In December, I was given a pile of old quilt blocks which were reportedly created by my mother’s mother (my Grandma). I showed them to a friend who has studied old quilts and vintage fabrics. She told me that a majority of the fabrics are from the turn of the 20th century (early 1900’s). She pointed out that some of the black-patterned fabrics (seen in the pinwheel block pictured) where probably “mourning” fabrics used to make clothes after a loved one died.
The other week, I took some time to gently wash the blocks removing decades of crud that accumulates. I’m concerned about the blocks because the fabrics may be dry-rot. I’m going to try to work with them anyway. Hopefully, I’ll be able to assemble them into a usable sized quilt.
What amazes me about these blocks is the resourcefulness of the maker. A lot of them use re-purposed “shirting” fabrics, but look closely. These small blocks (4″ to 6″) are made of smaller units. Many of these small units are pieced together with even smaller scraps to achieve the size necessary for assembly.
I know during (and after) the depression my family was quite poor, doing the best they could to survive unemployment. I wonder if my grandmother in her creative desire was trying to use the blocks to memorialize her family in a quilt. Did the mourning fabrics belong to her mother, who lost her husband when my grandma was so young? Where the shirtings from her father or other male relatives? I’ll never know, but it is obvious she did her best to avoid wasting the precious sampling of fabrics.
While investigating these blocks, I wonder about my wastefulness and the wastefulness of this entire generation I’m living in. I make dog beds from scraps of fabric and clothing which are twice as big as the entire blocks my ancestors made. I can’t be bothered with hanging on to tiny little scraps. It almost annoys me to think about it. I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about it. I have access and the financial means to purchase the yardage I need.
Thinking of these blocks and the woman who created them gives me a better understanding of who I am. I have a creative streak that runs through many generations. Understanding how difficult their lives were, gives me compassion for my family members. I am spoiled. Yet, I am a product of their hardships. Therefore, I must honor them and all they gave. I must be strong and live the dream for them.