Friday, October 1, 2010

Fish n Baskets Quilt: A family story

I've been away from blogging for too long and today -- the first day of a new month -- my marriage month -- seems the perfect time to jump back in. I need to stay focused on the beautiful art of quilts and fabric and find a respite from the fears and uncertainty of daily life.

As many of you know my husband has ALS -- an incurable, untreatable, degenerative disease where 100 percent of the patients die. But his is slow progressing and he's doing marvelously right now with some assistive devices and a wife who refuses to allow him to die because he hasn't written his will, yet.

But now we're focusing on the fun stuff and forgetting disease.

Recently the fun and delight of fabric and quilts has come home to my house. In the 1980s Mom found a UFO that was passed on to her by her mother. It was/is a pieced basket quilt top.

Recently my 98 year old mother informed me that my 'Fish and Baskets' quilts that I've dearly loved for all of these years wasn't pieced by my grandmother, but was pieced by HER grandmother. So what I thought was probably made in the 1900s was most probably made in the 1800s. I'm taking a new look at this quilt and some quilt historians and appraisers are doing the same.

The little Fish and Baskets quilt came to be named thus because my Great Grandma Leah Hetrick made a mistake. She put one of those basket squares on sideways when she was piecing the squares together and didn't notice until she had several rows completed. (Photo 3 shows the fish)

I believe I inherited Leah's dislike for ripping and redoing things. Instead of ripping and fixing, she tossed it into the 'later if ever' pile of items to be fixed or repaired or forgotten. I'm so glad she did. And I'm glad Mom is a packrat and did not throw out that 'rag' that she found among her mother's possessions. That little fish makes all the difference to us and endeared it to my two sons who were too old for 'blankets' and too young for girls at the time of the quilt's first appearance. They were the ones who named it the Fish and Baskets quilt based on a Sunday School lesson.

Mom took that little top and added a wide brown border, muslin backing, and hand quilting before binding it and sending it home to our house. She saw it as utilitarian. I saw it as a family heirloom, a piece of family history and promptly added a sleeve to the back and hung it on the wall for all to see. Mom wasn't pleased with that choice because all she saw were the uneven stitches, the wavy border, the things she should have ripped out and done right but didn't see the need since it was old and utilitarian. Poor Mom. She and I never did think alike.

Not only did the quilt offer a sense of family, it habored its own little secret. I stumbled on it one evening when insomnia sent me searching for some herb tea. Times were tough, money in short supply and my husband had been a casualty of massive layoffs. I needed a sign that better times were around the corner, things could change for the better.

Moonlight streamed in the window highlighting the quilt, but it wasn't MY quilt. It was a geometric aberration with Grecian urn shapes and triangles. It was the sign I needed. I herded my sleepy men down stairs to see the quilt's transformation and we shared a moment that brought our family together in a lasting way.

Our Fish and Baskets quilt has been tucked away for the past few years. But when Mom dropped her bombshell on me, I had to take it out and look at it again. This time I'm asking the experts to date the fabrics. According to the family story the fabrics are leftovers from the shirts that were made for my grandmother's five brothers. So anyone who wants to wade in or comment about the quilt, fabrics, possible date, era, or the unusual pattern. Please do! Note the strange green fabric in photo number 4 -- this is that illusionary background that steps forward at night.

Several have wanted to see the photos that I posted on my Facebook page. So here they are for your enjoyment. I've taken close ups of several of the fabrics in hope you can get a date from them. Almost every basket is of a different fabric.

Also, one of the many essays I've written about this quilt (before finding out about Great Grandma's hand in the making of this) can be found at the Christian Science Monitor's archives. It is titled "A patchwork of warmth and hope -- in 10-inch squares."

I hope you enjoy my little Fish and Baskets quilt. I'd love to hear about your quilts and their stories!


quiltingnana said...

what a great story about the quilt!!! a true heirloom

Bee said...

You have been away too long! You have been missed. I love this quilt's story and the fish block! I hope you are able to accurately date this wonderful quilt.

Dawn said...

Thank you Bee for saying I've been away too long. :) It is good to be missed. Thank you.

I hope to get the blog humming along again. We also have some lively conversations on Subversive Stitchers facebook page, too.

I'm just so thrilled about this little quilt and all it represents for me. And I'm glad others enjoy the story as well.

Sandra said...

I would date it circa 1885. One of the tell-tale fabrics is the red with black flowers known as a 'garibaldi print' and printed from 1875-1900.

Sandra Starley
AQS Certified Quilt Appraiser
Moab, Utah

Unknown said...

The "perceptual play" of the quilt is a lovely aspect of quilts and other items that show how women can transcend their Cognitive frame/contexts and make new things out of "nothing". This cognitive shift that happens at night is a function of perceptual shifting which is a neurological even enhanced by the lighting. You have probably seen it in the form of the old woman/young woman diagram or the wine glass/lovers one.
As an educator I find these skills fascinating because not everyone can do it...and I wonder if it was planned or accidental. You have a very valuable quilt from a technical point of view. Your great grandmother was probably very intelligent and creative!
love your blog.
marlene atleo
University of Manitoba

BunkHouseQuilts said...

What a lovely and priceless heirloom you have. I love the fish and by it's lonely exhistance, makes it very special. I am interested to your appraisers have to say.

Love your blog, have been following it for about a year.
Ann Wight

liniecat said...

What a perefectly lovely story and a clever play on the design layout! It works beautifully called that!
I reckon Id rather have a quilt thats got an honest to gooness 'imperfection in it to be honest, cos it somehow exemplifies that its personally been
made by someone and little errors are part of life arent they!
Mistakes occur and how wecope with them is great comment on our natures? Do we take it apart in this case and strive for a perfect rendition?
Or we do accept that there are disapointments and failures in life and how we make the best of them is as important as how we succeed in making things go just right?
Its a lovely thing to own, your very lucky!

Pattyskypants said...

I'm LOVIN' it! It's the sorta thing I would do -- definitely! One block all askew, or two exact "charm" patches together -- definitely my style. But I'm the one who would say "So WHAT!" So EXACTLY! That's my style; that's me; you're lookin' at my quilt. Snuggle under it and let it make you WARM with LOVE! xxoo

Bluebethley said...

A wonderful, inspirational article, Dawn. I love how your understanding of the quilt changed over time, deepening the bonds between generations and nurturing family throughout.

Anonymous said...

A beautiful quilt that captures all of what makes quilts so beloved. I love your horizon-expanding blog. Thank you. Prayers for you and your husband.

Andrea in Minnesota