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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Quilting was
hub of family, social life

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
What is approximately 8 to 10 feet square and hangs from the ceiling with small ropes? Yep, you guessed it: a quilting frame.

Many early day homes contained this handy device that held layers of quilt stretched tightly and ready for the tiny stitches made by the quilter.

Most quilting frames were made of boards about 2 to 3 inches wide, three-quarters of an inch thick, and from 8 to 10 feet in length. Originally, the corners were held with bolts and wing nuts inserted into a series of holes drilled through the wood. Later, small specially made C clamps were used to hold the frames in the proper configuration. Small ropes attached to the corners of the frame reached to the ceiling and through small pulleys held to the ceiling boards with eye-bolts. The four rope ends were gathered to one side where a tug raised the frame to the ceiling and out of the way of floor traffic. By loosening the ropes, the frame could be lowered to a comfortable sitting position for those working.

The old saying, "Idle fingers, idle minds" plus the ever-ready quilting frame left little idle time for the family. Quilting clubs gathered at members' homes to spend the afternoon hand-stitching the host's current quilt. Community news items were discussed along with occasional gossip. After refreshments were served, the members exchanged quilt patterns and material scraps.

Since most of the members had spent their lives in drab, unpainted houses, quilt patterns were colorful and demonstrated beautiful designs.

The better quilters made small stitches so delicate in design that it required good eyesight and patience for completion.

Earlier quilt tops were "pieced" by hand, sewing each square together a stitch at a time using a needle and thread. After the advent of the treadle sewing machine, piecing squares were sewn by machine, then sewn together to complete the top. I've known both men and women who enjoyed piecing quilt tops.

Many families took pride in providing a quilt for each of their offspring.

Most dry good stores stocked quilting materials as well as backing and cotton batting for the inside. I don't think my mother ever went to town without buying spools of thread, needles or other sewing items.

Her fingers were calloused from wearing a thimble and pushing the needle through layers of cloth. The thimble hurt when she thumped my head for disobedience.

I remember two little boys who used Grandma's high-hanging quilt frame as a sort of basketball goal into which we tossed various items during a game.

We also used the lowered quilt frame for an Army tent during war games and while playing hide-and-seek.

With little effort, I can close my eyes and see Grandpa Trew, who was blind, sitting in his rocking chair, listening to a tall, six-volt Victor radio. In the middle of the room, I see two small boys sitting on the floor near a glowing wood stove building toy houses out of dominoes. Just beyond, I see Grandma Trew sitting in a twine-bottomed chair, stitching away on her quilt, using a kerosene lamp for illumination.



Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" March 14, 2004 column

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