Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cabin: Quilts

One of the things about my cabin that always surprises me is the fact that we continue to use the quilts made by my great grandmother.  As a kid I was always just impressed by how old they are, but now that I've been knitting for a few years and doing my own craft, this year I was a little shocked and extremely amazed both that these quilts are still in use and that they are still in such good shape!

Here's the first one, a Winter Quilt, made using squares of fabric from old men's suits.

I think it's the newest of the four I will show you, and therefore is the one I slept with because I didn't feel like I was going to rip it in half in the middle of the night.  Of course, it's not new by any means, but it is definitely still in good shape and is a very warm, very sturdy quilt.

The second one is a "Crazy Quilt" made by my Great Grandmother, Cora.  It was made using whatever scraps of fabric she had lying around, sewn together in no set pattern or order (although looking at this picture of the whole thing, you can tell that one half is much more colorful than the other.)

Check out the date when it was made... it's 94 years old and we're still using it!

This next quilt has an interesting story.  It wasn't made by my Great Grandma, but it was made for her husband.

He had been traveling through the country (for some reason that no one seems to remember) and drank out of a stream that was known to have very clean water.  Unfortunately, he wasn't aware that there was a dead cow upstream from him, and he got sick with Typhoid Fever.

(Side note, my mother just informed me that he was born in 1869 and was most likely traveling in his twenties, which would put this quilt sometime in the 1890s, which I can't believe because it really doesn't look that old...)

Lucky for him, the stream out of which he drank was near the property of a farm owner, who very graciously took him in while he recovered, and during the 6 months that he stayed on their farm, a nice woman (I'm assuming the farmer's wife, who would have taken care of him) made him this quilt.  I slept with this one a few times as well, because it is much thinner than the Winter Quilt.  I had no idea it was potentially so old!

The last quilt is another Crazy Quilt made by Great Grandmother Cora.

She made this one when she was only 17 years old, how impressive is that?!  And look at the year...

It is all hand-sewn and these quilts were made not only to use scraps of fabric, but also to show off your mad sewing skills.  Look at all the different stitches that were used to make this quilt, all done by hand!

I'm sure all of these quilts should be framed and put in a museum instead of sitting in a musty chest in a cabin in North Dakota, but that is simply one of the charms of my cabin, so far removed from the busy city life.  I have dreams of creating wonderful knitted items that will become heirlooms just as these quilts have.  Check back in 100 years and we'll see if I accomplished that goal.


  1. How beautiful!

    Isn't it amazing how long textiles can last when treated well?

  2. That is really awesome. And so awesome that they are still in use! I get so excited looking at a firm date like that - how often do we get to see such evidence in textiles?

  3. The top one is my favorite quilt too--it's the one I always use when I'm up there! I remember that the squares were arranged in the exact same sequence as the ones on the cover of the Ramona book I read there when I was 8 or so...

  4. lovely! i'm so happy to see they are being loved and used. aren't those crazy quilts amazing? i tried doing something like that once (not a whole quilt, but just for a needle case or something small like that) and they are really hard. i can do all the different embroidery stitches, but suck at the arranging part.

  5. My grandmother was a Cora too. And a quilter - we treasure a scrap quilt she made when I was little, it has pieces of clothing I remember.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Very cool story about your grandfather... we still have some old crazy quilts that my great-grandmother made. She made them from the kids' clothing once they outgrew or wore out stuff. It's neat to see scraps of what life was like back then, and I love the resourcefulness! Hopefully these treasures will be around for years to come.

  7. Those are great! I especially like the last crazy one... looks like she did have some mad skills there! My auntie has made me a quilt, and it will be coming here soon. I got to pick out the colors (autumny batiks), and the pattern... which for me my favorites are not patterns. Wanted a square patchwork thing. She's been making some wicked quilts and wasn't sure about doint one w/out a pattern, but it was just squares in squares and she found she COULD do it. I can't wait!

  8. The quilts are wonderful! I think it is so nice that you have not only the pieces from your great grandparents, but the stories to go with them. They truly are heirlooms are are much better off in your family cabin than in a museum.

  9. really love the pics of the old quilts! such a rich history, and memories!

  10. I love your quilts - thank you for sharing them! I have a few family heirloom quilts and they mean a lot to me. I have a fantasy of having a guest room (someday) with my quilts along with knitted and crocheted afghans on the bed.... antique furniture, iron bed... if I had a cabin, it'd be great to put them all there. I'm glad you use these quilts - they were meant to be used! and of course, the fact that you are documenting them means a lot more... in another 100 years, they'll mean even more to whoever is lucky enough to own them if they know the stories. Be sure to keep the story somehow connected to the quilts... maybe a nice explanation on acid free paper tucked away in the trunk where they're stored... just an idea :)

  11. Your great-grandfather's quilt is a design I've seen called either Pennsylvania Tulip or Carolina Lily. Love it. Somewhere at my grandparents' there's a crazy quilt my great-grandmother made during the Depression.

    And downstairs in my house right now is a quilt that I should be much farther along on.