Sunday, October 10, 2010

Everyday Quilts

These cooler nights have made me think about blankets and flannel sheets and quilts.

When I was growing up, the women in my family were not into fancy patchwork quilts. Oh, they made quilts, but those were inspired by necessity, not art. The women used scraps left over from making dresses and aprons or from squares salvaged from their menfolks’ work pants. They pieced the squares with a treadle sewing machine and the backings were feed sacks that had been rejected as too ugly to make dresses. (More than once a wife would send a scrap of cloth off with her husband when he went to town to buy feed for the hogs or chickens. More than once he would come home with a load of feed bagged up in the ugliest sacks imaginable, claiming that this was the closest he could come to matching “that blamed ol’ scrap.”)

No, our quilts were never elaborate stars and circles or intricate geometrics, just small plain squares of cloth. Yet they were every bit as warm and comforting as any quilt and in many ways better. You wouldn’t put an artistic hand-stitched quilt out on the grass to lie and watch for the Perseids. You wouldn’t use an heirloom quilt to cushion a splintery porch swing or to soften the floor for children with dirty bare feet when they played “Go Fish” in the summertime, but no one minded using a simple workaday quilt.

And in the winter, when you were too sick to hold a book and there was no television in your room, you could amuse yourself by trying to remember where all the scraps came from: that this block of red strawberries was from the skirt you wore the first day of school or that this green plaid was from your mother’s Christmas apron. You found a piece of your sister’s favorite dress, your brother’s work shirt, the dress your grandmother was wearing when she showed you that new litter of barn kittens. And you would drift off to sleep wrapped in a warmth that came from more than feed sacks and cotton scraps.

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