Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 28, 2012

An old art of sewing and quilting that should be preserved by area youth

It is a skill passed down from mother to daughter over the generations: the art of the needle and thread. It may seem outdated in our modern culture, but pop a button off your brand new coat or need to stitch up a hole in your bag and suddenly knowing how to get your thread through a needle’s eye comes in handy.

At first, sewing seemed simple to me. Even my dad could do it, after all. He had learned in college to patch up odds and ends and even had his own sewing kit his mother handed him as part of his college care package.

My first ever sewing project was when I was almost 5 years old. It was one of those kid cross-stitch patterns of a teddy bear that was small enough to keep my pre-school attention. My grandmother helped me finish it and with the hard things — like tying the knot at the end of the thread — and when it was done my mother put it in a picture frame. It was a proud moment, having accomplished something made of my own two hands. There would be several more cross-stitches and little sewing projects with both grandmothers in the next several years.

Sewing seems to be a tradition for women in my family. My grandmother still has a quilt she made as a young girl with her mother. In a way, this old quilt still tells a story through its stitches and patterns. When I first started learning how to sew, my grandmother brought out the quilt to tell the story of her first major sewing project with her mother. My grandmother’s stitches were the bigger, further apart one’s while Mammaw Hancock had sewn the neat, tight stitches. In a way, looking at those dainty little stitches sort of brought Mammaw back.

Mammaw Hancock died when my mother was only 2-years-old. I was born on what would have been Mammaw’s 72nd birthday and have always been compared to her because of it. Growing up, whenever my mother or aunt were sick they would wrap themselves up in the quilt my grandmother and Mammaw made. When I was growing up, I often ended up at my grandparents’ house when I was sick and did the same thing. It wasn’t as if the quilt had a magical healing quality, but there was a sense of love that came from being curled up with it that always made me feel a little bit better.

When I was about 9 or 10, I petitioned my grandmother to make a quilt with me. It was a long process, requiring many days after school and long weekends of sewing both with our hands on the machine. I have slept with that quilt ever since it was completed. When I first brought the quilt home, my mother commented on how my great-grandmother made a quilt for my grandmother and my grandmother had made a quilt for me but no one had ever made a quilt for her.

As a child, I took this to heart. Another several months of secrecy, after school meetings and weekend work and my grandmother and I presented my mother with her very own quilt for a Mother’s Day birthday gift. It was probably the most time-consuming  handmade gift I had ever made for someone.

When I was little, trips to the local fabric store were always fun. My mother and grandmother would let me help pick out patterns and ideas for their upcoming projects. I was always amazed at how quickly the women who ran the shop could cut just the right amount of fabric and in such straight lines.

Now that she is getting older, my grandmother cannot sew as much as she used to or as she would like. However, my mother has sort of taken up the mantle as the family sewer. She crafts bags, quilts, blankets, puppets for her preschoolers, and a wide variety of other sewing crafts that catch her eye. Mom doesn’t really measure as much as she eyeballs lengths and widths.

When I was younger, we would often call over to my grandmother’s house and she would have to cut off her sewing machine to hear us. Now, my mother is the one telling me she is right in the middle of a project and will call me back when she finishes up. Though her quilts may not be the kind you buy for hundreds of dollars, they are well worth the effort and have a unique something you just don’t get from those factory-manufactured productions.

There is something about this dying art of sewing and quilting that needs to be preserved by younger women like myself. In our world of computers, cell phones, and all other forms of modern technology, there is something poignant about this art of sewing.

Quilts were a necessity of the old “hope chests,” something a young woman needed to start out her married life. Of course, the gossip surrounding all of those old quilting bees probably made them fun social occasions as well. It is an art form women the world over have been doing together for generations as necessity, passing their skills and ideas down to their daughters and granddaughters. It is not only a skill but an heirloom, something we can use to keep us threaded to those we love even after they are gone.

Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com

 

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