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Quilting-Art in Fabric

Updated on September 13, 2016

Quilting by an Oil Lamp

As a child during the long cold nights of winter, my mama would adorn our beds with quilts to keep us warm and toasty. Niether my sibling nor I gave little thought to those wonderful hand stiched works of art that seem to so heavy on top of our small bodies we could barely turn over but we never got cold. The truth was mama just making sure we stayed warm.

We lived in a four room mill village house that was heated only by a wood heater in the family room and and the heat from a wood cook stove in the kitchen. Our bedrooms were cold and drafty. During the winter months, we would stand by the wood heater and get good and warm before dashing off to our room and hopping into our bed that had flannel blankets and at least to quilts.

The quilts were hand made, meticulousy stiched using material salvaged from worn out clothing such as shirts dresses and other garments no longer worn.Each block in the quilt could have yielded a portion of our fmily history truth be known. Sometimes material was salvaged from feed sacks and sewn together for the backs of the quilts., When the backing was completed the fabric would be dyed. I have seen some of my Grandmothers old quilts that have backs that were dyed in a dye made of pokeberries.

Without a doubt when the quilt had been completed,the dyed fabric on the back was crimson but after years of use and many washings in the old cast iron wash pot and scrub boarded in lye soap then hung on an outside line, to dry the brillance of color faded from exposure to the sun, the trademarks originally dyed by the distributor and labeling of animal feed bag began to reappear. In the case of my grandmothers quilt, Joy dog food bags that were sewn together for the backing.

When I was very young, my sister had appenidcitus and I had to ride the school bus to my grandparents and spend a few nights while she was in the hospital. It was then that I first saw my Grandmother quilting. It was 1956 and electricity had not made its way to my grandparents farm. When night came oil lamps were lit and I remember my grandmother sitting in her chair beside a small table that had a kerosene oil lamp sitting on top. I remember watching in amazement as she threaded her needles and stiched patches of fabric.

My grandmother was a very good quilter and often made quilts for others who had commisioned her to make a quilt for them. My uncle worked 3rd shift in the cotton mill and she stayed up to wake him up to go to his shift so quilting was a productive activity. Of course, us young boys had already gone to bed and were sleeping long before the 10 PM wake up call for my uncle.

What was amazing to me was how good my grandmother could make those tiny stiches required for quilting. Her hands were disfigured from rhematoid arthritis but her skill was such that overcame those impairments and her needle and thimble rarely stopped or veering from the pattern on which she was working.

Few of the quilts my grandmother made have survived father time or became a treasured heirloom. I would have dearly loved to have been able to have gotten one of my Grandmother Ballard's quilts. Fortunately for me, I did get one of my Grandma Gordon's quilts from an aunt before she passed away.

Local quilters picked to complete winning wall hangings

Several years ago my wife joined a group of women who enjoyed quilting in our community. Several of the ladies were already members of local quilting guilds and wanted to share their love for quilting in our. Some of the women had been quilting for years and were willing to share their skills with some of the novice quilters.

They met each week and worked together on a common quilt which when completed would be raffled and revenue that was created from the sale of raffle tickets waas given to a local charity. My wife enjoyed this group immensely and learned much. Even I begn to learn some of the jargon and names of popular quilt patterns like Grandma's Fan and log house quilts. My wife made one of each and on th Grandma's Fan quilt, invite family members to create their own fan from the six or seven pieces of fabric. interestinly, none of the fans we each made were identical and she scribed each of our names on the individual fans. Her completed quilt was beautiful and will be a family heirloom.

We soon found ourselves going to fabric shops near our home and over time my wife had accumulated a wealth of fabric. Strange as it may seem, she had an abundance of denim fabric and made a special quilt with a FSU theme for a friend who had once lived in Florida. She had met him while working at summer camp and used the vast nuumber of logo's he had accumulated of sports paraphnalia he had accumulated that pertained to the Seminoles.

It was then Georgia Bonesteel, a well known lady who had a syndicated PBS television program devoted to quilting contacted my wife's group to see if they would undertake a special project. Georgia wanted the group to quilt wall hangings that had been winners in a nationally published womens magazine. The ladies in my wifes quilting group deided to tqke Geogia up on her request. I forget the total number of wall hangings but my wife quilted 13 of the wall hangings. The project was completed in about three months and these wall hanging quilts were ready to be displayed on a tour across many cities in the United States and ultimately be hung in a library in Washington DC.

Quilting Frames

Quilts come in a variety of sizes rangine from the standard bed sizes, single, double, Queen and King. In order to effectively do quilting, frames must be used. In the olden days frames were simply made of wood and could be set up and taken down with relative ease but required a good bit of space. My grandmother in her later years had a quilting frame that she had odered from Sears.

Today lap quilting is popular and smallee hoops can be purchased that do not require so much space. A friend of our has a commercial quilting machine in her home and a room totally devoted to her craft. She enjoys quilting and also uses her machine to finish quilts made by others who do not have time to complete them.

Templates can be purchased to add a special touch with intricate stiching patterns. Good scissors are a must as are cutting boards and a variety of measuring and squaring devices.

Decorative Quilts

Several years ago my son was taking mandolin lessons in a town near where we live. The music store where he had lessons had beautiful quilts that were used to adorn the walls in the store. The quilts gave an ascetic look that was a touch of class. Since that time I have noticed many other places that use quilted wall hangings.


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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 21 months ago from USA

      I love your vivid description of family quilts. I have some of my grandmother's. They are made from scraps of old clothes back in the day and are the only thing I have of her.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 21 months ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Thank you for your comments. I would so love to have been fortunate to have gotten one of my grandmothers quilts. The patches of fabric in themselves were precious memories.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 21 months ago from Jaipur

      Hi Robert Elias Ballard,

      This is a new topic for me and I tried to understand this. Thanks for a detailed article which is easy to understand.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 21 months ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Thank you for your comment. My wife is an excellent quilter and I am only an observer. If you understood this article maybe I succeeded in articulating. There is so much more as in any pursuit that cannot be given justice and if your interest has been ignited to begin quilting, go for it.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 21 months ago from the short journey

      A lovely look at the world of quilts and quilters from the perspective of someone who learned to appreciate and admire quilts at a young age. Thanks for sharing this little journey through the times you focused on quilts!

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 21 months ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Thank you for your comments.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 20 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I think antique quilts are a piece of art. I was enthralled by your look at life in the past with the quilts your mother so lovingly made.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 20 months ago from Zirconia, North Carolina


    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 20 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      We have a quilt show every summer in the next town over. Quilts are very big business in this town. I am glad you appreciated your grandmothers quilts, they are lots of work.

    • Fiddleman profile image

      Robert Elias Ballard 20 months ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

      Yes they are and a labor of love.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 19 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a wonderfully detailed article. I love the feeling behind the handmade quilts your ancestors made. The quits you pictured in the hub are beautiful.

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