Inspired by unbounded imagination, generations of quilters have created history with thread and fabric, and now, local residents are adding to that history.
“Quilting brings a richness to the family and community in a very tangible way,” said Jo Caraway, who hosts the Quilter's Guild of Cherokee County gathering every second Tuesday of the month in her Rusk-area home.
“I can't tell you the number of men who came up to me at the last quilt show (she took part of) with a story of a mom or grandma who had made quilts for them,” she recalled. “It was always a very sweet, sentimental story. Mothers and grandmothers are making this same connection in their families as they make quilts for them.”
Mixon quilt author and collector Deborah Burkett agreed.
“Two things come to mind quickly (about quilts) – the first is the historical connection. It connects a tangible item they can hold in their hands that their great-grandmother has quilted with her hands,” she said. “And connected to that same thought is an appreciation of the artistic ability. These ladies were quilting for covers – they had to, for practical purposes – but many times, they were works of art.”
As a result, people grow fascinated by the idea of learning to quilt because “I think there's that part of wanting to carry on a tradition, to have a connection” to previous generations, Burkett added.
“There is a church near Bullard, Corinth Missionary Baptist Church (that had) one or two little ladies who still quilted, but after we started documenting and doing interviews (for her Quilts and Their Stories: Binding Generations Together; Journal of a Small Town Quilt Show) they have now gone back and started what they call a 'quilting circle,” she said. “And they even found old documents in their church of minutes from the old quilting circles.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” she smiled, adding, “I think (quilters of old) would be so pleased to know their descendents have those quilts they made all those years ago because they were made to be enjoyed.”
According to the website http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu, the history of quilting reaches back to ancient Egypt and China, “three layers of fabrics (top, batting for warmth, and backing) were stitched together to keep the middle layer from slipping and clumping.”
During the 11th century, the site says quilting was used as padding under soldiers' armor, then grew popular as a common form of needlework, and by the 18th century, “it was stylish for English women to wear quilted petticoats and underskirts and for men to wear quilted waistcoats … quilted bedding was also popular.”
It was during that same period that quilting was brought to the American Colonies, the site adds.
For practical purposes, quilting remained a way to create bedding for families, but “we had sort of gone through a down period (of popularity during) the Depression, and by the 1960s you could buy quilts for a song,” Burkett said.
But, thanks to a 1970s quilt exhibit at a major New York City art museum, a revival was launched.
“People could see once again” the beauty of such practical items in that showcase, Burkett said. “From that point, you can follow a timeline (of a) revival of interest in quilts.”
That interest, Caraway said, “spread like wildfire (because) quilting was a great way for women to express their creative talent and make useful items as well.”
That creativity was evident at a recent gathering of the county quilt guild, as member Sarah Welch demonstrated how to create fabric pumpkins from quilting scraps.
“I’ve just always loved fabrics and fabric craft,” said Welch, who at one time ran a craft store that featured pillows and stuffed animals that she created.
A self-taught quilter, she joined the local quilters guild “so I can learn technique and the proper way to do things,” she said.
Sisters Hellen Jones of Lufkin and Betty Johnson of Douglass recently joined the guilds in Cherokee County and in Nacogdoches after taking a quilting seminar in the Metroplex.
“We've been quilting about four months,” Johnson said, adding that both sisters have been sewing all their lives.
Their game plan is to start with smaller items – like a quilted bag made from material selvages, small zippered pouches and hand-sized “keepers” to place threaded needles, pins and other quilting notions – and work their way up to larger items.
“We've always been interested in quilting, but didn't know how to start,” Jones said.
Being part of quilting guilds has been a wonderful experience, they said.
“You learn so much from each other,” Jones said, “and we have a meal together, and snacks and we just talk, and everybody has something different (to share)”
Added her sister, “and you get to associate with people – we didn't go anywhere or do anything, you know? We like to gather with people – we don’t know any of these ladies, really (because it was only) last month we met them all.”
“We're like a little family,” Jones agreed, as Johnson said, “it's just good fellowship to get together.”
By pairing beginners with seasoned quilters, practical knowledge and history are shared, “and that’s a wonderful building of the community,” Burkett said.