Appalachia

My Mama was a Quilter

Appalachia Homeplace

“My Mama was a quilter. Her quilts are treasures. Treasures filled with memories:
I remember her choosing chicken feed by the matching sacks and planning for quilt backing. I remember ladies giving her grocery sacks packed tightly full of pieces of fabric scraps which she carefully sorted and ironed and cut and stitched. I remember her quilt frames hanging from the living room ceiling and quiltings with neighbors during the day, then raising the quilt frame at night so the family could still gather together to watch television. I remember how the quilt patches glowed like stained glass under the bare light of our living room ceiling. When the quilts were finished and ready to cover her children, I remember lying still and flat in bed while Mama would lift the colorful open quilt high in the air and let it float down with all of us laughing. “Now I lay me down to sleep. God Bless Mama and Daddy.” “God Bless Mama’s Babies.”

—Jo Reece Flowers – 2017

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Tipper

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 25, 2020 at 9:31 pm

    I made my quilts on the sewing machine I made the tops in squares the quilted it in Sewing machine in a fan shape I remembered my first one which I liked better than hand quilting. Don and Polly Pendergast House burned and they had about 5 small children so I gave the quilt to them.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 25, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    Tipper one year Miss Julie made 23 quilts She had quilts tops already. Then when a grandchild married she quilted the quilt for a wedding gift

  • Reply
    Potato Queen
    January 21, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    I have three or four of my Grandma’s quilts, and one made by my great grandmother Muzzy, who died long before I was born. I’ve been wanting to follow in their footsteps, but as someone who doesn’t really know how to sew, I’m having difficulty getting started. I’ve googled, naturally, but all the online guidance require that you use special tools and mats and cutters and even sewing machines. And maybe that’s easier than the way my grandmas did it. But I only want to do it the way my grandmas did it. Does anyone have an resources for learning to quilt 19th-century style?

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 17, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Tipper this story brought back sweet memories of a church group of ladies making quits for the orphan homes. I guess this was called a quilting bee my Miss Julie it was her time to hold this quilting bee at her home and fix lunch for all the quilters . Dad fixed my mother Miss Julie a two room quilting house below the big house She had a wood stove and cook stove and table in the kitchen and the quilting frames hung from the ceiling I was about 8 with a white kitten playing under the quilters . Miss Julia told me to take miss Lucy outside and what miss Julie didn’t dad had changed stove pipes and left the old one outside meantime Lucy got in the dirty pipe all you could see was her eyes. I grabbed her up and went insides to show the ladies Oh Lucy flopped out of my arms and landed on the beautiful quilt. Miss Julie sent me and Lucy to my dad with instruction to give us a bath. There is more to this story but leave you guessing as what when down after the ladies went home.

  • Reply
    tmc
    January 16, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    My Mamaw was a quilter, I can still see her standing over that frame, she had it stretched and every stitch was done by hand.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan
    January 16, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    I use my quilts. My mom’s family, 9 children, all quilted a lot. I have grandmother, mother, aunt, and cousin quilts. I use them a lot on all the beds, so every time I see or use them, I can think wonderful memories about the person or persons that made them.

    • Reply
      Penny Kraemer
      January 17, 2020 at 8:41 am

      Hi, I have the remains of our quilt that the ladies of Russell Manitoba made two of when her twin girls were born, Pat and Penny. My mother knew some of the fabrics that she had sewn for her children, it was called St Patrick’s steps. Unfortunately it was filled with a wool blanket that did not wash well, but I can fold it on my quilt stand and still enjoy it.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 16, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Tipper,
    My Mama never quilted, she had a stroke when I was about a month old and Daddy worked for the TVA and had to quit to take care of Mama. For months she layed in the hospital at Andrews under the care of Charles Van Gorder, Doctor Rodda, and Blalock. (They were Doctors and in the War together.)

    Toots, daddy’s sister, came and got me and took care of me until Mama got better. She told me she still had the Baby’s Blanket I was in, but died before I ever got it. She had a boy and girl, but they were much younger and Wayne and Barbara never knew. Tommy Higdon, Toots husband was in WW11 with Hitlar, and was an Excellent Coon Hunter.

    One night about 9 o’clock, we saw some lights coming up to the house, it was Tommy and ole Red, his Redbone Dog. Me, Harold, and Daddy decided to go with with Tommy and after ole Red treed, Tommy went above the tree and shot it out. Ole Red was waiting for it, that’s the one and only time I went Coon Huntin’. I was in Snow over my slippers and musta been at least 4″ deep and that was high up on the mountain. There wasn’t any where we lived, way down in the valley.

    Tommy gave the Coon to us, me and Harold cleaned and put it in a pot and boiled that Sucker… I didn’t care so much for it, I suppose it tasted like a House Cat. …Ken

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    January 16, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Such a beautiful memory from Jo Reece Flowers….bringing forth so many wonderful memories from all of us.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 16, 2020 at 11:01 am

    Both of my grandmothers were quilters, but my paternal grandmother was the most avid quilter. She made so many over the course of her almost 100 year life. I remember her telling me that when she was a young bride she resolved to piece one quilt square every night before bed and she held to that for many years. All of her children and grandchildren were given a quilt. Quilting is such a beautiful and useful tradition, thanks for reminding me.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    January 16, 2020 at 9:40 am

    I have a quilt made by my great grandmother. I have helped two grandmothers, my mother and my wife quilt. Its been a long time though – probably more than 20 years since I last saw a quilt frame set up.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    January 16, 2020 at 9:32 am

    It amazes me how those women found time to quilt like they did. Mom had a quilt frame hanging from the living room ceiling for awhile in the late 60s. She raised the frame at night so she could build a fire in the coal stove, not so that we could watch TV. We didn’t have a TV until a few years before I moved out. We had to buy TV service from a local guy who ran a line across the top of the mountains. That line was soon replaced by home antennas or rabbit ears. Either way, what we watched was a snowy screen.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      January 16, 2020 at 1:31 pm

      When we finally got a TV we only got two channels. We had to carry the antenna around the yard until we found a signal. It was a slow process. One of us would move the antenna from spot to spot. The other would watch the TV and turn the tuner all the way around pausing on each stop looking for some semblance of life. Meanwhile the one in the yard had to turn the antenna around trying to line it up with a signal. There was a lot of yelling back and forth and sometimes a third person to relay the conversation. We managed to find Channel 4 from Greenville SC and Channel 7 from Spartanburg SC that came in if the weather was right. But, the antenna would have to be turned in different directions to change channels. We didn’t have one of those nice antenna rotator things like the better off people did, so we had to go outside and around to the back of the house to turn it by hand.
      Luck was with us though. When the wind demolished the first antenna, we bought a new used better antenna and in setting it up found a signal with the pole right outside the living room window. So, to change channels all we had to do was hang out the window and turn the pole. The pole couldn’t be anchored solidly into the ground so that we could turn it. That meant the wind could also easily turn it too.
      We were “sittin” in high cotton so to speak. As long as it didn’t rain or snow and the wind didn’t blow too hard and everybody agreed on which channel to watch, we had us a TV. Mind you the picture was in black and white and wavy and snowy but we had reach the pinnacle. We had a TV.
      Today I don’t even watch TV. I have one that Dusty left when he married and moved away. I have it hooked up to my computer to use as a monitor. Works Great!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 16, 2020 at 9:18 am

    My paternal Grandma had a quilting frame hanging from the beadboard ceiling in the living room. In my memory though she did not use it much. Maybe by the time was old enough to remember her eyesight was not very good. And it really needed 3 or 4 working on it together and she did not have that in my growing up years. Somehow my Mom and maternal grandmother were not quilters, though one of my paternal aunts was.

    Quilts, like your all’s sweaters, are a labor of love. I remember a heavy one we had made of denim scraps in varying shades of fade. It was a “tacked” quilt rather than fully quilted. Wish I still had it but we used it hard, camping out on the river.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    January 16, 2020 at 9:11 am

    Memories of heavy quilts covering our beds, and so heavy we could barely crawl out from under them. Making a bed was a true workout! We sounded like the Waltons each night with our good night Mom, good night Dad, and on and on.
    My Mom was crafty and could do anything. I still remember the stand up doilies she made and sold for $5. Nobody was rich back then, but they were ready and willing to pay for something to make their humble homes a little more attractive. They would by setting on the table stiffly starched and bottles or cans to make the ruffles stand up. Later she made cathedral window quilts that were too beautiful to place on anything except a guest bed. I had one, but gave it up to a younger family member, because it seemed more like something to hand down or call a “family heirloom” one day. Quilts were so very important in our Appalachian culture. It seems they are becoming less important, as with many other treasured parts of our history. Some where in an attic is stored unused a quilt my Paternal grandmother made of tiny pieces of already worn out clothing. She was born in the 1880s. I think of all the mothers and all the many hours spent making those quilts to keep their families warm when I run across them at thrift stores. Amazing the memories that come up when we think of quilts. Tks Tipper.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    January 16, 2020 at 8:45 am

    I don’t remember my Mother ever making a quilt but my Mamaw Lewis and my Mother-In-Law made many. I often sleep under a quilt made by my Mother-In-Law.
    A friend told me him and his wife had bought a fancy quilting frame and were going to start making quilts to sell. When I see him again, I’m going to ask him how that’s going.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    January 16, 2020 at 8:31 am

    My mama was not a quilter, but I remember wearing feed sack dresses as a child, because my grandmother had chickens, so that’s where Mama got the sacks. The prints were so pretty, and some fabric companies today are reproducing these prints.

  • Reply
    JanL
    January 16, 2020 at 7:28 am

    My mother quilted. Some of my childhood memories include the quilting frame set up in our living room, my mother, her sister, and both my grandmothers stitching while my brothers & sisters played underneath the quilt. We didn’t have the frame hanging from the ceiling. I don’t know where the frame was kept when it wasn’t in use. The fabrics of those quilts were stories in themselves… squares from clothes my mother had made us. Colors and designs put together for necessity to keep us warm. Later when all of the children were grown, she made quilts for grandchildren. Treasures!!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 16, 2020 at 7:26 am

    My Grandmother, Dolly, was a quilter. There were all the pretty designs for quilts. It was first squares then the squares had a colorful border then the squares, with borders were all put together to make the quilt top. The fancier ones had embroidery on them. I was always fascinated with the quilts, so many colors put together.
    In her later years my grandmother made quilt tops for all her children and grandchildren. Tip, I think you have mine somewhere stored away.
    Quilting was a way of life. It was an art, for sure. but also useful to keep the family warm in winter.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 16, 2020 at 6:18 am

    My mother and grandmother were both quilters, the mention of the Quilting Frame hanging from the living room ceiling brings back wonderful memories as did the feed sacks and cloth scraps. I can remember the Home Demonstration Club meeting and many women quilting and discussing all manners of other quilting patterns and everything going on in the community. Thanks for the memories.

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