Sunday, 10 September 2006

Holding tight to a piece of quilting history

I quilt both by hand and with my sewing machine. I feel far more connected to the finished quilt when I have done all of it. I have had 2 quilts sent out to long arm quilters, although quick, well quilted and now finished I sense a bit of a disconnect.

For me, quilting is about the threads that connect everything. There are threads attached to most parts of my life..from the ones clinging to my shirt as I leave the sewing studio and head out for shopping or to go to work, to the threads that bind me with my friends - the ones who come over to have tea, chat and quilt with me in the same room and even the threads through cyber space that connect me to all my friends "out there somewhere". There are threads that hold my quilts together and threads that show how barely together some things are.

One of my very precious threads is the history of generations of women who quilt. They stop their lives for a few minutes or a day and laugh, sew and stitch together pieces of fabric (that they most likely have just cut apart into little pieces) into beautiful blankets, that warm whoever may lay beneath them.

And we have done this for generations past and will for generations to come.

I can reach back and touch a piece of the past history... I am so blessed (appreciative and awed) to be the current keeper of an old quilting frame. How it came to me was sheer luck, and I am pretty sure that any quilter who would have it will feel just as connected to the past as I do.

One night, browsing emails - FREECYCLE - - I saw a post for a quilt frame to give away, someone with a truck needed. Our little sewing group was ripe and ready for a group quilting bee so I replied, not really expecting very much to come from it; I was offered the frame, told only that the poles were 8 feet long. I rounded up a friend who had a larger vehicle than mine and we headed out to the country for a drive and the quilt frame. What a treasure we found! The sweetest older couple that I have met in such a long time. Just cleaning out to downsize and she is a quilter---We oohed and aahed some of her work, looked through her books (and bonus, she let each of us choose 1). And the quilt frame... It is a floor frame, designed to make a large quilt (although a large quilt back then is barely a double bed size now).

The legs are 8 sided ELM posts, with hand forged iron hoops, in the top to hold the cedar rails. He warned me not to lose the nuts as the threads were hand cut and it would be difficult to replace them. The rails are long Cedar posts with notches and a wire for sewing on the leader fabric, the cross rails are elm also. long notches cut out so that the quilted piece can be rolled up and the quilter could work on a new area.

The quilt rolls in towards the center so that quilters on opposite sides could meet in the middle as they finished their areas. I think 6 or 8 quilters could work at the same time, just touching elbows slightly. I guess the right-handed and left handed quilters had to be careful with their needles if they sat together!

The provenance of this frame is that previous to our sweet lady friend, it was used by 3 generations of quilters in Caradoc Township, Ontario- so now she being the fourth, must make this frame nearly 100 years old. Wow, how many women have quilted at this frame. I feel the vibrations left by their voices, sharing laughs, sorrows hopes with their needles flying thorugh the layers of cotton and batting.

I would be happy to share the use of this with groups in my area who may want to set up an "old fashioned quilting bee"

P.S. Just to note that my quilting friends prefered to work using smaller hoops on their laps or no hoops at all. They found the frame to be to tall and not comfortable to work on. It is up high, I figure it needed to be close to the quilters eyes so that they could see their stitching. I had worked with a variety of quilt frames before and found this one to be okay once you got into the groove and found your own comfortable position.


  1. wow! what a treasure! I've never done a quilting bee, but what a honour it would be to do one on that frame with so much local history attached!

  2. Anonymous1:02 pm

    Very cool frame. I've been trying to learn quilting fast, which is not easy to do. :)
    We recently took in our Mamaw of 88 years with Alzhiemer's, after her son (my father in law) passed. He was her poa and watched over her care. He had asked us to move her belongings up north, because he knew his time was short.
    We opened a box of hers to unpack and found four long strips, about 14" wide, in the designs of stars. My wife told me they were quilt strips that her grandmother didn't finish.
    We had bought our house about two years prior to this and found in the attic a bunch of wood with nails in it. I asked and sure enough, it was a quilt frame. We kept it, not knowing why or how to quilt.
    Sure enough Mamaw arrived in October of 2009 and has been with us since. Since that time her health and well-being has improved. She has helped me sew together the strips of her original work. (the woman has cataracts and is legally blind, she can't remember her son passed, but she remembers how to sew and quilt.) All of the materials were her mother, grandmother, sisters, and nieces dresses'. She has been excited every morning to get up and 'work' on the quilt. It has been a process, but we have the quilt top finished by hand, finally. We know that she started this quilt when she was fourteen according to the newspaper tears that she used to piece together the stars. (she did that by machine, and used newspaper to make a finer crease). This has been a fine process and now are throwing the bottom, batting, and top on the frame. (which we've never done...Mamaw too. Her mother was the person who put it on the frame) So any suggestions would be of a great help.

  3. We sewed muslin "leader strips" to the side of the quilt that was going to be attached to the frame. The prevents the quilt itself from getting holes or stretching out of square.
    Since these end pieces rolled up, we undid the leaders as we completed a section.


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