Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Delve Into Your Family's Quilting History

~ October has been designated Family History Month ~

When I learned that October is Family History Month I immediately thought it would be a great time for us to consider the quilters in our family as a part of ongoing history.

It is a wonderful experience to look at a quilt your great grandmother made and appreciate the time and effort that went into it. But it's just as important to record the quilting of a sister or aunt. Present day quilters will become a part of the history of quilting, something we were made especially aware of when so many made quilts in response to September 11, 2001.

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There are so many things we can do to make sure the quilters in our families aren't forgotten. First consider documenting any quilts you may have in your family. How to Document Your Heirloom Quilts is an excellent web page that will give you a list of things to record that goes beyond just date and quilt maker's name. You may not know all the answers but perhaps you can call a relative who would know.

Ideally you will be able to interview the living quilter and Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories encourages us to do just that. Their site includes a manual to guide you through the interview and documentation process. The instructions may be a bit formal for interviewing a family member but the list of interview questions will give you great ideas about what you might ask. If you want to take photographs or tape the interview you will find several helpful tips.

It's frustrating when we have a quilt from the past that we know little about. Go to Quizzing the Quilt Historian to find out how you can get answers and perhaps even have your question with the answer published in a magazine. Unfortunately no quilt expert can answer questions like "Why did did the quilter make this quilt?" or "How did she choose the fabric?". Information like this can only be found when we ask the living quilter. This is why it is so important to gather the information now; even from quilters who are young. When we wait until a family member is nearing the end of her life we might well be too late.

If you are a quilter yourself take the time to document your own quilts. My solution has been to make a scrapbook including pictures of each quilt I've made with the date and comments about the quilt.

How I wish I could have asked more about my grandmother's and great grandmother's quilts. I did get some information from my mother that I value very much. You will find Minnie Hansen's and Hanna Balster's quilts with a bit of their history at Family Heritage Quilts. I love the quilt my great grandmother made for me and the image of her chatting with friends on the family's candlestick telephone adds even more to the history that my heritage quilt evokes. Now my heirloom quilt is not just a beautiful object for I can imagine my great grandmother at work piecing her quilts while being her sociable self.

2002 Judy Anne Johnson Breneman (do not reproduce this article without permission from the author)

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