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An adult lesson in a child's doll quilt

My mother's mother was a quilter, although I doubt she would have introduced herself – or maybe even thought of herself – that way. She was a farmer's wife, and quilting was only one of her ways of "making do."

She also sewed all the clothes for her brood of six, and she turned 50-pound flour sacks into handy dish towels. In my mind's eye, I can see her sitting at her treadle sewing machine, her feet moving up and down so quickly her shoes were a blur.

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Unlike today's quilters, who can command large sums for their handiwork, I don't think my grandmother made any pin money from selling her quilts. All the other farm wives also quilted, and city folks in those days didn't see hand-sewn quilts as anything special. If they bought quilts, it was because they were useful, and they expected them to be cheap – after all, they were made from scrap fabric, weren't they?

When I was about 6, my grandmother pieced together a quilt for my dolls' bed. I'm ashamed to admit it today, but I really didn't appreciate it – I wanted something shiny and new from a store.

Now, of course, I wish that I had been gentle and careful with it. Still, I feel a little better knowing I wasn't alone in my rough treatment. The MassQuilters told Ross Atkin, who wrote today's story on old quilts (see page 14), that doll coverlets were among the quilts least likely to survive, given their hard use.

On one hand, that's a shame. It's a loss of a small part of American women's history. On the other hand, quilts were made for a utilitarian purpose. I suspect that my very practical grandmother wouldn't have been the least bit unhappy to know that I no longer own her doll quilt because it wore out.


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