Wednesday, May 30, 2007

(Great-Great) Grandmother Daugherty's Quilt

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big history nerd. A lot of people feel disconnected to past events and think that 100+ years is a way long time ago, too long ago to feel a connection to anything. To these people I always tell this little tidbit of family history: even though I'm only 37 years old (ack, I should have written this last week when I was only 36 years old), my grandmother's grandmother watched Lincoln's funeral procession in 1865. Sure, if I had referred to her as my great-great grandmother that would make her seem farther removed from me. But my point is this: my grandmother, a woman I knew and loved, had a grandmother, a woman she knew and loved, who was old enough 142 years ago to remember that train passing through Ohio. That she had a connection to my grandmother makes it seem as if she lived not very long ago.

So it may surprise you that it wasn't until last week that I really took a good look at this quilt, made by that same woman. In my defense it has been packed in a cedar chest for at least 50 years, maybe more, until recently.

So, last week I asked my mother to tell me the story of the woman who made it, Grandmother Daugherty (how she was always referred to by my grandmother). My mother thinks this was a wedding present for my great-grandmother in the late 1800's, because that was when these quilts were all the rage. This quilt was sewn by hand and has a beautiful amber colored backing. I learned she was a seamstress; the individual fabrics were scraps from various sewing jobs. There are scraps of silk, velvet, cotton, embroidered fabric... every variation of fabric you can think of is in this quilt. My mother and I spent some time that night making up stories about the fabrics: which ones ended up as short jackets with leg of mutton sleeves, which were dresses, which were slips, etc.

We also talked about the difference between creating for fun and creating for necessity. Here was a woman who had to sew to put food on the table, yet in her spare time managed to create this lively and joyful quilt. Grandmother Daugherty had twelve children, the youngest of whom was my great-grandmother (called Baboo by my mother). Her husband died soon after Baboo was born, which meant Grandmother Daugherty was forced to provide for her family by working as a seamstress. She was determined that Baboo would never have to work as a seamstress; to ensure this she refused to teach her how to sew. Consequently Baboo couldn't teach my grandmother (Grammy) to sew, which meant that my mother, who actually wanted to sew, had to learn in Home Ec class in high school. See how the actions of long ago can still affect someone? So far I'm in the Baboo/Grammy camp; I can barely reattach a button.

The joy of crafting seems to have skipped Baboo, unless there is some undiscovered piece of knitting or embroidery still to be found (unlikely since Grammy saved everything). I don't blame her if she associated sewing et al with her mother's struggle to provide for her family. I wonder if she passed that lesson learned on to Grammy. Grammy never had much interest in it until later in her life, but once she started she really enjoyed it. She knit this afghan. I remember her teaching me to needlepoint when I was little. She liked to needlepoint Christmas ornaments.

My mother has been studying the quilt. She created these pillows based on it. (She wants you to know that she's going to resew them so the lines face inward and make a square). At various times she has learned weaving, knitting and making wreaths. She always comes back to sewing.

I almost went the way of Baboo, the non-crafter, but for a 50% off sale at Jo-Ann's and a very patient mother who taught me to knit on a whim a year and a half ago. She untangled and tinked my mistakes for two days, then on the third declared that if I was going to learn to knit correctly I had to start fixing my own mistakes. She's been watching my knitting progress in amazement ever since. She's half impressed and half amused that I've fallen in love with knitting and that I've managed to stick with it for so long.

I'd like to think that everything the women in my family create is connected somehow to my great-great grandmother's quilt, created, in my mind, not so very long ago.


Alyson said...

Wow, wow, wow. That quilt is just beyond amazing - what incredible shape it's in for how old it is! I think it's unspeakably awesome that you have that to hold and touch and remind you of your family's history.

Isn't it incredible to have this art we do that connects us to infinite generations?

(And the Leaves socks look terrific!!)

Laura said...

We are all connected. That quilt is stunning I have one that is dear in my family that my great aunt made and won first place in a state fair. Every time I look at it I feel connected to her and that time. This was a beautiful post Thank you.

Phoebe said...

What an absolutely incredible story! And the quilt is aweinspiring! Love how the Falling Leaves tunred out....and happy belated b-day...hope you enjoyed Indy!

Opal said...

What a fantastic history you have and what a beautiful quilt. I think the history of the quilt really adds to the beauty as well. That really was a touching post. Thanks. :-)

a blossom knits said...

First off, Happy Birthday . . I remember now you saying something the last time we all got together at B&N. Oh, if only I could be 37 again. ;)

I have always been fascinated with history -- my mother being a history prof notwithstanding. Consequently, I am always taken aback when I see past items . . archeology being one of those "dream jobs" I always wished I had, but finally figured out I'd end up in some dark museum room archiving and archiving until I went mad.

Thanks for the story of your Grammys. I still miss mine every day. :`)

Lolly said...

An amazing post!! and an amazing artifact you have with that beautiful quilt. It is so well-preserved and in wonderful condition.

Thank you so much for writing this up, and for leaving a comment on my blog about it. I really enjoyed reading this entry.

Best wishes,

Christy said...

Beautiful story and quilt

knittingphilistine said...

Great story! Thanks so much for sharing with us. And, while it is easier for me to appreciate your finished socks (lovely leaves!) than the quilts because I can't yet wield a sewing machine, all of the photos are so lovely.

Lynn said...

VERY cool history of that quilt! I never liked history in school, but now that I'm older, I can see how history effects the lives we live now.
I'm also a fellow Floridian, found you while surfing the KVVS sidebar

Mandy said...

That is just so very cool. Your story, and the idea that your handknits connect you to your ancestors.