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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Grandmother’s Flower Garden: My Life in Quilts

By Lyn Burnstine

Me as a baby

My family heritage was made up of Kentucky, Indiana and southern Illinois farmers with some Pennsylvania Mennonites thrown in. All the women made quilts out of necessity but never forsaking beauty in the process.

I remember the wooden quilting frame made for my grandmother by my grandfather. It sat in the parlor for months at a time as the neighborhood farm women gathered to quilt.

My mother made her first quilt at age seven, in 1909, and continued until near the end of her life 80 years later. Grandmother’s Flower Garden is especially beloved because it graced my parents’ bed as I was growing up.

A similar, but newer and brighter one made by my mother for me hangs on my wall and is pictured here with my first great-granddaughter, Maybelle, reading Grandmother’s Quilt.

Maybelle and quilt

For many years I collected satin, velour and velvet fabric pieces fully believing that some day I would make a crazy quilt with them even though my hands were crippled somewhat even then by rheumatoid disease. When I had to sell my big, roomy house with many closets and move to a small apartment, I gave the scraps to a group of church women that could use them for quilts or small craft projects to raise money for the church. It felt good to do so.

That daughter, Laurel, taught macrame while still in her teens and made gorgeous vests and pocketbooks and designed and made her own clothing. When she began to sew, her father and I made the fatal error of telling her we would pay for all of the fabric she needed for her sewing projects, either not knowing or not remembering that she had champagne tastes. Did you know that there are materials for sewing that cost $50 a yard? We didn’t but soon learned.

Laurel in macrame vest

One of my prized possessions is a framed piece of a beautiful 19th century crazy quilt that was a wedding gift, unframed, to that daughter, Laurel, from a folk music friend who knew of her love and talent for fabric arts. It was passed on to me, because she knew I’d love it, too. I framed it in a beautiful warm-toned wooden frame that I got at a garage sale for $4. Then, of course, she wanted it back - it is in my will for her.

The quilt on my wall will go to my son, Alan, and his wife, Laura. Laurel is the recipient of the older Grandmother’s Flower Garden which has the extra lovely touch of a white picket fence around the edges of the flowers. My other daughter, Lisa, had one made by my mother, and, by mutual agreement, we passed it on to our dear friend, Mary, to wrap around herself for comfort in her final months of illness. Benz liked it, too:

1-Mary with quilt-001

When my girls were small and sleeping together in a double bed, we wore out two of the quilts using them as bedspreads. The weekly washings undid them and sun damage has rotted some of the sun-yellow centers in my wall-hanging beauty.

My sister died recently, leaving Lisa to inherit the remaining ones along with a dark, heavy crazy quilt made from old woolen coats that helped to keep the cold out of a doorway at my sister’s drafty country home. It was made by my grandmother, whose lifespan covered part of the 19th and part of the 20th centuries. It was rough and scratchy, but a welcome top cover over a layer of cotton quilts on my sister’s and my bed in the unheated upstairs bedroom of our Midwest farmhouse.

I wish I had remembered to ask Mother if she had any idea how many the two of them had made, together and separately. It gives me great pleasure to know they will be cherished by my progeny as well.

But for now, I figuratively wrap myself in Grandmother's Flower Garden for the many hours each day that I spend at my computer, reading and writing and where it is always in sight. I have even been known to make it my screen saver so it feels like it is truly embracing me.

My office

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


So much beauty and such wonderful memories. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Just lovely stuffs indeed. My family didn't quilt, but my college biology teacher did. I now have four of my own quilts to enjoy, and all the others from 20 years of quilting have wonderful homes. I also worked as the Quilt Workshop person for the AIDS Quilt here. Often I put quilts on my blog. Thanks for sharing these with all of us.

Lyn, I loved reading about your family quilts and seeing the pictures. Years ago I quilted a lot but gradually stopped, leaving two quilt tops completed but not quilted. I hauled those tops with me three times on cross-country moves.

Finally, I realized that I'm never going to find the time to hand-quilt two quilts, so I need to find a local machine-quilter. One quilt will be for my husband and me; one will be a wedding gift for my daughter--who's not engaged but has been dating a wonderful man for several years.

Such beautiful quilts, Lyn. You and your children are so lucky to have them..

I LOVE the macramé vest.The pattern is lovely and so is the young lady wearing it.

Enjoyed your story about quilts. I have become enamored with old crazy quilts. So far I have found 3 for sale. The stitchery that went into them is phenomenal. I'm so sorry I will never personally know the women who made them. I am not a quilter but I am an appreciator. One never knows what will be cherished by others when we are long gone.

Dear Lyn, thank you for the fine
quilt story. I read my story to the writers group today, about Harriette, the quilter and biology teacher. Strange, how our lives come together at times.
My closet shelves are stacked with quilts, made when I was younger, and I sleep under one made my my mother and aunt.

My grandmother used to make crazy quilts, little weird scraps of fabric and somehow they all came together. I don't know what happened to those quilts, but they live in my memory. I never liked sewing but I can appreciate hard work and creativity. Thanks for sharing.

I am also a lover of quilts. I have the same feeling about antiques. I love to picture the lives of those who owned them.

We used to make rag rugs out of old fabric scraps.

Your photos were great. No wonder you love to sit by your computer and look at the quilt on your wall, which is not only beautiful but is also full of wonderful memories.

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. The macrame vest photo is of my eldest daughter, now 59 and still beautiful. I posted her on Facebook last night, so if you are on FB, go to my timeline and see what she looks like 40 plus years later. I love seeing my old friends children on FB, now mostly grandparents themselves.

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