The Quilting Bee

Everyone made quilts years ago. You needed them for bedding, they used scraps of material to good advantage, and gave womenfolk something to do in their "spare time". Best of all, when the quilt was pieced you needed help to quilt it and that meant a party. Invitations were sent out, cakes baked, chickens put on to stew and the quilt was set up on frames in the parlour.

Aunt Min, mother's sister, usually came when we had a quilting bee as she lived just outside of town, so that meant I'd have Sophronia to play with. Wraps were put in the spare room where shades, usually closed to prevent sunlight fading the wallpaper and rugs, were open for the occasion. Then the women would gather around the quilt frame now resting on high-backed chairs, and exclaim over the pattern and the fine stitching in the piece work. Each woman was armed with several needles which she filled with the length of thread she prefered and thrust side by side in the bosom of her dress to be ready at need.

Sometimes quilting followed the pattern of the quilt, or it could be straight across, diamond shape, or in a design of its own. The idea was to sew the pieced top, cotton batting liner, and plain bottom cloth together in such a way as to enhance the finished product as well as to keep the cotton from shifting.

Plain quilts might be simply tied, that is heavy thread stitched through at wide intervals and tied securely on top leaving an inch or so of thread ends. Patchwork quilts, ramdom pieces of roughly the same size but no particular pattern or color, were often done this way. The lovely quilts, works of art representing long hours of planning and sewing, were skillfully quilted with tiny stitches.

Quilts had beautiful names too... Dresdin Plate, Double Wedding Ring, Tulip, Endless Stair, Flower Garden (sometimes called Martha Washington's Flower Garden),Star of Bethleham, Log Cabin, Leaf and Vine, Rising Star, so many I can't remember.
There was the elegant "Crazy Quilt" made from bits of velvet, silk and brocade which took years to complete. That was a hightly prized possession.

At one time there was a fad for autograph or friendship quilts. Each friend would contribute a square centered on a white block in which she'd written and embroidered her name. I still have mine packed away somewhere.

Sophronia and I liked to creep under the quilt frame and play with our dolls in the gloom surrounded by black, brown, grey and blue skirts from beneath which peeped high buttoned shoes. The skirts were embellished with aprons of fine white lawn trimmed with wide knit lace, or black satin or silk, especially made for quilting bees. Shears and thread lay in the middle of the quilt where they could be reached by all.

Dinner was especially good that day. Pa always come home tho many men didn't. He enjoyed being fussed over by all the ladies for he was a handsome man. It tickled Ma to see him - "Cock-o-the-walk" she'd whisper in his ear as she filled his tea cup. How they loved to tease eachother.

Usually there'd be chicken, biscuits and gravy and all the good things that went with them. Once Ma served baked oysters too, suculent tidbits nested in crisp, buttery cracker crumbs. My, how the quilter's raved over that.

By dusk the quilt frame would have narrowed till only two or three could sew at a time for the quilt was rolled on the frames as the work progressed. When the last few stitches were done, the quilt released and shaken out, and everyone had re-exclaimed over its beauty, wraps were reclaimed and thoughts turned to the families left at home and the suppers to be cooked.
With thanks from Ma, promises of help in quilting to another friend, reluctant farewells to Sophronia, or the joy of having her stay over till Sunday, and the house suddenly seemed quiet and empty.

After supper Ma'd start sewing the binding around the edges of the quilt. "Haven't you worked at that enough today? Let it rest." Pa'd say. "I'm so anxious to have it done." Would be Ma's reply.

Warm quilts, warm hearts, helping hands, lovely memories.