This Voicing the Craft post was inspired by a fantastic crazy quilt designed and made by my long-time friend, Katherine Pinard. It hangs in the music studio’s waiting room. Dozens of odd shapes symbolize the ways we have become fragmented as a society and as individuals, but in piecing them together skillfully, she made them come together to make something whole. Katherine is working some powerful magic through imagination and skill.
About 4 years ago I commissioned Mindy Carlson to create a series of 4 quilted pieces representing the four seasons, specifically to hang inside our front entry and up the stairs to our home’s second floor. This wall stayed bare for the first 16 years we were in the house. I didn’t want the usual family photos lining the stairs, so after I got to know Mindy and her work, I asked her if she wanted to try this commission. Each panel is pieced together masterfully to create a whole panel-of-fabric look.
But these quilts point to a larger set of values, one that permeates the history and genealogy of many women around the world throughout time. Women’s stories are told through crafting useful items, through creative journaling about feelings and the events of the day, through sharing stories of children’s ages and stages as well as life’s hormonal changes. It is all the passing on of women’s wisdom through stories and art.
My father (1928-2003) loved family genealogy and research, but he collected history in much different ways than I do. He connected through the “begets of begets,” the ownership of land, immigrant ship logs, purchasing slips, birth, marriage and death records and other ledger lines of history. When Dad was researching in the 1960’s through 1990’s, it was mostly in the days before the Internet, and he had to go to other cities and wade through volumes of records of hand-written and typed accounts. He wrote to countless county offices, libraries, college historians, blueprint offices, military archives, distant relatives and such to collect information. He collated, labeled and stored photos, packed everything away in boxes and neat notebooks and organized extended family reunions of people who would meet once and never see each other again. He tracked down a family Bible that had somehow left the family and found it in Florida. The owner graciously mailed it to him, and he began trying to collect funds from family to have it restored and rebound. I think he and mom ended up absorbing over $1,000 in the early 1990’s to restore the family Bible to the Frazier Line. It was money they did not have, but such were his values and he felt a great responsibility to pass on what he knew. He spoke of family names and places to his children and grandchildren with increasing fervor as he got older, wanting someone to carry on the information and take care of what he had discovered. One brother and I have it all now, and I must admit, as I get older I wonder what will happen to everything if our children and their cousins are not interested in preserving it.
While the first two blog photos were of recent quilt purchases, they also happen to have been made by two very close friends. I also have dozens of quilted, sewn, knit, cross-stitched and crocheted items from great-aunts on both sides of the family, my grandmother, mother, mother-and sister-in-law, and friends. Here are a few baby blankets that I used with my children, two from my husband’s Aunt Betsy and one from my friend, Kate Huntress-Reeve:
This next photo is of a crazy quilt that was made for me by women who lived outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. I worked one college summer, 1975, at a mission station in those beautiful mountains with of a team of other college-aged men and women. We looked after dozens of children with learning disabilities and cleft palettes who were the result of inbreeding among families. On Sunday mornings I played the out-of-tune piano in the small mountain church, leading hymns, playing preludes and postludes and teaching some of the kids how to play folk tunes after services. (I also had my one and only stint playing guitar and singing in a blue grass band.) At the end of the summer, the families presented me with this awesome quilt, made from knit and wool scraps:
After my paternal grandmother passed, my grandfather remarried. Helene was always very nice to me and we shared the rather odd trait of having studied Latin for four years in high school, she about 1911-1915 and me from 1970-1974. When she passed away, she willed me this woven tapestry quilt, which had been in her family since about 1870. It was created on a loom and sewn in two pieces.
And the last quilt I’ll post, was a project I designed one day to keep three 5-year old boys (my son and two of his friends) busy when I was caring for them and my 1 year old daughter. Their part of the project lasted about 30 minutes, and mine took several hours….They drew with crayons on muslin squares which I heat-set, then pieced together to form a quilt. Their signatures appear in the bottom right. Originally, this quilt was sent to a young boy who had leukemia, but when he passed, his mother returned it with a photo of it wrapped around him. The feet and hands in this photo belong to my husband….
Many of the quilts and hand-made items are stored in the cedar chest that was my maternal grandmother’s. The photo above the chest is one of mine, enlarged and framed.
Many times I have been able to combine my love of crafts, art and women’s history with creating musical programs for the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington, DC. One such program I wrote and conducted, called “Wrapping Home Around Me,” featured music from the musical Quilters, poems and writings from indigenous crafters and songs about weaving and quilting.
How do you treasure and pass on family genealogies? I’d love to hear how others are doing this!
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Featured image is “Roots,” by Cate Frazier-Neely, acrylic and ink on paper