Quilting on The Glory Road

By Anita Garner

After childhood years spent hanging around with prolific quilters, I remain untalented in that department, but I’m an appreciator.  When Leslie Ray and I were little, quilts were a big part of our lives.  We touring Gospel Gypsies slept on pallets on the floor made of piles of old quilts.  When Daddy pastored, congregations furnished the parsonage with everything we needed.   Colorful quilts arrived, many of them made from scraps of cloth that had already seen several lives.

Those were my favorites.  Each square came with stories attached. Stories were vital for young children without roots. I remember specific quilt squares. I remember tears in the eyes of a woman piecing together a tribute to someone recently departed.

The quilts in our life weren’t fancy patterns.  They were patchwork, a piece of a skirt a little girl wore to school, a snippet of one of her brothers’ shirts, flour sack remnants. Some quilts were thicker than others, stuffed with batting inside for warmth, and while they did the job during cold winter nights, the insides eventually separated and formed clumps. Nobody cared.  Nobody treated the clumpy quilts different because of their shape.

We traveled the Deep South in the 50’s with old quilts in every condition. When they were finally no more than shreds, Daddy and Leslie Ray wrapped them around the amplifier and guitars and microphones and other equipment in the trunk.

When we stayed a while in parsonages, we kids went along to Quiltings.  A Quilting was a regularly scheduled gathering of a group of women in the home of whichever one had a quilting frame.  The frames were big wooden things suspended up near the ceiling and lowered by a rope pulley.

Quilts-in-progress came down when the ladies arrived and chairs were situated all around, where a roomful of women making tiny stitches connected colorful pieces of cloth.  Their hands moved in age-old rhythms while they engaged in conversation.

In addition to plain old everyday necessary quilts, a quilting group took turns working on each other’s special items. A quilt for a new baby. Graduation. Engagement. Hope chest. Wedding. Shut-ins.

We kids were allowed to stretch out on the floor under the quilting frame and because we were out of sight, the ladies forgot little children were  listening.  After any Quilting, my brother and I left with more information than we should have.

When it was time for refreshments, we made our presence known.  In every Southern home, whatever the economic resources or lack of them, some cook had a specialty that showed up when the quilting sisters came over.

A few years back, I mentioned to friend, Barbara, that I no longer have even a remnant of a family quilt.  She, a San Francisco jazz singer with many other talents, took my sad story to heart and made me this lovely piece.  She handed it over saying, “Now you have a quilt.”

I still love most old things better than most new things, but this wall hanging Barbara made is the exception.  Not long after she completed it, she was gone. Another quilting story for another time.


8 thoughts on “Quilting on The Glory Road”

  1. My grandmothers were at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to quilt making. Gma Euphemia made strip quilts from sewing leftovers, measuring out 3″ as long as it would go, then machine sewing the planks together, reminiscent of hardwood flooring. After the top was sewn, she would tie it with little yarn spiders to a backing of light canvas. Gma Alice made fabulous pieced quilts of painstakingly chosen cloth, quilted with tiny perfect stitches. She won best of show at the CA State Fair for the one she made for me. I remember wandering through TG&Y looking for the perfect shade of brown print. She handled the fabrics as she went, then turned to me and said, “someone designed each one.” The idea of an artist creating fabric was a wonder to me. We loved the quilts from each grandma the same.

  2. Beautiful story. I’m so glad your family has quilting stories and yours sound so elegant. I can picture the different styles favored by each of your grandmothers. I don’t sew and these creations are all little miracles to me.

  3. Both of my grandmothers quilted. My maternal grandmother loves pastels and floral prints. She would point out which piece came from a dress my mother or aunts had worn. My fraternal grandmother’s quilts could never be confused with the other’s. She love all hues of red and also loved black velvet so they were quite flamboyant. We had no respect for the work that had gone into them! They went camping, to the beach and on picnics. How I regret the abuse we heaped upon them.
    I know each quilt arrived with at least one cigarette burn as both were chain smokers.
    I do have a small box of cut squares from one of them or my husband’s grandmother. it is up to a future generation to assemble it.

  4. I love your story. Our family’s quilt makers were as divided as yours. Some were flamboyant and others were modest. My maternal grandmother competed with her sister to see (it seemed);who could put together the most bizarre combinations. Like you, I look back at the amount of stitches in just one quilt and am awed.

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