Connie’s Third Quilt

28 09 2014

Here is the third quilt Connie inherited from her Auntie. As I worked on finishing it, I reflected on “utility quilts.” Do we make utility quilts today, or do we tend to make “pretty” quilts?

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Back in the day, folks did not have central heating or electric blankets. When winter arrived, you piled as many quilts as you owned on the bed in order to keep warm. My grandmother told me she and her sisters had so many heavy quilts on the bed, they couldn’t even turn over!

What did folks make utility quilts out of? Any fabric they had on hand! Worn or outgrown clothing, scraps from dressmaking or home dec projects, feedsacks … whatever. My husband’s grandmother’s relatives worked in a textile factory making shirts and pajamas. The fabric pieces were die cut through multiple layers, and the workers were allowed to bring home the sometimes sizeable scraps. These leftovers found their way into many a utility quilt to keep mountain folks warm during the frigid Virginia winters.

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Besides keeping the family warm in the wintertime, a utility quilt could be used as a pallet on the living room floor for a sleepy child, a summer picnic blanket, a wrap for an ailing cow or horse, a cushion for furniture in a moving truck, and a tent draped over the clothesline for imaginative cousins to play in.

In this quilt, Connie’s aunt used a lot of light weight home decorating fabrics, manufactured for sheets or curtains, I surmise. Did she or a friend work in a textile mill, generous with fabric scraps? I am baffled by her decision to sew four of the same fabric together for many of the patches. Did she want to make a bigger splash of color than conventional Four Patches would make?

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For the backing of this utility quilt, I used yardage of a pink tone-on-tone garnered from my guild’s free table. In keeping with the utilitarian nature of the quilt, I used a utilitarian over-all quilting design in pink thread. The freehand design shows up well on the back of the quilt.

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You can see pictures of utility quilts online; just type “images of utilitarian quilts” or “images of utility quilts” in your browser. Disclaimer: Some of the images shown are not of utility quilts; you’ll be able to tell the difference between a utility quilt and a quilt for show.

Do you have a utility quilt in your collection? If so, describe it in a comment below.

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3 responses

28 09 2014
quiltzone10

Good column, Aby! I remember sleeping at my Grandma Stewart’s under such a pile of quilts. The only heat in the house was the potbellied stove in the main living room. At bedtime, wrestling to get under the quilts was one thing, trying to get out in the middle of the night to use the ice cold chamber pot was quite another – especially if you were the one stuck in the middle of the bed! Getting back into position was another trick as well. But we were WARM & TOASTY. She made the first quilt I ever owned. It was a fan quilt with a yellow border. It’s demise after a beach trip in San Diego was one of the saddest days of my life. I knew little about quilt care then and had put it in the washer; it was about 20 years old then and thin – the washer destroyed it. I think we’re too lax about giving care instructions to people who get our quilts/wall hangings, thinking they’ll “know” how to take care of them. Most won’t know. Even if it’s machine washable the first few years, extra care needs to be taken after that for a quilt to survive. Sorry to go on this rant – seemed to be important. Love you! Beth

28 09 2014
farmquilter

I try to make pretty quilts that will be loved to death over the years! Great post!

28 09 2014
quiltiferous

I usually know at the outset whether I’m sewing up something meant for the wall or to be drug around! The wall or display only quilt gets nice quilting, a hand sewn binding, and other little finishing touches. A drag around gets a meander stitch, a machine binding, and is usually made from scraps and sale fabrics. I don’t have access to mill scraps, but there are plenty of sale fabrics in my stash! In a way, these drag around quilts are a new version of “utility” quilts. Time changes our methods, but maybe not the end result!

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