Sunday, October 16, 2011

Growing up under a quilt

The living room of my childhood home was not more than ten feet by ten feet.  Around the edges were a six foot sofa, my dad’s Barc-a-lounger, a couple more chairs, and the Philco console radio (we needed to finish the dishes and cleaning the kitchen by 7:00 pm not to miss gathering at its floor level speakers for The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey).

With all that square footage removed about seven by seven feet remained.  It’s the room where the family congregated in the evening.  First mom and dad, to listen to the news and drink coffee while the kids cleaned up after supper.  Then we three (or four) kids, to hit the floor in front of the radio until bedtime.  When I was older some us delayed in the adjoining dining room to do home work, then on to the living room.  There was no family room or large open area to gather, although rumpus rooms were becoming popular in my later teens.  Dad had his shop in the basement, but the living room was the only space mom had to set up her quilting frames in the winter.  She used the basement in the summer, but in the winter the basement was full of laundry hung to dry.

Mom’s quilting frames were four long, narrow boards, finished, with cloth tape tacked to the top, set up on four folding saw horses.  The two long boards probably are 100” and the shorter 90”, to accommodate up to a double bed quilt.  Later on, when queen sized beds came along, my brother made her a new set, hinged to become even longer and wider. The four boards were held together and kept square by C clamps at each corner.  Mom’s quilting frame started out taking up more room than the quilt itself; the floor space consumed diminished as the work progressed and the quilt was rolled.

When mom set up a quilt in the living room it started at the sofa on the back wall, went past the chairs on the next wall, and the radio on the short wall between the dining room and living room.  There was an open aisle to the front porch door, where we got the mail, the milk and the paper.  Dad’s Barc-a-lounger was in the aisle , but turned, so he could open it.  Children reached their seating only by crawling under the quilt and coming out the other side.  Or sitting under the quilt to listen to the radio.

I remember the first two Dresden plate quilts being pieced and quilted.  Mom’s chair was next to dad’s, and she sat there with a board on her lap cutting her pieces or felling them.  There would have been no new fabric purchased for these quilts, possibly excepting the block centers.  The other fabrics were left from sewing clothing for herself, my brothers and me.  You can bet the back of the quilt was a brand new bed sheet, much less expensive than buying yardage.

This  last Dresden plate may never have been used.  When I first saw it in Jan’s quilt collection I was stunned.  It was the quilt my mother sent me off to every babysitting job with, to fell the points and set the centers.  I wasn’t really big on handwork, especially another go round of stuff I’d already sewn into shorts, skirts, dresses and blouses.  The paperback books in the houses I babysat in were of far more interest; I don’t remember finishing more than a few of those blocks.  I do remember seeing mom working on them long after I left home.

I laughed and told Jan about my experience with that quilt.  It made an impression on her, too.  She was still home when mom got it quilted and the binding sewn on.  Mom handed it to Jan and in words we both know so well said, “Here. I finished it; you can bind it.”  It’s also the first quilt Jan worked on.

I see matching dresses mom and I wore, and at least two pair of shorts from the sixth or seventh grade.  Shirts my brothers wore.  Mom didn't have a stash.  She had a scrap bag. 


  1. Wow..that's a lot of detail work.

  2. My grandmother made some really odd looking quilts out of worn out clothing. No careful piecing and design, just fit pieces of scraps together until it was big enough to make a top and a bottom. Old worn out blankets would be sandwiched between and then she would hand quilt it all together. They were warm, but ugly!

  3. Oh, so many memories tied up in those quilts. Such exquisite work! I can't do hand stitching anymore (injury to rt. arm and hand), but I enjoy piecing and machine work.
    How lucky you and I are to have that as our heritage!

  4. They are so beautiful! My mom was a quilter (as was my mother-in-law). I remember quilting bees where my friends and I would hide under the quilt and giggle until one of us stepped on someone's foot. then we would be evicted enmasse. What a wonderful, fascinating story! What memories!

  5. When visiting this household, I sleep in the bedroom where the magic closet is! I always feel guilty about peeking into the closet where many quilts are stored. I came from a family of quilting women but have never seen such handwork. Thank you Mother Lenore and all your generations of quilters. I hate sleeping under quilts b/c they are not warm!!! I usually snuggle under the handwoven blanket that Janice made. Some day I am going to steal it!! IT makes my heart so happy and kitties visit me during the night. THE BEST MOTEL EVER>>> and they keep the light on for me...