Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Salvaged Treasures

Quilt blocks unpicked from the worn sashing

Muslin used as setting triangles after blocks were "promise stitched"

to worn muslin backing

Two of the dark triangles had been pieced of small scraps

Returned from the frame shop

During the United States bicentenial in 1976 there was a renewed interest in older handcrafts. It took several years for fabric stores to begin supplying quality calicos, but the fires of enthusiam had been kindled and the creation of beautiful cotton fabrics has become big business. I had been sewing for many years, but was new to the art of quilt making in the early 1980's.

My mother kept a vintage quilt top put away in a dresser drawer. It had been pieced by her grandmother, but never finished. All the fabrics used in the patchwork were scraps from worn aprons, blouses, "house dresses", with some small scale plaids which likely were from men's shirts. The blocks were meticulously hand-pieced, then my g-grandmother's treadle sewing machine was used to "set" the blocks with strips of pink and white checked cotton.

I bought unbleached muslin for a backing and a roll of batting, tied the layers and then folded the backing to the front and hand stitched the edges. I brought out the finished quilt for my Mother's birthday. We were both pleased that something which had been tucked away for so long was now in use and enjoyed.

Mother kept the little quilt folded at the foot of her bed. She wrapped herself in it for naps, pulled it up on cold nights. The cats slept there during the day and sometimes came in with muddy feet which meant that the quilt was laundered often. It went into the washing machine so frequently over the next 20 years that the pink checked fabric began to split and fray. Before my mother had to go into a nursing home, she washed the old quilt one last time and put the sagging remains in a plastic bag with the stipulation that it was mine.

When we moved our daughter and her family from east to west in 2006, I stuffed the quilt into my suitcase and brought it along. We were finishing a new house for ourselves, building one for our daughter's family. In the general upheaval the tattered quilt was put into a closet and there it stayed for two years.

Finally I resurrected it from the plastic bag and had a good critical look. With no clear plan in mind I began the tedious process of picking the blocks free of the ruined sashing. I carried chunks of the quilt with me in the truck when we traveled for building supplies, it went with me on weekends when we visited our son's home. At one point I even bought checked fabric which almost matched the original, thinking to reset the blocks.

One of the classes offered at the quilt shop where I work part time was called "Promise Stitch." The concept originated in the Appalachians when women had to utilize scraps of old clothing to make everyday bedding. The worn strips of fabric were hand pieced, then for strength, the seam allowances were pressed to one side and top stitched, again by hand. Utility rather than fine stitchery was the goal.

I cut the soft, well worn muslin of the quilt backing into squares, pressed the salvaged blocks and carefully pinned the two layers together, block by block. It became a labor of love to hand quilt along the seams. When the hand stitching was finished I added "setting triangles" of new washed muslin for stability.

I sent two of the quilted blocks to my two girl cousins who share the same great-grandmother. I wanted to frame several to keep and to give to my children. While I was pondering the best way to do this a cousin of my husband came to visit. She is both a skilled needlewoman and an artist. She suggested that the pieces should be very simply framed in something which would resemble the frame of an old farmhouse mirror--a vintage white-washed effect.

The elderly gentleman who owns a photo and frame shop in town was able to order just the right wood for the frames. I have my favorite of the blocks hanging over my sewing machine and chose blocks to be framed for my son and daughter. I printed a card giving the history of the quilt and the name of my g-grandmother to go with each block. Several more of the blocks are works in progress for my sisters and their children.

The setting of the light/dark triangle-squares is an unusual one, not often found in quilt pattern collections. I have found it labeled as "Windblown Star". When an arrangement of the triangle-squares includes light, medium, and dark, it becomes "Trailing Star."

I call it "Eliza's Star" after the woman who made the quilt. She was indeed a very precious star in my family's history.
You may "click" on the photos to see the details of the piecing and the quilting.


  1. I have great admiration of your ability to sew ... not one of my talents. What a wonderful idea to frame those Quilt patterns. I think you should record the part you played in getting these made along beside the history.

    You really are a prolific blog poster. lol I have read back to the beginning of July with great interest. You live in such a different beautiful world to me ... it is all so interesting and I feel we share a love of cats and cooking.
    Your nature and scenic shots are wonderful as they help me imagine some of your life... wow deer in the back garden. I also enjoyed your FH bits re cousin Luther .. so much of our histories we will never truely know.I also looked at the hague site ...I never knew that maple syrup could only had a 5 week season ...nowonder it is so expensive over here.
    I must go and do something in the house ... although housework comes very low on MY priorities. lol I would rather be scrapping or sitting here with another large coffee.

  2. Angie,
    I'm so pleased you are enjoying the blog--I'm appreciating your comments. I love to read and write---I'm just realizing how nice it is to have feedback from a posting, so I'm trying to be more forward in leaving comments rather than just reading and silently leaving.
    Wyoming has its grand and often stark beauty--but how I miss my gardens!