Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our Heirloom Quilts

Growing up  there were no quilters in my family. But in 1966 my grandfather took my mom and me with him on a trip 'back home' to Milroy, PA to visit his Aunt Carrie. And Aunt Carrie gave him and my grandmother a quilt which was given to my mom, who gave it to me in the 1970s.

Carrie V. Ramer Bobb was my grandfather's mother's sister. When Gramps lost his mother and then his grandmother, he was an orphan at the age of nine years. Sisters Aunt Carrie and Aunt Annie Ramer Smithers took turns raising him. My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer got a sound education, and worked his way through college and seminary and gaining a teaching certificate.

Aunt Carrie (1904-1971)

The quilt passed down to me is a Dresden Plate. The layers were machine sewn, with the backing turned to the front and sewn down. Then the plates were hand appliqued to the quilt!

The background fabric is white, the plate centers are light blue or medium blue.

The quilt was likely made in the early 1960s shortly before it was gifted to my grandfather. I expect that like most quilters, Aunt Carrie had a collection of fabrics that spanned the early 20th century and came from a wide variety of sources.  In September 1965 my grandfather wrote a letter to the Lewistown Sentinel about just where Carrie got her stash:

“Well we have stitched on another vacation patch to the crazy quilt of life. At the Richfield ‘Ramer clutch” several widely separated cuzzins brought bags of patches for Aunt Carrie Bobb of the Mifflin County Home, who has another Postage Stamp Quilt under way.
     “Aunt Carrie sews on this quilt between times devoted to the guests and writing 10 letters each week.  This year the patches came from Bethesda, Camden, Annapolis, Indianapolis, Sinking Valley, Allen Park and Berkley, etc., etc.—and a crazy assortment they were to be sure!”
   “Yet when a quilt is complete there is some manner of symmetry and form to the total, be it a Dresden Circles, a Field of Diamonds, a Double Wedding Ring or just a plain Postage Stamp.
     “Such is life! Patches added willy nilly, seemingly with no central purpose, yet the total displays an amazing degree of purpose.  A quilt is hard to see because we look at the patches, just like it’s said we can’t see the forest due to the single trees."
The fabric scraps from Allen Park and Berkley were from Michigan: Gramps lived in Berkley and his daughter Nancy in Allen Park.  The scraps from Annapolis was my mom's brother, Uncle Dave and his wife Pat.
Aunt Carrie Bobb's grandson, Sid Bobb, shared with me a photo of the two Aunt Carrie quilts he inherited, a Drunkard's Path variation in red and white and a Grandmother's Flower Garden variation in pastels.

I also have a quilt from my husband's side of the family, given to me by my mother-in-law. It was made by her grandmother, Harriet Scoville (Scovile, Schoville) Nelson, and was given to her daughter Charlotte Grace Nelson O'Dell,  then came to my mother-in-law Laura Grace O'Dell Bekofske.

Harriet Scoville  (1877-1951)and Aaron Nelson. 

Charlotte Grace Nelson and John Oren O'Dell, 1896

Laura Grace O'Dell Bekofske

 The quilt is a red and white Single Wedding Ring, with a polka dot backing, and tied with faded red and white floss.

The cotton batting is quite lumpy!

 The edges were turned in and machine sewn. A thread was never cut. The floss looks pink, but is pin or red and white.
 The quilt was kept in Laura's cedar chest and never used. Tannin in the wood left brown spots.

Laura made Gary and I several quilts in the early 1980s, a blue Log Cabin and a multi-colored Sister's Choice, much beloved by our son.

By the time I started to quilt in 1991, my mother-in-law was ending her quilting career. Arthritis had settled in her thumb joint. She instead took up counted cross stitch. Her vision remained clear and she enjoyed this work until her death.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dear Nelton

Many years ago I was at the Royal Oak, MI flea market and saw a trunk full of old papers that had been lifted from the streets. I asked the seller what he wanted for the papers, and he said $10, which was an awful lot of money for what was trash! I gathered up all the papers I could, noting there were covered with a thick sprinkling of baby powder. There was one album with papers, a few photos, and a few letters.

Back home, I sorted the papers. There was a whole man's history in receipts, from the purchase of a ring to payments on a house and furniture. I later sold these to a collector of African American ephemera.

The letters were very moving. George S. Miller was a vet who was trying to get the government to cover his medical expenses for injuries incurred in the war. He was in love with a woman named Nelton, who had a son. He poured his heart out to her, how he wanted to be a father to her son.

I made a little quilt with scanned letters and photos printed on fabric. Because George's life was in such turmoil, the quilt is chaotic. I used a vintage napkin for the background, which I stamped with various paint patterns. I layered my scans with fabric bits, and appliqued threads and buttons and silk flowers.

George's handwriting was not hard to read, and he wrote three sheets of paper per letter, using three-hole-punched lined school paper.

The photos showed two women, one of whom I believe to be Nelton.

Several houses photos were included. I found a paper with his address.

My heart still breaks when I read this letter from George. I wonder if he and Nelton ever were able to be together as a family. I sure hope so.
2019 Update:

I searched Ancestry.com trying to discover more about George and Nelton.

Nelton E. Battles was born December 24, 1923, and died in Highland Park, MI, on March 16, 1987. George's 1962 letter to Nelton is addressed Seebalt St. in Detroit and the records show that in 1990 Nelton lived at 4382 Seebalt St.

You can see that the home in the black and white photos I found with the papers is the same house as pictured below. Today tet home is foreclosed and owned by the city. It was once a lovely house built in 1915. This Westside neighborhood is now mostly vacant homes today.
Seebalt Street home where Nelton once lived

In one letter George says he is sending money to Mrs. Nelton Battles, 2635 Cortland St., Detroit. That location is vacant land today.

George S. Miller's 1951 letter from the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is addressed to 730 W Euclid St. in Detroit. I have seen Euclid St. I remembered it from the 1960s and several times in the last few years we have gotten lost coming off the expressway and drove past Euclid. The street is just north of New Center where I have visited Henry Ford Hospital specialists. The house appears to have been torn down. The houses next to where it would have been were built around 1907, large brick houses that once were lovely.

It is possible that I have found George in the census.

The 1930 Census for Detroit shows George Mill, born around 1926, 4 years old, living with parents George and Myrtle Miller and siblings Gladys and JC. Both parents were born in South Carolina. George Sr. worked in an auto factory. They paid $30 rent at 664 Livingston St., Detroit. I can't find Livingston on the map or in an internet search. The area must have been torn down years ago, perhaps during 'urban renewal' when African American communities were displaced to build the expressways.

The 1940 Census for Detroit shows George was 14 years old. Goerge was 40 and worked as a line foreman for road construction, earning $945 a year. Myrtle was 39 years old. John C., George, and Lilia were the children. The family lived on 3888 St. Antoine St. This is another street I have driven by. It's not far from Orchestra Hall where we attend the Detroit Symphony.

From Detroit Streets:
Beaubien and St. Antoine originated from the two Beaubien brothers, Lambert and Antoine, each of whom received half of the family farm after the death of their father, Jean Baptiste Beaubien, one of the first white settlers on the river, opposite Fort Dearborn. Lambert was a colonel in the First Regiment of Detroit's militia. He fought in the War of 1812. Antoine chose to name his property after his patron saint, St. Antoine. Antoine was a lieutenant colonel in the Michigan Territorial Militia. He donated a chunk of his land for the Sacred Heart Academy, once located at the corner of Jefferson and St. Antoine.
It would be great to locate George's military records.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Autumn Leaves

I have always loved fall best of all the seasons. I love the colors of the leaves, the gold and reds, the browns and oranges. When I was a girl, every fall my family took a day trip to the Allegheny Mountains to see friends on a farm. I loved how the colored trees looked on the hillsides, huge rounded masses of color next to color.

My mom was an oil painter, and her earliest paintings were copies of Robert Wood landscapes, trees in autumn. This still life painting hangs in my aunt's house, and was Mom painted it in the early 1960s.

When our son was little, we would walk into town together as a family, sometimes to go to the school playground and sometimes to visit the ice cream stand. One autumn, I noticed red leaves on a branch against a brilliant blue sky. I later took a photograph, and some years later it became the center of a quilt.
I used bleach and a fine permanent marker for leaf details. The branches are knotted in places. I then added a border of pieced leaves. It is all hand appliqued and hand quilted.The fabrics are all hand dyed, some purchased and some I dyed.
I also have a nice collection of handkerchiefs featuring leaves, and have always planned to make an entire hanky quilt of leaves!

The trees are still green here along the West Michigan lake shore. A little red is showing here and there, so I expect a glorious riot of color is to come. Nature's last hurrah before its long sleep.