Saturday, November 21, 2015

Heirlooms: Quilts and Embroidery

My maternal grandmother was an excellent seamstress. She kept her nine children in homemade clothes through much of their time growing up. Many of her daughters' dresses were made from the lining of seed bags Grandpa bought to feed the chickens, cows, and pigs. I find it amazing the fine embroidery, cutwork, and smocking stitching she could do with such large, hardworking hands.

Wilhelmina (Schalin) Lange, Grandma Lange, in the living room of their
farmhouse doing what she loved best, fine embroidery. Personal collection

My mother began sewing when she was just a young slip of a girl and made her first dress when she was nine years old. She had tailor-quality sewing skills and could make bound button holes and all types of difficult pockets. My kindergarten teacher had spent the previous summer in Scotland and came home with several bolts of beautiful tweeds and heathered wool fabrics. One day she commented on my lovely dresses and dotted Swiss pinafores. I told her my Mother made all my clothes. (She sewed practically all summer for a new school year.) Mrs. Huth asked my mother to make her suits from the fabric she brought back from Scotland. Mom made three suits and said until the day she died that her tailoring got me through kindergarten!

Mom taught me how to embroider during the summer of 1965 when my cousin's family left for Iran and I was feeling very lonely without my best playmate, Joyce. I worked on a large cross-stitch piece that took all summer to finish. It was amazingly sloppy at the bottom, where I started, but by the end of the summer my stitching was almost as good as Mom's.

Mom's cutwork pillowcases, which she embroidered when she was 12
years old; personal collection

Though Mom made a baby quilt for me with appliqué and embroidery, she really didn't start quilting until much later in life. Dad's Mom lived next door and began quilting. Dad made her a quilting frame she kept in her screen porch/sunroom and Mom decided to re-teach herself how to quilt. It would a good way to visit with her mother-in-law and the frame Dad made would get more use.  Of course, she began with one of the most difficult patterns, Cathedral Windows.

Mom's Cathedral Window quilt, which I use from time to time in a guest
room with her cutwork pillowcases; personal collection

The second quilt I have is one Mom and I made. I did the cross-stitch panels of wild flowers and she did the quilt assembly and sewed the bed skirt in a coordinating fabric. This quilt was on my bed for much of my single life and then did duty in a guest bedroom in our two houses.

Our cross-stitch wildflower quilt in the guest room of the house in which
we lived from 1988-2004; personal collection

A guest bedroom in our current home right after we moved in 2004; personal

All the furniture and the rug from this room were recently sold through Craig's List as we are getting ready to turn this room into a master bedroom walk-in closet. The quilt and bedskirt, however, have been saved. I'm hoping my nephew's wife will one day want them for my only (to date) grand niece when she is ready for a big girl bed. If she does not want the quilt, perhaps my youngest nephew and his wife will someday have a baby girl!

Jeanne Byran Insalaco, author of Everyone Has a Story, challenged fellow geneabloggers to write about their family heirlooms during the month of November.

Heirlooms: Tiffany? Chandelier
Heirlooms: The Olive Wood Bible 
Memories Are My Favorite Heirlooms


  1. Love, Love your story as it touches me as my grandmother was a quilter, but unfortunately I wasn't around during those quilting days. I have stories coming later on her quilting.

  2. Love the Cathedral Window. It was one of the first one's my mother ever made.

  3. Wonderful story sharing a family tradition. My grandmother and great-grandmother were also quilters and I treasure the quilts they made. I almost forgot to include those in my list of heirlooms.

  4. What a great story! I love those cut work pillowcases! How did she do that?

  5. That was so heartwarming and beautiful. I have so much respect for you all knowing how to do embroidery quilting and sewing. What wonderful gifts you have.

  6. I love the quilting work. I have a couple of my husband's great grandmother's quilts, which have stood the test of time. I also quilt, but am only an advanced beginner. A great family story to share!