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.

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.