By Shannon (Sosebee) McChristian
My Grandma Sosebee always had a quilting frame up in her house. It occurred to me recently that my future grandchildren may never even see a quilting frame, when it was such a regular and expected part of my own childhood. The quilting frame has gone the way of working large gardens and canning the food picked from them. There are still a few hold-outs who hang on to these traditions, but for the most part they have gone the way of the eight track tape and wall mounted telephone, fading into a time that is quickly becoming history.
The quilting frame of my childhood was a perfect indoor fort for us grandchildren, although Grandma would shoo us away if she caught us playing beneath it. I can remember laying quietly underneath the frame until she came to sneak in a few stitches, then grabbing her ankles and giggling as she squealed. If you multiply the grief I gave her by eight, which is how many grandkids she had under foot at one time or another, it’s amazing that I don’t ever remember her raising her voice to me in anger.
My grandparents didn’t have much money, but my first lesson in a charity cause was my Grandma’s church quilting circle. I must have been about ten when I understood how much money a quilt could be “raffled” for when the church ladies finished it. It was shocking to me to think that something I used just to wrap up in the floor on Sunday mornings and watch cartoons, could be worth that kind of money. I had stacks of things Grandma had sewn and quilted for me in my closet. I was suddenly inspired to take her up on the sewing lessons she constantly offered me. I saw a great money making opportunity and couldn’t understand why Grandma wasn’t rich!
After many hours of her patient tutelage and my sore and bloodied fingers, I decided the time and effort needed wasn’t worth the earning potential. Quilting was quiet and tedious work. More work than my ten year old self wanted. I was soon ready to rejoin my brother and my boy cousins outside again, to chase chickens and fish in Grandpa’s pond.
Grandma often sewed baby clothes, hats and tiny quilts for the newest grandchild, dresses and shirts for the adults, and beautiful handmade doilies in between. Almost anything you could think of or need, she could find a pattern for. I can close my eyes and still see stacks of patterns, boxes of buttons, and multiple rolls of brightly colored yarn. On Sunday afternoons after a big lunch, the bolts of fabric would come out and she would share her latest projects. Occasionally a finished quilt would be brought out for all of us to “ooh and ahh” over.
Grandma always had “scrap” bags, and nothing was ever wasted at her house. This was a lady who saved every butter tub and bread bag she over purchased, and was amazed at ziplock bags. She carefully washed and reused every one many times. Grandma didn’t worry too much about decorating her house or how things looked. Every item stacked in her cabinets had a function and could be used many times. The things that had no oblivious use “might come in handy” and were saved for “someday when we may need that.” Left over food was scraped off the kids plates and fed to Grandpa the next day, then his leftovers were saved for the animals. Milk cartons were used for all kinds of good uses, cut and reshaped in every way I could imagine- and some I couldn’t.
The point is that my Grandma had a good imagination and lots of ingenuity long before Pinterest was ever thought of. Oh, what she could have done if she had been able to Google “uses for quilt scraps!”
As the oldest granddaughter and only girl in a houseful of boys, I had full access to the quilt scrap bags, and Grandma often encouraged me on one small sewing project or another, but I never developed her skill or natural talent for quilting. How I would love to sit in her lap again as she patiently guided my fingers and pulled out my crooked stitches.
Grandma’s social life, what little there was, centered around her little country church. And only as an adult did I understand how she must have looked forward to her afternoon quilting sessions with the other ladies. This was the closest thing to a support group or therapy session she ever took part in. These ladies prayed for each other, cooked for each other, and helped raise each others kids. They talked quietly for hours at a time, sharing recipes and concerns about bills and cranky husbands. Many times in my daily life I long for a quilting circle of my own. I think my generation lost a treasured resource when we decided life needed to move a little faster…and in the process we gave up quiet afternoons in church fellowship halls, with our children playing at our feet, surrounded by women who loved and supported us.
My birthday was last week (they come faster and faster these days) and I came home from work to find a handmade eight foot tall quilt rack that my dad had built for me. Today I spent this cold winter morning unpacking my Grandmas quilts and hanging them one by one over the rails, all the way to the ceiling. So many sweet memories are stitched into every piece of material. I can lay my hands on her straight even rows and feel so close to her. Some of the quilts still have county fair ribbons hanging on them. I had to swipe them from her house when she wasn‘t paying attention- as she doesn’t see the value of ribbons. Some have my name and the date they were completed stitched discreetly into a corner. One or two of the quilts are very tattered and old. After my house burned, she gave me those particular ones to replace the many I had lost in the fire. She had quilted them as a little girl with her own Grandmother. These quilts are some of my greatest treasures on earth.
If she walked into my office right now, she would be puzzled and a little disappointed, as she always thought she had failed when we displayed a quilt instead of using it. She would be polite about it, but in her heart she thought it was “wasteful.” She made the quilts to keep her family warm. She knew what it was to be hungry and cold. Therefore much of her life was spent canning food for our bellies and quilts for our beds. It was how she tried to show us her love. If I could make her believe one thing today, it is that she was very successful.
My grandma could not imagine a world when I would hang all these quilts on a rack just to look at every day. I often wonder what she would say about the waste I see every day. I don’t think she understands it, and I’m glad she doesn’t.
Lately I’ve been wondering what my own grandchildren will inherit from me someday. Sadly, it won’t be my quilting or canning skills. But I know I can tell them my stories. Stories of the many generations of love they come from. Stories of heartbreak and happiness, hard work and ingenuity. I can tell them about their sweet little great- great grandmother, and I can show them what she could accomplish with just a bag of scraps, a patient heart, and a little love!