Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Patches of family history will show up in the quilts made by women throughout Appalachian regions. A quilt is much like a scrapbook of times past. Grandma's old favorite dress, Grandpa's favorite shirt, fabric scraps stuffed in an old box Auntie kept for years, worn curtains, fabric from just about any family garment eventually ended up in a quilt. This was the way of quilting for the early settlers of Appalachia country.
There is a long history of self-sustainability and resourcefulness in the Appalachian Mountains, and quilting was one of the skills women had to learn. It was a pleasant way to stay busy and productive when the children were sleeping and the husband out hunting.
Back in those early days, quilts were a necessity of life. Cabins were not insulated and only a fireplace and eventually a cook stove is what heated the homes. Quilts were on every bed to help keep everyone warm. It was so important to have enough quilts for all -- sometimes two, three or more were needed to bundle up in when winter hit hard. No matter how many quilts a family had, winter time saw grandmothers sitting by the fireplace making yet another quilt.
Even though learning how to quilt was necessary for all women, and even some men, it was not all work. It was true pleasure to make something that would keep a loved one warm. Pure enjoyment entered into the work with a quilting bee. This was a cherished time for women from different families to get together, trade scraps of fabric or finished quilt blocks, help each other make quilts, teach younger women the skills, singing, talking, laughing, and gossip! It was a fun time for all.
Quilting became a form of tradition and beautiful art. Even after manufacturing companies began making machines to mass produce quilts in the early to mid 1900's, many women kept alive the traditions, old patterns, and skills of hand quilting. Sewing circles became popular for women who liked to make quilts for the needy, all the new babies, newlyweds, and as gifts for family members.
One simple yet lovely Appalachian style quilt is the "rag quilt". This involves no piecing or quilting stitches. Using fabric scraps or purchased calico fabrics, cut out twenty six inch by six inch squares. Using flannel fabric, cut out the same amount of squares, also six inch by six inch each. Lay each calico square atop a flannel square, making sure edges match up.
Lay out the squares in four rows of five squares each. Taking the first two sets of squares in the first row, place them face to face (calico or scrap fabric face to face) and pin together along one edge. Sew along this edge, leaving a half inch seam allowance. Take the next set of squares and sew in the same manner to the last square set. Repeat for each of the five rows.
You will end up with five long strips of squares sewn together. The seam allowances will show only on the flannel side. Sew the long strips together with a half inch seam allowance. You will end up with a quilt of four rows of five squares each. Trim the seam allowance on the flannel side evenly to one-fourth inch. Sew around entire outer edge of quilt. Wash the quilt and toss it in the dryer on high heat. This will fluff out the seams and give you a very soft quilt that looks old, rustic and tempting to cuddle in.
Quilting is an art of heritage, culture and tradition -- in today's world, quilts are an important part of art, self-expression, and competition at fairs or quilt shows. Throughout Appalachian country there are many quilt shows. The American Quilter's Society web site provides a list of shows coming up for the year. Visit them at http://www.americanquilter.com/ and click on the 'Quilt Shows' tab.
Comments on this article are most welcome. Please join me in the Appalachia forum to comment and share thoughts. Thank you, Phyllis
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