“Nattering ladies with needle and thread . . .”

I am lucky to own quilts made by two of my great-grandmothers.

I treasure the Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt made sometime in the 1930s by my maternal great-grandmother, Grace Violet (nee Watson) White (1873-1964). She was quite imaginative in the way she combined fabrics and replaced fabric she had run out of with something similar. She even fussy-cut some of the hexagons (decades before fussy-cutting came to be called that).

wauka's quilt, with detail
Grace’s Quilt, with Detail


Apparently she didn’t waste a scrap of fabric. Printing from the selvage is visible along seams on the back: PASTORAL GUARANTEED FAST COLOR.

Wauka's quilt, detail of back
Detail, Back of Grace’s Quilt


Equally precious to me is the Ocean Waves quilt made sometime in the late 1920s by my paternal great-grandmother, Magdalena (nee Naegeli) Weissenfluh (1862-1929). It’s not in very good condition but it is greatly loved.

Ocean Waves Grandmother Lena
Detail of Lena’s Ocean Waves Quilt


My father, who at 88 is sharp as a tack, gave me the back story on this quilt and the frame it was quilted on, which hung from the ceiling of Grandmother Lena’s home in eastern Oregon:

“Grandmother died in February 1929, some six months before my sixth birthday. My memories of her life are very fragmentary. I do remember, though, that when they [Grandmother Lena and her fellow quilters] were sewing the quilt top together they had me iron the scraps, which came out of the ragbags all wrinkled. Some of those patterns appealed to me and some didn’t. I could still point to some of those on the quilt. The quilt top was sewn on a treadle sewing machine.

 “Now to the quilting frame: It was four pieces of wood, perhaps one inch thick, two or three inches wide. Two of them were a foot and a half or two feet longer than the quilt was wide. The other two were shorter, maybe four feet long. Each piece of wood had a row of holes about two inches apart running the full length of the piece. Lay the two long pieces parallel to each other and perhaps three feet apart. Lay the two shorter pieces across the others, near the ends, making a rectangle of the whole thing. Think of using four good sized nails dropped through the holes (the holes being large enough that the nail would be a loose fit within it), anchoring the four pieces together.

 “Then think of the quilt rolled up on one of the two longer pieces, with enough of the quilt pulled off to reach to the other longer piece. Sort of like film in a camera, being spooled off one spool onto another. Now think of four eye bolts anchored into the ceiling with a cord dangling down from each. Each cord has a loop on the bottom end big enough to slip over the end of the long pieces. Think of the cord being of a length that would put the quilting frame at something like bosom height of a woman seated in a kitchen chair.

 “Two chairs on each side of the frame, four nattering ladies with needles and thread, pushing the needle first from top to bottom, then reaching under the quilt and pushing it back from bottom to top. The quilters were my grandmother, my mother, and my aunt Mandy, plus any other woman who happened to show up. As one panel was completed, the nails would be temporarily removed, and the completed portion of the quilt would be spooled onto the receiving spool and then the nails dropped back in place and the work continued until all the entire quilt has been spooled from one side of the frame to the other.”

Isn’t that a marvelous description?

Sometime in my quilting life, I plan to make a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt and an Ocean Waves quilt, in homage to my great-grandmothers Grace and Lena.




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4 Responses to “Nattering ladies with needle and thread . . .”

  1. Kevin Rodgers says:

    Yay Auntie!! Loved reading your Dad’s recollection and look forward to following your blog. Welcome to the blogosphere! – Kevin

  2. Debra Clemans says:

    Great story! It’s nice to hear how it was done!! Love the photos of your great-grandmother’s work. Nice site, too, Dawn!

  3. Jennie Beckstrand.net says:

    Love the story! We had quilting frames much like your grandmothers when I was growing up. I can’t wait to see your grandmothers quilts replicated. Sandy and I will be pleading with Diane for a sewing holiday!

  4. Sandy Eacker says:

    I have been meaning to comment for a long time – and now there are even more wonderful quilts and pieces for me to feast my eyes on! I’m so impressed with how you are doing your site. Excellence everywhere!

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