I get a Quilt Of The Month e-mail from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln International Quilt Study and Museum each month. This month’s quilt is from a pattern featured on the inside of a wrapper for Mountain Mist Batting. There are two short videos on that page that explain about the exhibit and show many of the quilts in that exhibit. I told Jim that as soon as we get enough air miles to fly for free, we have to visit this museum.
When I made my first quilts back in the 70’s, I used Mountain Mist Quilt Batting. I remember seeing a quilt pattern inside the wrapper although I don’t think I ever used any of the patterns. Until I watched the videos this morning, I had no idea the profound impact on quilting that the Mountain Mist patterns had. These patterns are the forerunners of what is now termed modern quilts.
So much of our lives are presented in quilts. When I was in law school, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY had an exhibit of quilts by Faith Ringold. Her quilts told her life story.
The videos brought back memories of my early quilting days. The first quilt I made was made from fabric scraps – lots of polyester in that quilt. I never use polyester for anything now – only cotton, linen, rayon and bamboo in assorted blends. For my first quilt, I used the scraps because my grandmother had made a quilt for me when I was about seven. I remember seeing her use cardboard from packages of rickrack and binding for templates. This was late 50’s, well before rotary cutters and quilter’s rulers. I remember her cutting pieces of leftover fabric using those cardboard templates.
My grandmother sewed all of her clothes and I remember seeing her roll up the left over fabric and tie it with another strip of leftover fabric. She never threw fabric away. It’s my grandmother’s fault that I had amassed nearly an entire room full of scrap fabric before I attacked the sewing room and did major cleaning and tossing.
My grandmother used scraps for my quilt. I remember looking at that quilt and being reminded of the clothes and stuffed toys she had made me because leftover fabrics from the clothes and toys were in that quilt. The quilt had a huge heart made from leftover light brown fabric (she had made me a blouse out of that fabric) in the middle of the quilt. When Jim saw the quilt I had made from scraps, he pointed at different squares and said what I had made from each scrap. “There’s my pants…..” That quilt was done entirely by machine, and it exquisitely shows my inexperience. I even quilted it by machine. We lived in a tiny apartment and my “sewing room” was the kitchen table. I did a horrible job of quilting and the batting shifted when I washed the quilt. I still have the quilt.
Eventually, Jim made me a set of plexiglass templates. I had the templates in both the cutting size and the quilting size. I’d take a pencil, draw around the cutting size template on fabric, and cut out the piece. Then I’d take the finished size template and draw around it to show the sewing lines on the fabric. I was making quilts entirely by hand back then. Jim even made me a quilt frame so I could quilt by hand. I made a quilt for my sister’s wedding and for my brother’s wedding. My sister married a Canadian fellow and they lived in Hamilton, Ontario. I bought red fabric and white fabric to make red maple leaves on a white background. We joked about how my brother-in-law would have to salute the bed each night. For my brother, I used yellow fabric and a brown print to make a fence rail quilt. I think that was my favorite quilt. Each quilt took me a year to make.
I have the remains of my grandmother’s button box. My grandmother saw an ad in the newspaper for a huge amount of buttons for a small price. She sent away for the buttons and I remember they came in what my 3-year-old brain thought was a huge box. When I was little, I would play with those buttons. She gave me a needle, thread, and the box of buttons so I could string buttons. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor and playing with those buttons. Now, when I look at the buttons, I think: these are the buttons on my blouse, these are the buttons on my pajamas….. My grandmother was always poor, but she once told me that one thing she would spend money on was buttons because buttons can make a garment be wonderful. To this day, I have no qualms about spending money on fancy buttons. Jim, who didn’t grow up sewing, balks at spending $4 a button for his shirts.