pink peony

pink peony
old-fashioned peony

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pieces A'Plenty

Quilts just happen to be one of my favorite things in the whole world created by needles. What is it about something so everyday, so useful, so necessary that makes quilts so wonderful? After all, a polyester blanket can serve the same purpose. But who in her right mind would choose a artificial-fiber -- thing -- over a hand-stitched, colorfully-patterned, cottony-soft quilt?It is the creativity of their makers, of course, that elevate even the most mundane task to art, with a little imagination and desire.

I am deeply involved in a book project this summer featuring quilts in our part of the Ozarks. But we aren't just taking pictures of quilts -- we're also including photos of the quiltmakers, the women (and sometimes men!) who took the time to turn simple bedcoverings into things of beauty. Everytime I see another vintage quilt, I feel as if I have made a new friend -- the one who chose the colors, cut the pieces, carefully stitched them into intricate patterns and then put it all together with tiny quilting stitches. She (or he) speaks to me through the work of her hands. She says, "Let me see how I can make the very most out of this little piece of print, how I can do my very best to make the pieces in this challenging pattern come together just right, and how I can set it all off with precision quilting."

I see how a certain woman put a bit of bright red in the center of an otherwise subdued block -- did she feel a need for a bright spot in her life right at that moment? I notice how another took the time to add some elaborate embroidery -- was she just a little bit proud of her needle skills and want to show them off, just for a moment? And then there are the subtle patterns hidden in the quilting -- for no other reason, perhaps, than the thought that someday someone would find them -- the bird or the heart or the rosebud -- and wonder at it and smile at its discovery.

I do wonder -- at the amazing variety, the incredible beauty, the skill level displayed -- and it makes me think of my own creativity. What am I doing or making that can compare to what I'm seeing in these old quilts? I have access to tools, materials, and time in quantites that would have made those early quiltmakers ache with envy.  But do I take advantage of them? Not nearly enough.

How thankful I am that the quilts I'm seeing have been treasured and preserved and are now being shared. They may just be the inspiration I need to get back to my own quiltmaking...

Isn't this unusual quilt just wonderful? Don't those circles spin across the surface of the quilt? See how she pieced the wedges that make up the circle? And the pink and green background colors contrast beautifully with the mostly shirtings in the circles. I would never have thought of that!

I've always wanted to make an Ocean Waves -- I just love all those little triangles. And that sweet woman sitting on the quilt? She's a fabulous quilter, too, just like her mother who made this Ocean Waves more than half a century ago.

So, while I don't have time for quilting right now, I'm having a WONDERFUL time just getting to see these treasures and to meet  the beautiful people who are sharing them with us for our book: Pieces A'Plenty: Quilts and Other Comforts. 

Be watching for it come September -- it might just inspire you, too, to take up this time-honored craft that allows for such amazing versatility and creativity. I'm almost ready to pick up that betweens needle again....almost...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I had the most delightful surprise visitor yesterday! I was buried at my desk, working on tedious data entry, when the doorbell rang, and there stood my friend, Donna walker, clutching a tattered quilt and grinning from ear to ear. She had just been given a precious surprise gift and could not wait to share it with a fellow quilt lover.

Donna grew up in the tiny communities of Almartha and Souder. I live smack-dab between the two, and she is my go-to source for all historical questions concerning our area. We sat down together, spreading the quilt between us, and she gave me a history lesson.

Donna's new old quilt had just been given to her by the women who are charged with settling the estate of the late Irene Beach Young. Irene (August 6, 1916 -- March 2, 2012) was raised in this community, too. She was technically born at Souder, but her family attended church at Almartha and was closely connected to the families there. Donna was more than 11 years younger than Irene, but their ties to their childhood home had kept their friendship strong through the years.

The reason Donna received the quilt is that those wonderful women settling Irene's estate recognized Donna's grandmother's name on the quilt. They knew it would mean something to her. Isn't that nice? It would have been such a shame for this treasure to wind up in an auction, being bought by someone who had no idea of its provenance.

There are 20 appliqued, embroidered butterfly blocks on the quilt, and each bears the name of a young woman who lived here. Donna believes it was made for Irene's mother -- or perhaps for Irene when she married her first husband. Donna instantly knew 18 of the women; I feel sure she will solve the mystery of the identity of the other two. As we talked, a picture began to unfold in my mind -- a colorful, vivid picture of a lively ommunity.

There was the woman whose large family was known for its boisterous, fun-loving nature. Everyone loved to visit Granville and Mabel Prock's home! Another block was made by a girl who eventually married a man who was a successful entrepreneur; they lived in the city, but this woman never forgot her country roots and loved to come back to visit. On one block I recognized the name of the mother of one of my dearest childhood friends. Guavana Eslick Sims still loves to tell about growing up at Souder and Almartha, and of the old swinging bridge over Spring Creek. She enjoyed getting her future husband, John R., on that old bridge and then would jump up and down and nearly topple him over the edge! Another block featured the name of a woman from one of the oldest families in our community. They lived with very modest means, but still managed to host popular "tacky parties." Donna said she remembered her dad, Lyle Murphy, going to one of their tacky parties dressed in his long johns!

Making friendship quilts was something women could do for one another, at a time when buying store-bought gifts was impossible. A square of fabric, some other bits of prints, and a little embroidery thread could be turned into a personaloized keepsake; when the blocks were gathered together and sewn into a quilt top and then hand-quilted, the result was a memory-filled expression of love.

Donna suspects her grandmother, being one of the older women on Irene's quilt, was probably the one who organized its making. She remembers her grandmother was often the "instigator" of such friendship-quilt projects. Carrie Murphy, who with her husband, Ora, had the general store at Almartha, would enlist her young granddaughter to take the makings for a block to neighbors. Donna didn't particularly like that job; it often meant a long walk on a hot summer's or cold winter's day. But because she loved her grandmother, she wouldn't complain but would try to find a friend to go along. That made it a lot more fun!

The quilt is made from old prints, appliqued onto muslin background squares with each butterfly outlined with buttonhole stitching. The sashing and binding are solid pink. Donna smiled from ear to ear as she said she would be sleeping under her new old quilt last night. 

After Donna took her keepsake home, I wondered about the records we are leaving today. How are we writing our history? What will our great-grandchildren have to touch, wrap up in, to see and hear our stories and to know the way we live? It's difficult to cuddle up with a computer....

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pre-Dawn Snack

I had a little snack this morning while standing in the lane, waiting for the cattle to come toward me. I'm the official turn-'em-in-to-the-corral person. Mostly I just wait. And wait. But when they come, they COME! And I get a teeny bit panicky -- but so far I've been able to wave my arms just right and say just the right "Hey, now..." to get the cattle to turn in and not run over me.

When we first got married (a few years ago) I was told that when we gathered up cattle, I would "stand in a hole." I thought that meant STAND IN A HOLE. No, it meant "stand in a place where you do not want the cattle to go through and keep them from going through it at all costs, even to the point of sacrificing your body if they insist."  Sometimes I've been tempted to turn tail and run. Sometimes I've acted like a complete idiot, jumping up and down and screaming. But I've always managed to turn the cattle, and WOW, I'm glad.
Because if they get away, there is no getting them back. Doomsday. We don't want that to happen.

We're more than halfway through this summer's cattle-working, and it's heating up out there. The humidity is rising and the red line is going up on the thermometer. Tempers are getting a little shorter, and some of us are getting tired. And a little cranky.

Thank goodness for blackberries. Sweet, juicy blackberries. A tiny reward is a nice thing.