Photos: Library of Congress
The thing about old time patchwork is that its personal. By the time a quilt's binding is complete, every little piece of that old time fabric has been worn by a loved one, then washed, pressed, cut, arranged, and stitched, sandwiched, quilted and tied by someone's hands.
I have two quilts made by my great-grandmother that have been part of my life longer than any other thing I own. I remember taking naps underneath the blue one during preschool and holding it up to the sun so I could see the light coming through all of the different fabric "envelopes." Much later in life, I learned that it was a variation on the "Flying Geese" pattern. My mother says that the patches were cut from dresses she remembers her grandmother wearing.
In her retirement, my grandmother volunteered with "Helping Hands"; a group that stitched lap and bed quilts for people in nursing homes. She brought my sister and I to one of her old lady quilting bees, down in the church basement in Indianola, Iowa. I was about 10 years old and I remember a bunch of women working together around a big frame. The quilt was yarn tied, and my grandma had us help tie the yarns in knots because we had small, nimble fingers.
There might have been lunch, but there was definitely church basement coffee.