I’ve always been fascinated with the lovely handmade items that our fore-mothers made to brighten the homes of themselves and their families – usually employing considerable ingenuity to come up with both pretty and entirely useful items. Oftentimes, recycling materials from items on hand was a part of this activity, when money or resources were difficult to access.
Being on the tail-end of the Boomer generation, born in the fifties, I had the good fortune to still have a window into the lives of women born in the late 19th century via my grandmothers, when such activities as sewing, quilt-making, crocheting and knitting were much more germane to home-making than they were later on. As a child, I had the wonderful comfort of being wrapped in handmade quilts sewn by my grandmothers and even great-grandmothers, cuddling with colorful hand-knit or crocheted afghans, pleasantly tracing the texture of hand-smocked pillows or hand-embroidered linens with my fingers.
My mother and aunts, closer by a generation, carried on some of these endeavors. My mother taught me to sew by example mostly as she made clothing for me & my half-sisters and textile items for our home like curtains. My aunts on both sides of my family crocheted and knitted and did other crafts as well.
My first conscious appreciation of these crafts came from my paternal grandmother – that I visited every summer for many years, and who I often begged to bring down from a closet the quilt she had made for my birth so I could again see it (and which I knew would eventually come to me.) I knew from the way she described its features to me that it was made with love and had meaning beyond a mere bed covering.
Yet it was a practical as well as a decorative gift, in accordance with a tradition carried on for generations. In my case, it was not the necessity it may once have been when a family member would give a new baby a useable covering in which to swaddle it; so it remained unsullied in storage for my future. But many other quilts were in daily use at my home, where I loved to play games with myself at bedtime counting the different fabric patterns or choosing my favorite ones from among those represented.
Other handmade bits made for the home were all around me, but the quilts always did have special meaning to me even if I did not appreciate then that they may originally have been a way to make something practical and needed from scraps of fabric left over from other projects, or even from still-viable bits of outgrown clothing or other textiles. As I have grown older the fact that the women of yore exercised their creativity through the making of such items, though they were more likely focused on the practicality of their endeavors, has become even more meaningful to me.