Sunday, July 20, 2014

Granny's quilts

When we were visiting my aunt recently, I spent some time writing down recollections of her childhood and the family because she's the only one of the older generation left on my side and when she's gone, there will be no one left to ask.

I mentioned to her that when I was a little girl, we had a patchwork bedcover that always fascinated me. It was made up of large oblong patches of - in some cases - quite rough tweedy material, cross-stitched over the seams. It wasn't exactly pretty - I remember some of the patches were an orangey brown and some green - but it was interesting. I had mentioned this to my mum a few years ago and she said that an uncle on my dad's side was a traveller for a suiting company and that my (paternal) grandmother used to be given obsolete sample books, out of which she made that cover. Of recent years I've thought of the cover but it's long gone, to my regret.

My aunt said that this uncle had been Uncle Tom, her father's brother. "I've got a couple of those covers," she said. "Would you like them?"


These are made of (I would say) ladies' suiting samples. They're much softer and finer material than ours was, and the patterns of the material are less varied, mainly grey but in one quilt with a certain amount of pink.

They're interesting to me on various counts. For one thing, they were made for a practical purpose - true to (I imagine) the origins of patchwork. She wasn't someone like me trying to create something pretty; she was the wife of a foreman mechanic making cheap, warm bedding for her children. For another, they were made by my granny, the one I didn't really know. Until I was 5, she lived in Edinburgh with my aunt, quite near us, but then my aunt moved down south and Granny went with her. I don't remember her before the move and it's only in recent years that it's seemed odd to me that she would move away from her only grandchildren. I suppose she loved her daughter and didn't want to be separated from her - a feeling I understand. In those days, Cheltenham, where they moved, was a long and difficult drive away - there were no motorways and I was a carsick child. We visited twice and she came up occasionally; but she developed dementia when I was in my early teens and I can't really claim to have known her at all.

Her corners aren't all perfect. It must be genetic. Or maybe she was just busy; and was happy enough to make covers for her children's beds without worrying too much about the aesthetics (though the rather dull materials have been set out with at least a bit of thought, I'd say).

Sorry, kids. More stuff for you to deal with after I'm deceased.

Waving to you, Granny. Sorry we never got to chat.


  1. Those would be lovely warm quilts. How good to have something like that passed down in your family!

  2. How lovely to see those warm old quilts. Little N and Little L are sure to remember their grandparents. We take so many photos theses days there will be a good record kept.

  3. I'm pleased to hear that you wrote notes of your talk with your aunt. So many of us forget what our elders tell us over the years, and as you said, once they are gone, those memories have gone with them. And see what you've got for asking about those quilts - what would have happened to them if you hadn't asked! You really should have your blog printed, Isabelle - there is so much that your descendents will treasure in generations to come.

  4. What lovely things to unearth - they could have gone without trace if you hadn't asked. You've reminded me of my granny's version of a flannel (facecloth). Cut up squares of Welsh flannel, which I remember as being very rough when applied with a firm hand at the end of the day.

  5. Those are nice, utilitarian quilts with a great story. They are at least not full of garish, contrasting colours and materials (as I remember one I had as a child. I felt as if I was in a waking nightmare in the in the half light of dawn!)

  6. Oh Wow -- what a wonderful find Isabelle! They're so interesting and you're right -- just as patchwork was meant to be! Your Aunt was probably thrilled to find a good home for the quilts and to know that they'll be kept in the family. I laughed at your note to your children -- everytime I look at all of our stuff (and the increasing disaster in my sewing room), I feel sorry for my children LOL!

  7. Such a good idea, to record your aunt's reminiscences. Maybe I'll try with Aunty M (though all she seems to want to talk about these days is Walkers' crisps). Those quilts are wonderful and yes, reminders of those days when being crafty (my Gran used to make rag rugs) was of necessity rather than a hobby.

  8. Oh gosh, I wish I'd asked a few more questions......I intend to write a small history of why a branch of the family suddenly appeared in the US, in case future generations are interested!

    Absolutely, patchwork was a practical craft and not the rather expensive art form it is now. I have a sampler stitched by my maternal great grandmother and it has a darn in it. Did she take so long to stitch it and the moths moved in or was there a small show of temper over a mistake involving scissors, lol?

    So glad you got the quilts .

  9. As you say, not so beautiful but very practical! And better than having your dad's heavy wool coat thrown over your bed in winter for additional warmth!

    Very fetching --- both of them --- in that last picture.

  10. The quilts are lovely, and even more so since they are "family". I have always wanted to make a patchwork out of wool suiting.... maybe this will inspire me? Patchwork was always intended to be frugal and functional. Your Grandmother was very clever. We are the silly ones that go out and purchase fabric just to cut it up and sew it back together again... but it IS fun :-)