In the spirit of May holidays – Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation – I was asked to write a blog on learning about quilting from my grandmother and mother. So, I will share a trip down memory lane and tell you about the two women who influenced my quilting and my life so much.
Grandma Willie Ann, 1900 – 1994, lived in small towns in Kansas and Oklahoma. She was a homemaker, mother of six, and a prolific quilter. Her husband worked in the oil fields; they always lived frugally. I spent a lot of time with Grandma as a child. I don’t remember her teaching me to quilt, per se, but she did teach me to sew on her 1949 Singer sewing machine and to embroider by hand. I made doll clothes from her quilt scraps. What I did learn from her was an appreciation of the possibilities of fabric and the joy of making things. She used to say to me “Virginia Ann, if you have busy hands, you will have a happy heart.”
I loved the ladies with their parasols in this quilt as a child. Looking at it closely this morning, I realized for the first time that it is embellished by hand and by machine. The flowers are hand-embroidered but the dresses, parasols, and circles are done with decorative stitches on her sewing machine. How did I not notice that before?
Grandma Willie Ann often had a block in her hand that she was appliquéing or embroidering. She joined the blocks, with or without sashing and cornerstones, quilted it by hand on a large lap hoop, and called it done. I don’t think I ever saw a quilt of hers that varied from this format.
I think I remember her making this quilt with its embroidered designs of the state bird and flower for each state. The blocks are in a 7 x 7 layout for a total of 49 states. This would place the timing in 1959, after Alaska became a state, but before Hawaii. That would make me 6 years old so maybe I really do have these memories.
My parents and I moved from Ponca City, a small town in Oklahoma, to Honolulu, Hawaii in 1967 when I was 13. Think about that for a minute. I will wait.
My grandparents visited us in Hawaii and Grandma Willie Ann wanted to make a hibiscus flower quilt. My cousin Butch designed the block for her and my Mother sent her scraps from a muumuu factory over the years. She made LOTS of these quilts with appliquéd flowers and embroidered details.
My mother Lola, 1918 – 2001, was an amazing, hard-working woman. The eldest of six, she helped raise her siblings, became a nurse during WWII, joined my father in the home-building business for decades, and then owned bed & breakfast for many years before finally retiring at 77! She made several quilts, all utilitarian and machine-made, for the beds in her inn. They reflected her personality – they worked hard for years to make others more comfortable.
Mother also encouraged my sewing and spent time pinning and pressing while I sewed a new project.
Although I sewed my own clothes as teenager and for our homes over the years, I didn’t start quilting until I was pregnant with my first child at 36 in 1989. Once I started, it came so naturally I must have learned by osmosis as a child. Here is one of the first quilts I actually completed (an ongoing trait unfortunately) for my daughter Sara.
Looking closely at the kaleidoscope design, I realize I have been a “fussy cutter” from the beginning.
Sara is now 24, a lovely and accomplished young woman, and enjoys sewing clothes and bags. Growing up she considered quilts “old-fashioned” and would only let me make her duvet covers when she went of to college.
So here is a photo of Grandma Willie Ann, Lola, and Ann looking adoringly at baby Sara. Will she be the fourth generation of quilters in our family or just want to sew for her family and home? Time will tell. She has a good sewing machine, a variety of sewing and quilting tools, lots of books on sewing and “modern” quilting, and an open invitation to my large fabric stash waiting for her when she is ready. However, there is no pressure dear daughter! Honestly and truly!
Hope you enjoyed these memories of three “busy hands, happy hearts” women. Do you have generations of quilters and handed down quilts in your family? Do you know the history of the quilts or did they get passed down without any documentation?
P.S. By the time I knew what questions about her quilts to ask, Grandma Willie Ann couldn’t remember the answers. I don’t even know what years her quilts were made. Please put labels on your quilts and record, in some way, the history of the quilts you make. It will make a difference to your family some day!