’t help but wonder who taught her all these stitches? Was it her Mother? My Great-grandmother I never knew? Did these flowers mean something to her?
Most of these wonderings of mine will have to go unanswered. The fun part is, never knowing my Grandmother quilted or embroidered, I decided to teach myself these skills when I was younger and created many quilts from scraps I had collected. I would like to think maybe she guided my hand and whispered in my ear what to do next.
What I do know is that I can place my hand on this quilt in the same place my beloved Granny placed her hands to create it, and feel her presence.
Next time you pick up something that was handmade in the past, I hope you take the time to think about who touched it, and you too can reach across time.
Warm regards, Atwood
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I suspect that your grandmother’s patchwork scrap quilt was made of scraps that she accumulated from outgrown clothes and sewing scraps as she sewed new garments … that is what my grandmother did. As a child, my mother and I would search out a piece from a familiar coat or pair of trousers.