When you are raised in a rural setting there are a lot of things you take for granted that we thought took place in all homes whether they be in the city or on the farm. One item that was in our home and was always taken for granted was my Mother’s quilts, the home made from scratch, made from scrap material quilt. Until my Mom passed away I don’t think I had ever slept under anything other than her quilts. The fact was that none of us in my family slept without a quilt and it was taken for granted that we all would sleep warm and comfortable.
It seems that for as long as I can remember there was always a quilting frame set up and usually an unfinished quilt in it. From what I have been told, my grandmother Benton was an extraordinary quilter and the one we have now at our home gives testament to her skill. Grandma had five daughters and two learned the craft and carried it on for their generation. Not only did they learn how, but the really enjoyed making quilts and constantly working at improving their abilities at this craft.
They became so skilled that in 1976, the Bicentennial year, the county Historical Society asked them to bring a quilting frame to their county fair booth and perform their trade to the crowds for a week. Mom and her sister Mabel not only showed everyone there how it was done they did so in Colonial outfits and I will tell you they loved that spotlight and beamed with pride. One afternoon my Aunt Verona stopped by and sewed a little with her sisters. She said she enjoyed the other part of quilting and that was to visit and catch up on the family conversations with her sisters as the sewed. That made it complete.
From the time I was a little boy until I was an adult I took for granted my family’s quilt making. I really just thought that was the way of life on the farm. I knew that if my quilt became ragged and worn, another new one always appeared on my bed. It probably sounds very unlikely that a huge quilt frame and a large pile of material and stacks of newly made quilt patches could be overlooked or could be ignored, but I must admit that little boys (at least this one) easily did overlook this part of day to day life at our house.
Farm life is a busy and many faceted life. There were a multitude of things being done in and out of our home and I was always trying to keep up with all my parents were doing. Sewing cloth together just didn’t seem important to me at that time but after I married and my parents moved from the farm into a town, life changed in several ways for me. My wife Sharon and I, and in later years to come, our children would go to my parents’ home for Sunday dinners. We had set up our home and developed our own lifestyle and saw the differences when we paid them visits.
Life was different than when they lived on the farm but one thing was the same. In the corner of the living room sat the quilting frame and it almost always was loaded with a new quilt that Mom was making for a cousin or one of us or someone who was in need of a warm cover that Mom would wrap and give. It was during my adult years when I learned that Mom and her quilts served many needs for many people and for many reasons. They were not just pieces of cloth she put together for her kids to stay warm with.
Quilting is a craft and an art form and it is being practiced less and less with each passing generation. It takes a good eye, patience and hard work to create a quilt that catches the eyes of onlookers. Mom and her sister Mabel were true craftsmen when doing this and even I, who doesn’t possess an eye for art, could be in awe of their works.
One fact that has had me wondering most of my life is the part about patience. When it came to most anything Mom did in life, she did it in haste and her patience was short. That is until she sat down at the frame, picked up her needle, and sewed. She loved creating all those quilts and as she sewed them over all those years she settled into a calm and focus unlike anything I ever witnessed from her. Out of all of her family I only know of one who has mastered and has quilted many and that is my second cousin Lynne who lives in Pennsylvania. It is pleasant to know that even though the generation I watched has passed, there is still a relative carrying on the tradition.
I can only guess at the number of quilts that my Mom created but I’m going out on a limb and estimate over 100 (that includes the baby quilts she got into making a lot of). I can say I have watched and studied her sewing but I never picked up a needle and tried to sew on a quilt. The one thing I am very positive about is that every quilt my mother made she had a person she wanted to have that quilt before she even began. This I am positive of. She only made what was needed and there were many, many of them needed.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his childhood and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.