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Quilting: Addiction or Artistic Predilection

Monday 02 October 2017 at 10:01 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 28, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Quilting talent runs in my family. My great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, one of her sisters, and many cousins became avid quilters. I would estimate that in her lifetime my mother made two or three hundred quilts, maybe more. Even today, one of my cousin owns a quilting shop in Giddings, called “Meme’s Quilts.” Her grandmother and my mother used to quilt together, and I’m sure she learned from both of them.

            My mother was so obsessed with quilting that in my younger years I considered it an addiction and upbraided her for it. In later years, especially after she passed away, I looked upon her quilting as a fine art at which she was greatly talented, and her quilts were works of art. But, during the time of my youth, and when she was producing them like a one-woman assembly line, I was convinced it was an addiction.

            You could say of some women, “She drinks too much,” or “She gossips too much,” but with Mama, it was, “She quilts too much!” At the time, it seemed like it ruled our lives.

            In her later years, she had a little house, separate from the main house, originally a bunk house, just behind the smokehouse and the chicken house, which she called her “Quilting House.” It was the fulfillment of a dream she had always had about having her own special place to quilt her quilts. This well-lighted little quilting building housed a set of quilting frames, always hanging from the ceiling with a quilt in them, four or five chairs placed strategically around the quilt, and an electric heater for the winter, and a water fan for the summer. Every morning before the sun would rise and the rooster would crow, she would go into her little house and quilt a couple hours before breakfast.

            That was in her later years. When I was growing up, and money was too tight to have a special house just for quilting, she would have one quilt hanging in the guest bedroom, where heavy cords looped through hooks in the ceiling would hold the quilt above the bed. If guests spent the night, she would pull the quilt up to the ceiling with the cords, and the guest would spend the night, looking up at the bottom of the quilt before the lights went out.

            She would hang a second quilt in the living room, also held by cords, and also capable of being pulled up to the ceiling if necessary. It was usually not necessary, because her friends would join her in the living room specifically for the purpose of quilting while they sipped on coffee and imbibed in chit chat. You can see why I thought her quilting was an addiction and ruled our lives, but, actually it was very typical of rural life in those days.

            It was here that all my girl cousins learned how to quilt; in fact, she even taught my brother and me how to quilt, though neither of us had the fingers for such intricate work.

            It was fascinating for us to see scraps from our pajamas and shirts, which she handmade, and pieces of cloth from her dresses, which she also made, in the quilts. Only an artist could take these mundane pieces of cloth and made something beautiful out of them. Money was scarce in those days, so instead of buying cloth from the dry goods store, women would save their flour sacks and feed sacks and work them into the quilts. The difference between my mother’s quilts and my aunt’s quilts was the incredible artistry. Mama had a keen eye for color combinations and an interesting way of making similar patterned pieces work together. My aunt’s quilts, on the other hand, were a delightful hodgepodge of colors, which required concentration to see a design. My wife and I have come to admire and love both styles of quilts and often have them both on beds in the house.

            It seemed like an obsession/addiction in those days, because Mama was known to cut up an entire dress, albeit an old one made of flour sacks, to work it into a trip-around-the-world quilt which required many blocks of the same color and design. To go against your normal predilection toward frugality and cut up and entire dress for a quilt suggested an addiction.

            Now, in retrospect, I see Mama as a great artist and her quilts as works of art, not to mention retainers of family history, -- ‘Ah, I remember those pajamas,’ and ‘Yep, that had to be Grandma’s old apron.’ If artists are addicted to art, that’s a good addiction, as I would hope my attempts at painting watercolors would testify.

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger has retired after serving as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, for 28 years, teaching in high school for 9 years and at Wharton County Junior College for 22 years.

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