Thursday, October 17, 2013

This Old Quilt and Other Stories

Okay, we talked about this before, how I've always wanted to buy a hand-made quilt because the history and beauty and artfulness of an old craft always calls to the home-and-hearth soul in me.

And I posted THIS:

It's the shot of an Amish home on Route 15 in Pennsylvania (between Lewisburg and Selensgrove in central PA.)

And there's always other places for money to go, places that seem more important. But that's neither here nor there, we all weigh things up with FRUGAL vs. FUN as part of the equation.

Well I'm beyond silly. Way beyond. So far beyond as to be ridiculous because tucked in my Aunt Isabelle's cedar blanket chest upstairs (I won't show it to you because of the dust, you can envision the dust on this old maple chest, but there's really no reason to belabor my ineptitude by actually showcasing it. You understand, I'm sure.)

So there's this box....

Yup, this box right here:

At some point in time someone received or bought "A Royal Robe" in size 14, color: Geranium. That's what the box says, anyway, but I don't know if what's inside was always in this box.... or another box???? Who knows?

Who cares, you say????

Well, it's such a cool piece of unsung HISTORY, and the box has clearly done its part. I wanted to give credit where credit is due. It only seems right.


And I've always known the box existed, and I knew what was in it when my mother gave it to me, but it was old and sweet and delicate and here's the thing:


I'm saying that in defense of my lapse of intelligence, out-of-sight, out-of-mind. I mean, I'm still looking for the Social Security cards I got for my kids when it became a law like twenty years back... and I put them in a place so safe, I've never found them again.

So now you understand a little better.

So I decided that my bucket list included getting this quilt top quilted, so it's really a blanket, not a piece of fancy work. I met some lovely quilters at the Apple Fest and they hooked me up with an expert. I made an appointment and went to see her last week. Me... the box.... and the quilt top.

We went downstairs. She has a quilter's mecca down there, a complete basement quilting makeover with long-arm machines and computers and oh my stars, a huge quilting table.... So a real, honest-to-goodness set-up, to die for if you're a quilter!

I open the box as we chat. I unfold the quilt top, talking about hometown stuff, weather, the apple festival, etc. As we unfold the quilt top onto the table, she gets quiet. Real quiet. And when we undo the last fold she gazes at the beautiful spring colors of the double wedding ring top and she shakes her head. "I can't touch this," she says.

"You can't?" I watch her, trying to read between the lines because in my simple head, a quilter should  want to make money quilting, right? Of course right.

She shakes her head again and looks at me. "I can't touch this because it's in far too perfect a condition."

Okay, I've never professed to being the sharp tool in the shed, definitely more along the lines of a "rope" but wouldn't you want to work with a really nice quilt? As opposed to, what? A really awful quilt?

She looked at the expression on my face (think confusion, lack-of-understanding, rampant stupidity) and laughs. "I can't work on it until you have it expertly appraised," she explained. She reached out and fingered one of the perfectly flat circular twining patterns and sighed. "You have to understand, I never get to see old quilts in this condition. It's nearly perfect. It lies flat, it's expertly stitched, the seams don't buckle along the bias, they all lie flat.

That much I knew.... and marveled at. Do you know how many "snips" I have to make to force a curved seam to lie flat? About a gazillion. Maybe more. This has 1/8" hand done seams and no "bubbles".


"It's valuable," she says next. "And to do it justice you need a quilt appraiser to estimate its worth both done and undone. Hand-quilted or machine quilted. I can look at these tiny patches and tell you this was made in the 1920's when brighter colors were in fashion. I can tell you that they make reproductions of several of these old fabrics and we can use them to back this when it's ready."


I have to make DECISIONS????  I thought when I made the decision to have it finished and brought my checkbook, that was a BIG STEP in my book!!!!  :)  And when it's done it's going to my oldest daughter because why on earth would I want something valuable around??? We'd wreck it in a heartbeat.  Oy!!!

So here it is: The Double Wedding Ring pieced quilt top that is destined to be made into something lovely and useful after four generations of living in a box:

And here's a close-up to show the sweet, spring colors the piecer used:

Sweet. Bright. Hopeful. Alive with spring and re-birth.

It's funny how things work out. I'd forgotten all about this old quilt top. It was safely wrapped in multiple layers, then rewrapped, then boxed... for nearly ninety years. So each time I passed those handmade quilts on the highway, or in stores, and slapped my hand to save money, this was upstairs waiting.

I believe in God's timing. (That doesn't mean I haven't questioned it in my day!!!!) And seeing this done someday? Seeing the fruit of some woman's efforts come full circle?

Well, I think that was meant to be. And meant to be now. And maybe (just maybe) I'll keep it around here and enjoy it for a little while before I pass it on. Because after all these years of longing for a quilt...

It was here, in its own way, all the while.



  1. WOW! Kudos to the quilt lady for knowing when to NOT TOUCH!!

    When my first child was born, I got a present. It was a quilt, crib sized, in a 'flower garden' pattern. The story is this: my grandmother's mother was a seamstress. She got the pieces from the work she did, the scraps. She made quilts all the time. This quilt was left unfinished, like yours, sometime in the 1930's. My grandmother started to finished it in 1980 or so. Got the back on and a lot of tiny stitch work done... and her eyesight went. My mother helped her finish it in time for my daughter's birth in 2000.
    They gave it to my baby with a hand-sewn embroidered message along the edge: made by Grandma Bonnie (my mother), Grandma Hathaway (my grandmother) and Grandmother Bonnett (my great grandmother).
    It gives me chills. Five generations of women have touched this quilt. I used it as a nursing blanket for 13 years but now it's retired, waiting for the next generation.
    What a treasure you have!!

    1. Oh, Virginia, what a beautiful story!!! I love that, and isn't it funny how similar it is? Although I'm not sure of the origin of this one, someone said my great-aunt Nancy but I don't know if that's accurate. My mother literally hid this thing away (which I then repeated knowing how boys are!) so we never talked about it until she was dying. And I'm not sure what she said. Why didn't I write it down???? GRRRR! I love that story of the 5 generations working that quilt. You've made my heart smile today!!!

    2. that's neat! my dad's mother lived to almost 94 and her oldest daughter's oldest has 2 daughters...well the youngest daughter had alittle girl and her middle name is my grandmother's maiden name - she almost made it in time for 5 generations but missed by a few years. they did a picture one time with 4 of the hands and mentioned how they missed Grandmother. I have some doll clothes she made me that I've thought about passing on to the youngest girls in that part of the family but my aunt told me to just keep them since they're mine. I was actually older when she gave them to me -along with 2 beautiful crocheted doll dresses. my generation missed the crocheted baby dresses she made for the ones about 12-15 yrs after me so we got these instead.

      sigh...ready to go home from night shift and crawl under a quilt!


    3. Oh, how special, Virginia! What a treasure.

  2. wow! as much as I love quilts I'm glad I'm not in your shoes - something perfect makes me nervous - it's like too sentimental to sell for the dough (at least for mre) but too old and perfect to risk messing up by using...almost a nightmare - like having a master chef give you a homemade chocolate from Paris and everyone expects you to save it forever when all you wanna do is chow down on it like you would a handful of m&m's...or like the beautiful pyrex bowl I bought because the person wanted to get a 'better' bowl in the same pattern - I don't see anyting wrong iwth it and I was kinda hoping it would have a tleast a teeny tiny little screatch so I could use it without worrying (not that I bake- but I do like to store fruit in them ya know?!) so now I have a bowl sitting on the shelf as decoration and screaming at the dog every time she goes near it with her long wagging tail
    I actually bought a double wedding ring with the 1930's feedsacks kinda like this one but it's not in pefect shape (so I can sleep under it sometimes and not worry too much!) and BOY is it SOFT! almost a shame to put reproduction fabric on the back but not likely to find anything original that's as soft.
    so did you decide to get it quilted? get it appraised for sure before doing anything - sometimes the tops are more valuable left as -is though not very useful LOL!
    man these pics are more torturous than looking at the cake recipes! :-)

    Susanna who wants to make one of these but they're too hard to get to lie flat!

    1. Susanna, I'm taking it to the master quilter/appraiser next week some time. We have a big benefit we're doing this weekend for my little buddy Roman who's fighting AML (a rare form of leukemia in little guys!) so everything is going on hold until the benefit is done. But then I'll re-tackle this and let you guys know. And Merrilee told me it might retain more value unquilted, but what is the fun in that? You're right, Susanna, it's simply unusable. I'm frowning, typing, because isn't part of the value in being able to put it on a bed or a wall and enjoy the beauty? I'm sure the woman who hand-stitched this gorgeous top never expected it to sit in a box for 90 years. But I'm really interested to see what she'll say... and if it needs hand-quilting, we'll be hunting up someone (probably Amish) to do that. Because I'd rather write books. :)

    2. Yes hard position to be in - I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. I'd want it quilted so I could use it then feel like I messed it up by doing so. lots of quilt tops don't stay in good shape like yours - my mom had one that I guess she bought from an estat sale- the person didn't put all the borders on and one border/side is rotting/frayed through- it probably can't be quilted even by hand - only good for pieces to repair other quilts (but I can't bear to take it apart) or left as is. they can cover a bed unquilted but just not the same IMO. but to me the value is being able to enjoy it. I have some I probably wont' ever sleep under but I like to put them out on the bed for a few days to enjoy then put back up.
      be prepared for big bucks for good hand quilting - my aunt's church group is cheap but as she said 'you get what you pay for' - some have never quilted before and about half are close to blind. I like it though but I haven't had them quilt a family heirloom like yours! and also once quilted and being used it''ll eventually risk needing to be washed and that's a whole other ballgame and not a fun one..I'm dreading when I come to that day which is why I try to sleep mosty with quilts I've made myself and rotate the older ones a few days to a week at a time.

      beautiful quilt


    3. Susanna, you are a wealth of knowledge!!! I never knew that about you but yeah, you've touched all the right points. The care is intimidating... but hey, what part of life isn't intimidating? We'll figure this out and I'm so excited to go see this nice lady!

  3. Oh, I have a similiar story. My great grandmother on my father's side and my grandmother on my mother's side lived down the road from each other on their farms. They pieced a quilt together and years later my sister quilted it. She and my mom gave it to me as a Christmas present.My parents knew each other as children but reconnected years later in DC.

    Isn't it a blessing to have a piece of history? AND that Quilter is one smart cookie and you are too for not throwing the box away.

    Peace, Julie

    1. Isn't that a great box?! Ruthy, you need to keep that, too. :)

      Julie, what a wonderful quilt!

    2. Well, the box got saved by accident. Because the pieced top was IN it. So it got tucked in the deepest corner of my mother's cedar chest and was never touched. I think in her head my Mom thought that someday she'd have nice things. Clearly she appreciated them. Now that never happened, and that's the sad part of her story. She never had a dream come true in the years I knew her. But maybe there were dreams and happy times before I was born? I like to think that. Pictures of her young show her beautiful and sassy. So maybe then????

  4. What a great story. And what a BEAUTIFUL quilt! I absolutely love the colors. I'm in awe of those who have the patience to quilt. I have an antique one, can't remember where it came from, in my old cedar chest. A lot of good it does in there, right? But as you said, Ruthy, kids, dogs...

    1. Using them spells DEATH around here. But not so much now with the kids grown, so I'm willing to take the chance.

      And then put it in a locked glass display case, LOL! (kidding... mostly.... I'd probably use plexiglas. :)

  5. Ruthy, it's beautiful!! I love the pattern and colors! Such a sweet rediscovery!

    1. I know, Missy, it's just so sweet. Like "forever spring". Love it!

  6. Wow -- what a beautiful quilt! I'm scared of circles -- any kind of round edge really so I only quilt in squares and rectangles...not even triangles. I'm not exacting enough. But I so appreciate the work. If I ever broke down and bought a quilt it would definitely have round edges galore!

    I wonder if it would ruin the value of the quilt if you hung it up as a wall hanging? That way it wouldn't get as much wear and tear but you could enjoy it. Love the family history behind it.

    And Ruthy -- I'm on pins and needles up here waiting for your Love finds you Christmas story. I stopped by my Christian bookstore last Saturday because their website claimed they had 10 copies but I couldn't find them any where so I asked for help. Imagine my excitement when a sales clerk offered to go into the back and fetch me one. I waited and waited and waited and waited and then she came back empty handed. Apparently there were 'like a hundred boxes of Christmas stuff back there' and they weren't going to start unpacking until after Thanksgiving -- which was thankfully this past Monday. So I'm making the trek back this weekend. Keep your fingers crossed!

    1. Kav!!!! I love you THIS MUCH!!!!! And I hope you love my first historical!!! Yowza, how fun is that to say????? Thank you!!!

  7. Such a beautiful quilt. I tried to learn how to was a disaster... please keep us posted on what happens with your treasure!

    1. Will do, Piper! I'm excited to see what adventure this takes me on, now that I've started down the path. Kind of cool to "see" the inside of the quilting world and it already planted a story idea in my head.... One that I think will be sweet and inspiring and emotional. Now I just need time to write it. :)

  8. Wow. Oh wow.

    Deep down inside somewhere, a quilter still lives in me.

    I made quilts when I was younger (i.e. before children), and enjoyed it so much! But I'm a purist. My grandmother taught me how to quilt, and I do it all by hand.

    I've made a double wedding ring...I certainly appreciate the work and care that went into your beautiful quilt top!

    It's been years since I've quilted, though. Between children and moving, my stash of fabric has been sold, collected again, given away, collected again.... And now I have enough for at least four five...stored in boxes.

    Will I ever get back to quilting? Like you, Ruthy, I'd rather write books :), but maybe someday...when only two of us live in our house....

    But oh, that quilt top sings to my soul.

    Take care of it...and there are ways to display a piece of art like that so you can enjoy it AND keep it out of the reach of small hands.

    Thank you for sharing it with us!

    1. Jan, it doesn't surprise me that you'd love working with fabric. I sewed a lot when I was younger. I taught myself, and then I branched out and learned to sew all over again on an antique treadle machine. I was so psyched by the baby clothes I made!!! Rocking that pedal, it was as if I could talk to those women who saw that machine for the amazing miracle it was.... All of those straight, perfect stitches, one after the other.

      How funny that we put the huge value on the hand-done piece when those women were probably happy dancing in the streets and on the prairie and around the wells to have a machine to sew with!!! Laughing at how things come around!