Monday, April 21, 2014

How my Mémère Made Quilts

My grandmother made quilts. They were scrappy quilts, and she never used a pattern. She made them from the clothes she and my mother made for me, my brothers and sister and our cousins. The quilts were made from the leftover fabric from our skirts and blouses, pajamas, jumpers, shorts and tops; from tablecloths, placemats, tote bags and costumes.

They weren't quilted, they were tied with crochet cotton, and the backings were sheets. The quilts were lightweight and washed like a dream. This was beneficial, as they were utility quilts in every sense of the word. We used them on picnics, we brought them to the beach, we watched fireworks lying on them. We used them to wrap my Mother's artwork when we had to deliver it to various galleries. On our beds, we put them on top of the bed's flat sheet, and under the blanket so they were rarely seen. On hot summer nights, they were perfect to sleep under, just enough to keep out the draft, but light enough not to be too hot.

My Mémère never bought new fabric to make the quilts. She always used what she had.  Later, when she had Macular Degenerative Disease, and couldn't see, I asked her how she made them, because I couldn't figure out how she put them together. They weren't made in traditional blocks.

This is one of the last quilts Memere made. This was made in the 1980's.

"I started cutting squares, but that didn't last long," she said.  "It took too much time to cut them out, and I still had fabric left over that I wanted to use. So I just took two pieces of fabric and sewed them together."

 "If one piece was too big, I'd just cut it off. If I didn't like the pieces I sewed together, I'd just use them someplace else." Mémère even chain-pieced them.

I asked how she got the pieces square. "Oh I cut them with a pair of scissors."

"So after I sew those, and pressed the seams, I did it again using the pieces I had."

 "I kept sewing until I got a big chunk and then I put it aside until I had a lot of big pieces and then I sewed them together until it got to be the right size for the bed."

Did she measure? No, she'd lay the big sections on the bed and move them around until they were the way she liked. She'd cut things off if they were too big, and add the pieces to other sections that were too small. She wanted to use every scrap.

Sound familiar?

It should. I've heard the same process described by Tonya Ricucci, Gwen Marston, and in several "tutes" for "made fabric" and many other places.

Was my Mémère the first true "Liberated Quiltmaker?" Of course not, she was just trying to make do with what she had.

My Mémère died in 2001, well before I took up quiltmaking again (after a 22 year break), so I never had a chance to tell her that she was a quilt maverick.

She would have laughed and told me I was silly, but every time I make one of these color blocks (using the technique she taught me) I think of her.


Pat said...

And the results are lovely. This is the same technique described in Sunday Morning Quilts to produce a "slab" quilt. Once again, nothing new under the sun. Bet she would have loved having a rotary cutter, though. :-)

Laurel Strand said...

I must try this!

Mystic Quilter said...

Definitely got to try this - what a lovely quilt you have
from your grandmother.

Just Ducky said...

What a good way to remember her.

sawsan said...

ًWhat important is you r a quilt makers after her put in different time

Megan said...

I love the blocks you've been making Lynne. I'm curious to see what you're going to do with them.

Sydney, Australia

Camp Stanhope Happenings said...

I bet your grandmother knew you were a maverick before she passed away. She'd be proud as punch to see your quilts.

Quiltdivajulie said...

I love this post!

Tricia said...

Thank you for sharing this post (and your grandmother) with us! The quilt she created is so beautiful and I would love to see more if you have any! Also, thank you for taking the time to show us, step-by-step, how to create our own masterpieces.

CathyQuilts said...

Your gold fabric is yummy!

Sharon Brown said...

Lynn, I am late to the party it seems, but this is the most beautiful blog post I can ever remember reading! It touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing this technique your grandmother, and others, have used. This is how my grandma made quilts for her large family, nothing went to waste when making quilts to keep her family warm. I am sad to say I do not have any of her quilts but wish I did.