By Bonnie Fordham Hollingsworth
If the reader should happen to be about my age (shall we just say well past 50), or older, you will no doubt remember a song called "Seeing Nellie Home". The text of the song spoke of "Aunt Dinah's quilting party". Quilting parties were a social gathering, held for the purpose of completing a quilt quickly. It might take one individual two months of any and all available spare time, to "quilt" one cover, as opposed to a group of women completing the quilting in one day.
There were various reasons for one to hold a quilting party. It, of course, was not a PARTY, in the scenario that most of us call to mind when we hear the word. It was a gathering of ladies intent on one purpose; to make a quilt.
Country folk had a way of helping each other that our modern world no longer seems to embrace.
Perhaps the farm home on the adjoining acreage had burned. One of the ladies on another farm spread the word that she had two quilt tops "pieced" that she would donate. A date was set, and the ladies from areas near and far, would gather, have a quilting party, and complete some new covers for the unfortunate family.
There was to be a marriage in the community. A quilting party would be held, to complete a new quilt for the happy couple.
A mother fell ill, before she could complete the quilts she had started or her family. Hold a quilting party. The other ladies would come, have a quilting party, and the quilts were completed before the harsh winter arrived.
By now, you should have an accurate understanding of the quilting parties. There was another reason though, and perhaps the most outstanding reason of all, to have a quilting party.
These quilting parties provided a social gathering; a chance to sit down and really VISIT with your neighbors. Neighbors? No, I'm not speaking of the guy next door, whose home is 20 feet away from yours. I'm speaking of the nearest neighbor, who lived almost a mile away, and the ones from 2 miles, and 5 miles, and even 10 miles on down the road! One did not pick up a phone each day to visit. One did not run into the next-door neighbor every other day at the local supermarket. These conditions and conveniences simply did not exist.
A quilting party was an honorable excuse for a lady to escape the hum-drum of her own world for a day, and have a chance to visit, and compare successes and failures with her peers! Many women have risen before the sun, packed a wagon, harnessed a mule, wrapped her little ones up in blankets and quilts, and driven a team many long miles, to attend a quilting party. These were all-day affairs!
The hostess of the party would have some food prepared, but the guests also brought food. Their children got to visit and play, and the women sewed! It was a grand day for all involved, the children being privileged to play with someone other than their own brothers and sisters, and the ladies catching up on all the gossip!
How many of you today, would get up at the crack of dawn, work hard to prepare food, work hard to get your family ready, and then travel many miles by mule and buggy, only to go to another house to do MORE hard work?
Yes, quilting was hard work. It was also an art, in itself, and the ladies were very proud of their work. I heard my granny comment on a lady that had "the most even quilting stitches" she had ever seen. Many of the best quilters entered their work in the county fairs, to try and win a ribbon. It was a trophy one was allowed to be "prideful" over.
I still make quilts, but not the old-timey way. No more quilting frames, and no more tiny, even stitches, worked row by row, and close together.
Most modern quilt patterns are geared for the new sewing machines; many quilted as each square is completed. There are also patterns for "puff" quilts that require no real "quilting" at all!
My sister, Betty, used to try her hand at quilting, and she was good at it. Mama had long 2 x 2 rails that she propped on chair backs. The top, center batting, and bottom, were tacked together, and then stretched onto the frames. As the edges were completed, the rails were rolled farther in, so more of the quilt surface could be reached. How dreadfully boring! I had better things to do.
Part of me now wishes I had sat still and learned, but part of me KNOWS that it was NOT my "thing". Most of the quilts that I have made in recent years, have been "tacked", rather than quilted. I just get it assembled, use yarn, and tack a stitch through the whole thing, about every 4 to 6 inches, in a square pattern. It works, and my quilts are attractive. However, I do not believe them to be as durable as the old-timey quilts, painstakingly stitched by hand.
Some ladies made quilts that literally told the story of their family. They could tell you every garment that every quilt "patch" was taken from. Many even embroidered events of the family right into the quilt patches. Those quilts were a HISTORY of that family.
There were quilts made, using any shape and size of material; whatever could be salvaged to make a warm cover with. There were quilts made by cutting material into small squares. Some ladies would cut squares, and then cut the squares apart into triangles, stitching two triangles of different colors together. Ths produced a very colorful quilt. There were also many even and intricate designs used, with a name for each. Fortunately, there are now QUILTING CLUBS; formed by ladies who refused to let quilting become another lost art!
Quilting, in years gone by, was not done simply for the talent of it. It was a necessity. Money was not available for material, so "patchwork" quilting was a way of life. This utilized every available scrap of old clothing. Some thread, worn-out clothing, and a lot of hard work, made covers for the family.
I remember the first time my mother actually BOUGHT material, to make a quilt. It was STILL cheaper than buying a quilt or blanket outright. The colors would hint at my mother's deep patriotism; red, white, and blue!Â I thought it was a lot more work than necessary, as she cut out little triangles. From these, she sewed them back into squares; some red and white, and some blue and white. The top was beautiful, when it was completed. Mama then had the only quilting party I can ever remember
being held at our home. I remember many at my Granny's house, but not at our house.
Three ladies from church came; Sisters Levins, Hodges, and Banks. My Aunt Ethel, and my Great-aunt Ruth were there. The top, middle, and bottom, were assembled, and stretched and tacked onto the rails. The rails were held up with chairs. Three ladies were seated on each side of the quilt, and patiently sewed and talked. Betty, my sister, worked on it for a little while, but her stitches got too big, and Mama had her stop. A thimble was necessary, to push the needle back through the layers of material. I could NEVER learn to use a thimble, much to the dismay of my mother! It was a LONG day that I found totally and
completely boring! Betty hung around to watch, and help with lunch.
I went out, climbed a tree, and threw pinecones down at any of the other kids that happened to get near enough to be a good target. I hit my cousin with a pinecone. He cried and yelled like I had about killed him! Aunt Ethel came out to check on him, went back in and told Mama what I had done, and I was banished to my room for the rest of the day!
After all the hard work on that quilt, my mother gave it to a needy family from church! That's the way it was back then!