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Hartselle Enquirer

Old-timey quilting bee

A tour of the New Beginnings Quilt Guild Show in Hartselle last weekend got me to thinking how important quilts were to the farm family 70 years ago.

The 100-plus quilts I looked at were pretty to the eye and suitable to decorate the mattresses of a baby, single, double, queen or king size bed. But unlike today, the quilts I knew as a boy were stacked one on top of the other to keep us warm on a cold winter’s night.

Three brothers and I slept on two double beds side by side under double outing flannel sheets and two to four cotton quilts, depending on how cold it was outside. The last thing we did before jumping in bed was heating our feet in front of the fireplace, our only heating source after the fire in the wood cook stove died down. Our older sister was less fortunate since she had no bed partner. She would go to bed under four quilts with wrapped hot irons at her feet and still woke up complaining about being cold.

The cold was our worst enemy since our house was not underpinned, had no insulation and no heat in the early morning hours.

Keeping an ample supply of quilts was an ongoing challenge for most homemakers.  Our mother was a gifted quilter as well as a cook and field worker. On the cold days of January and February, she would take down her quilting frames, hang them on the ceiling in the bedroom next to the fireplace and start stitching another quilt.

Most of the supplies she used came straight off the farm. She used scraps of fabric saved from making clothing for the family and chicken feed sacks to piece the top and make the lining. The inner liner was made from the lint of scattered cotton we picked at the end of harvest. The cotton thread she used for stitching was bought from the rolling store for five cents per spool.

Quilts soon wore out from washing and wear and tear and had to be replaced. Hosting a quilting bee was a good way to replace those that had to be discarded.

I remember coming home from school and finding five or six of my mother’s sisters and neighbors sitting around the quilting frames with my mother working on a new quilt. The frames when fully open would accommodate eight quilters. They would start stitching on the outside edges and work toward the middle. When they had stitched as far as their arms could reach, the finished part of the quilt was rolled onto the frames, and they continued quilting until the quilt was completed. If the quilt remained undone, it was raised and left suspended to the ceiling until the next day.

In addition to turning out quilts in a hurry, the quilting bee offered its participants an opportunity to spend some quality time socializing with family and friends and catching up on the latest news happenings in the community.

 

Clif Knight is a staff writer for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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