Not my grandmother's quilts!!! I beg to disagree. Recently there was a debate on the Studio Art Quilt forum about the traditions of quilt making. Some felt that the continued reference to tradition keeps contemporary art quilts from being considered art. Some even suggested that we drop the word "quilts" and call the pieces "fiber art". Can you believe that?
This is a bit of a long story about one quilt and why I personally will never forget the quilts of my grandmother and especially one particular quilt--here is part of it.
Now before I continue I must tell you a bit about MY granny as I remember her. She was a spry woman--tiny--I don't think she ever weighed more than 100 pounds. Her hair always neatly in a bun. Outside she waged a constant battle with the dandelions. Inside she read and re-read her books--Reader's Digest, books she had sent away for. Little notes in tiny handwriting--always in pencil--"read in 1952-took 3 days-not worth it", "re-read in 1956-still took 3 days--still not worth it". She even annotated her Bible.
But the story started long before that. When she was 7 her father died leaving her mother to support two daughters--there were boarders, laundry for the boarders, ironing for boarders. A hard life. But she was always making sure she had enough money to send Granny to the Teacher's College and her sister to Nursing School. Aunt Jo liked being a nurse. Granny did not like being a teacher. When she met Grandpops, she thought that he was her way out-- he was so silent he must be very smart. Alas he just had nothing to say.
Grandpops had a farm west of town so that's where she went. Life there must have been tough for her. Money was tight. She took a job at the local high school to keep the farm during the Great Depression--driving the old black Ford six miles into town every day. In the winter, the road wasn't plowed--you just followed the ruts left by the other cars--all cars were the same size back then anyway. But I digress. At home there were more hired hands to feed. Sausage to can. Soap to be made. Dill pickles to be preserved.
But there were also her quilts. The log cabin quilts made of my dad's old wool pants--they added warmth to the beds. These were made upstairs on the treadle sewing machine looking across the fields to the river. Even the hired help got a couple of these quilts. Then there were the quilts to cover the beds. To be carefully folded each night before going to bed. Made from feed sack cloth in wonderful flowery designs. She had the double wedding ring, Grandpops had one with sunflowers.
Now back then the newspaper published a different quilt pattern each week. She carefully clipped out these patterns and stuck them into a large manilla envelope. Not that she would waste her good money and time making someone else's design. No, this was just for inspiration.
So when she decided to make a quilt for the CLOSET of the guest bedroom--the quilt that would be one of her crowning achievements-- of course she had to make her own design. On the eastern half of the farm, the pasture was a virgin oak forest--I remember seeing the path that was cut when they used to drive herds of cattle through into Chicago. Large wonderful friendly Burr Oaks.
Of course the design would be an oak leaf. She must have traced and retraced the design for the leafs and the acorns until it was just right.
Look at all the curves she had to cut. So many intricate designs. For this quilt she bought fabric--just the right shades of browns and tans--this quilt deserved better than feed sack cloth. And she painstakingly appliqued the leaves and acorns in her tiny stitches. Even the border had an intricate matching design.
I'm sure she took the quilt to the local quilting bee--she had to--they were her in-laws. But then she would come home and pick out stitches that were too big. Look at the detail. Even the quilting design had circles of acorns. When needed she added not one but two rows of stitches for emphasis.
She made other quilts after that but this is the one I remember most. Occasionally she would take me up to the guest bedroom--walk into the big closet there--and carefully unwrap the quilt so that I could admire it again and again.
Now the farm has long ago been sold. Her house has been torn down. The furniture in the guest bedroom is in my guest bedroom. I have the oak leaf quilt--still folded. Still too good to be used.
We can debate if the quilt is art or fine craft--but it remains in many ways the ultimate statement of her quest for beauty and order. In my opinion my quilts and even my life are influenced by the traditions of my grandmother. I know I can't forget my grandmother and the traditions she taught me. Every time I make the back of one of my quilts, I am honoring her. What about you? What traditions do you have? What do you think?