Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Journey #4

It is interesting to look back at some of the quilts I made in my early years as a quilter.

The Journey #1
The Journey #2
The Journey #3

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Today I'll tell the story of one of my favorite quilts and how it came to be.

Pieces of the Past--Circa 1875:

We moved to Alabama October 2, 1988 when my husband retired from the Marine Corps. A good move, this put us closer to his family, it rarely snows here, there was a large quilt guild and a wonderful quilt shop here--all good for me as a quilter with 3 years under my belt.

However, Friday October 7, 1988, my former guild in Virginia was having a workshop with Jinny Beyer--I had made all the arrangements with her and as a huge fan of hers, I really felt glum that day in Alabama that I had to miss the workshop.

On the way home from dropping off my sons at school, I stopped at a neighbor's yard sale. I didn't see anything right off but I  heard a man say "How much you want for that quilt?" YES, that quilt top I had just walked right by, it was hanging on a ladder. I grabbed the other one, it was brown, he had the blue one. She said "$5"--he paid it and I chased after him, offering him $10 if he'd just let me have it. He said "What do you care? You got one." and that was that. I begged him to take good care of it, not use it as drop cloth or worse. I paid my $5 and took the less-than-lovely brown quilt top home.

My mood did not improve. Not only was I not in Jinny Beyer's workshop, I lost the blue quilt and had to settle for the brown one, my least favorite color. But, sometime later that day, I was stricken with a dose of reality. As I studied the quilt top a bit, I realized it was really old and completely hand-pieced, pretty well. The outer border is shredded, almost in tatters as it is very crunchy. But the blocks are full of wonderful old fabric prints and in it's day, it must have been a beauty. I clearly remember saying to myself: "You have a treasure here and all you are fretting about is the one that got away. Appreciate what you have and let the other one go." Good lesson to learn.

As a new quilter, I thought every quilt top had to become a quilt and planned to hand quilt this one. It soon became clear this top would not hold up to such handling so all I should do is protect it. And reproduce it. In 1993 I found a wonderful reproduction print that strongly resembled the floral fabric in the top and it came in brown. I ordered several yards.

The Original:

The Reproduction:

Not exactly the same, but as close as I could ever hope to come. After drafting the pattern,  I pieced the quilt by machine and had a new-found appreciation for the long-ago quiltmaker--all those four-patches at the block intersections had to be set-in, they are not sewn straight across--that would be easy. I worked on this one for several weeks, added a brown striped border, and hand-quilted it myself, using wool batting--how wonderful that is! So easy to hand-quilt and so comfortable to sleep under.

About this time our guild brought quilt historian and fabric dating expert Merikay Waldvogel to give a program on antique quilts. In advance, we were told to bring any old quilts we had as she would incorporate them in her lecture. She placed the quilts we brought chronologically and this top was the second from the oldest--she dated it to 1875. I was even more amazed at my treasure.

Here is the label:

When my husband saw the label, he asked if I was planning to give this quilt away, as the fact that it has 100% wool batting was listed. I said "No, but I'm not going to live forever." I would hate to have someone way in the future throw this in the dryer and  have it come out much smaller.

I wanted to teach this quilt as a class but no one but me would be willing to piece it by machine with all those set-in four-patches, too challenging. So, I re-drafted it, eliminating that design feature and made a second quilt in 1995.  I called it "Five Easy Pieces:

Detail shot:

Now, there is one more funny story to tell about this quilt top.  In the late 1990's the guild brought Liz Porter and Marianne Fons to do a lecture and Liz did two workshops, one of which was to make a quilt that looked old from today's fabrics. I brought this top to show her during our lunch break and as she studied it carefully, she said "You know, this brown fabric used to be purple." Everyone listening started laughing--they knew my favorite color is purple but brown, not so much! Sure enough, looking at the seam allowances on the back, the original floral fabric was a purple--time and light had darkened it to brown. Since that day it has been my goal to replicate this old top one more time, in purple. That might be what's on tap next.

Lessons learned from an old quilt:

1. Appreciate all the treasures in your life
2. Don't fret about what you don't have and don't need
3. Honor the past with the work of your hands today
4. If the path is difficult, find an alternative route that is easier but still gets you there
5. In your old age, you may not be as beautiful as in your youth, but you still deserve to be loved and treasured, for in age there is wisdom and a life well-lived
6. Document your quilts and tops--how I wish I knew the story of this quilt top
7. Stop at yard sales--you never know what you're going to find

Over the years I have replicated several old quilts--more coming up in my Journey look-back.

Let's quilt.



  1. Number 5; yes, yes, yes. What a great post and a lovely page in your journey. Great story about the brown quilt and *all* the lessons learned from it. Thank you for sharing, Barbara! :)

  2. I'm so enjoying reading about your early quilting journey. Looking forward to the next installment.

  3. You continue to turn your ugly duckling into a swan. In fact, “Purple Swan” could be a fun name for the next chapter of this story. I love love the picture of you running after the guy, offering him more money, and telling him how to care for his quilt. Thanks for this great post and a good chuckle.

  4. I really enjoyed reading about your quilt! I’m down in Enterprise AL. We have a great guild here too. Hugs,

  5. I just love reading about your quilts from the past. Please keep going!

  6. This was a great story, and I appreciated the lessons learned.
    And though I don't mind brown, I would definitely prefer purple. I can imagine your feelings after carefully replicating the brown.