Bits and Pieces That Make Up My History

I know I've been showcasing a lot of the quilts I have of late.  My interest is slightly higher now that I'm planning my own.  But first, before we go further, can you see Maddie in that top picture?  She thought she was 'hiding'...Reminds me of the cutest little book Samuel  (or was it Katie?) had long ago of two raccoons playing hide and seek which taught basic opposites.  The last line of the book read, "I've found you! I've found you! Of this, there's no doubt.  Your head may be IN but your tail's sticking OUT." lol  Doesn't that just describe that silly red dog of mine?

This quilt top was a work in progress by my great grandmother, Granny's mom, who was called Big Mama by all the grands and great grands and great great grands.  I've had this in storage for years upon years.  Granny gave it to me shortly before Big Mama died, along with a bag full of quilt pieces that had been cut to finish off the quilt.  During my recovery from an automobile accident, my soon to be ex- husband packed up my things and decided that the quilt pieces were trash and tossed them into a burn pile.  I'm grateful that for whatever reason he saved this to pack up instead.

Truth time.  I've never really looked closely at the quilt top until the day last month when I pulled it out of storage.  My plan is to try to finish the quilt off, which will involve removing a few rows along two sides to make it look right, planning a bordering fabric and then quilting and binding.  It should be about lap quilt size when finished.  I'll save the spare pieces to use for something else.  Perhaps incorporate into other pieces for family to have in the future. The very central squares are flannel, but the other materials I fancy were fabric from dresses and  flour sack aprons that Big Mama made for herself.  Some of my favorite of all materials is black with tiny little flowers sprinkled upon it and there are not one but two different pieces in this quilt which feature tiny rosebuds on a black background.  I think the graphic print (which has a very late 50's, early 60's feel} and the pink polka dot fabrics are kind of retro cool looking, don't you? 

The squares are far better matched than the photo shows.  Each square relates to others color wise in some way. There's just one rogue patch, that big navy square there in the bottom right hand corner of the second photo.  No clue why she used that piece there, none whatsoever.  I'll leave it just because it is what makes that quilt a bit quirky and unique.

It was amazing to handle this piece and see the fine hand-stitching Big Mama used on each and every square. Some of the pieces of fabric that form squares were stitched together so they could be cut into a square shape.  She must have been in her early 90s when she began this quilt.  I suppose at that time she was too tired to use her old pedal Singer sewing machine (which I dearly hope to own someday, as it now sits in Mama's little front entry...).  This piece work must have been to fill her time each day  over the winter when gardening tasks were few. Like Granny, Big Mama was rather active, living alone, puttering about her house until she was well into her 90's.

(And yes, I have been mightily blessed.  I knew it as a child growing up, knew it as a teen, knew it as a young adult, have known it all my gathering years, that I was a blessed girl to have such wonderful strong examples of elder women gathered about me, in the shape of two great grandmothers, two grandmothers, numerous great aunts and even a great great aunt tossed in for good measure for the majority of my early adult life, not to mention meeting a great great great aunt as a child!)

Big Mama was a well known seamstress, often taking in sewing while raising her family, as a means of earning cash or bartering her services for goods needed for the family.  She also made her own and all of her family's clothing (one husband, six children and self).  She continued to sew well into her '80s and very early '90s preferring a more old fashioned dress than most.  I don't recall ever seeing Big Mama in a dress with short sleeves, always long sleeves with buttoned cuffs, and every dress had a collar as well.  She preferred a rather severe style, cotton stockings, at home an apron covered her clothing.  

 A 5 generation photo: L to R Front is Big Mama, Granny (Oh how young she looks!) , myself trying desperately to hide behind Mama who is holding Amie.  I believe Amie was about 2, perhaps 3 in this photo.  Big Mama would have been 91, and just beginning to 'slow down'.
Here she is about 3 years later, at 94, just months before her death. She had gotten feeble and the house she was living in here was not her own but my great aunt's.  It was more convenient for her to have Big Mama nearer at night and Granny spent most of each day with her. It was during this time that Granny began telling me that she wanted to be put in a nursing home when she reached that stage of life, because the care took it's toll on her.  Big Mama had excellent eye sight, good hearing and mentally was still sharp.  She was, as said, very old fashioned and always very conservative.  However, I do recall one afternoon when she nearly made me choke, and she did it all in fun.  We'd been gossiping about a woman in town who'd been caught at a hotel with a man to whom she was not married.  Later, a cousin I seldom saw came by to see Big Mama (who was his grandmother).  He asked how she was and what she'd done lately, and her reply was hilarious.  "I'll tell you what I've not done: run off to a hotel with some man!"  I'm afraid my cousin wasn't aware of our earlier conversation and he looked like Big Mama had just suggested they visit the next county and buy liquor!  He left very shortly thereafter.  That is the only time I recall Big Mama ever saying anything that sounded funny in that sense.

Notice Big Mama has her hand at the back of her head?  That gesture of scratching the back of her head is so familiar to me.  I can't name the number of times over the years I watched her do that same thing as she thought out a problem or considered a reply.  By the way this short hairstyle was necessary for ease of care, but for most of my life she had long hair which she wore pulled back in a bun. As a child it was my joy to have the task of brushing her long hair and to watch her twist it back into a bun when I was done.

The dress she has own in the photo were of her own making.  You can see the buttoned cuffs, the buttoned up collar of her dress.

Big Mama (L) and her sister Mattie Lee whom I'd called Mama Lee for most of my years.  It was easier for a 6yr old to say and she enjoyed having her own special name.  I see here that Big Mama is wearing a skirt and jacket.  She is holding Amie who would have been perhaps 1-2 weeks old.

Mama Lee was my great great aunt,  also a very good seamstress and needlewoman.  She loved to crochet and knit and kept us well supplied with hats and slippers for winters.  She also crocheted some of the beaded rings and necklaces that were so popular in the '70's.    She was the Modern Millie to  Big Mama who was very old fashioned in her ways.

I just thought it would be interesting to share the 'author' of the quilt top above, and to share some of my personal history as well.  As I say, I was well and truly blessed with lots of elder relatives on both Mama's and Daddy's sides of the family.  Big Mama and my paternal grandfather both made sure I knew their family history,  so I have a strong sense of being well grounded in my family roots and that all important Southern necessity of knowing 'who my folks are.' 

As for what I plan to do with the quilt top whether or not I ever manage to finish it, I think I'd like to pass it along to my oldest granddaughter, Josie (Amie's daughter) or perhaps her daughter if I am so blessed to see that generation come to life.  I think it would be very fitting don't you?


Tammy said...

Terri - I just loved reading this post. First of all, to have the quilt top sewn by hand by your great grandmother is extremely special, but to have known her so well and had her and all those other magnificent women in your life for so long is phenomenal. How precious to be able to pass down a piece of your family history - a piece of her family history to Josie and/or her daughter. You are blessed, my friend!

Kathy said...

What special memories to treasure!

I think the quilt top would be very special to your granddaughter, and please share this blog post with her too.

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