Thursday, February 4, 2010
My oldest quilt
I am an active, avid quilter but I am also a collector and have the privilege of owning some lovely old and new quilts. The oldest quilt I own was made by my great-grandmother, Della White, whom I knew as "Little Gramma." Little Gramma lived with my mother's parents for as long as I knew her. She was about 4 feet 10 inches tall, maybe weighed 90 pounds, wrinkled as an old apple and she never spoke. Of course, by the time I knew her, she was in her 90's and maybe she had already said everything there was to say! She lived in a back bedroom of my Grandparents house in Moline, Illinois and didn't come out much. She was my Grampa White's mother and he was the apple of her eye! My mother tells me that in Little Gramma's eyes, her son Edgar could do no wrong. I am pretty sure she made my grandmother's life (her daughter-in-law) a living hell. This is the grandfather who would quiz us on what we were learning in Sunday School and scared us to death when he told us (regularly) that the next time we came for a visit, there would be a new gramma, he was trading our gramma (here pictured with my mother, Ramona) in for a younger model. We believed him...
Recently, I have started the process to get my quilts appraised, both the ones I have made and the ones I have collected. This is a good idea, folks, because if you lose your quilts in a house fire, for instance, if you do not have an appraisal of their worth, you are reimbursed $7 under the category of "old blanket." Now, let's be honest, there is probably no amount of money to make up for the loss of an old quilt but if you wish to protect the investment you have made in these art objects, get them appraised. When I ship a quilt to the new owner and the clerk asks me, "value?" for the forms he is filling out, I tell him, "priceless." Just like the VISA commercial. Sometime later I will tell you my quilt shipping stories.... Here's a hint: Use UPS.
So, back to Little Gramma's quilt. It is a Grandmother's Flower Garden pattern made with flour sack, I believe. It is very fragile and I have not washed it for this reason. I think it was made in the 1930's because of the fabric but I am no expert. My mother gave it to me after my Gramma (her mother), Ila Marie White died in the 1980's. The very sad part of this story is that I never knew my great grandmother was a quilter until recently. Of course, she was long dead before I started quilting so it really does not matter.
I used to be part of a speakers' bureau at Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois where I worked for 18 years. The college would provide to area meetings, speakers at no charge, as a community service. So for several years, I packed up all my quilts and drove around to various Jaycee or church group meetings, retirement homes and Ladies' groups giving my speech, "Every Quilt tells a Story." The gist of this speech was to find out the story of the quilts you are lucky enough to own. Who made the quilt? Who was it made for? What was the special occasion, if any, that caused its creation? Where was it made? What was the relationship of the quilter to the recipient? If you are a quilter, put the story on the quilt or make sure it goes with the quilt to its new home. One of the most important life lessons I ever learned was from these years as a quilt presenter and it was this: at the retirement home, never speak after the lunch. Everyone falls asleep and you end up talking to yourself!
Many times, I see lovely quilts in auctions and thrift stores, yard sales and on ebay with no story attached. I can't help but think of the hard working woman (and a few men) who gave so many hours to make a quilt to probably say, "I love you" but their story is lost. Maybe it doesn't matter. Just seems very sad to me.
So Little Gramma, I have told your story as best I know it. Your quilt was once new and beautiful. Today, more than 80 years later, I still find it a thing of beauty. Thank you.