Monday, June 26, 2006

Pieces of the Past

On the way home from singing during the first service at Church I saw this sign:

I practically did a U-turn in the street. The road wound down through vineyards, around a bend or two and through a ranch gate with the name Crows Roost hanging from the top. Hmmm... I would've named it Crows Nest or Ravens Roost, but that's just me.

The content of the sale was displayed in an open sided barn, spread out on tables and on planks laid across sawhorses. There was the usual collection of the flotsam and jetsam of a person's life that you usually see at garage sales; the kitchen utensil drawer and kitchen cabinet bric-a-brac, the health and beauty aids corner, the old books, LP's, eight-tracks and miscellaneous entertainment items. Nothing very interesting really. Though the prices were attractive.

As I was browsing the contents of what must've been a drawer from the kitchen I came across a very black pair of scissors with an ornate handle. It was obvious the handles were sterling silver and would probably polish up nicely. The tool had one blade and one flat, more like a pair of nippers than shears. I had no idea what they were used for, or what /I/ would use them for, but they were just so pretty.

I offered the woman a dollar and she said "Okay." I had a really nice time polishing them and wondering what they're used for. Now they hang in my sewing room ~~ Just because.

On the way home from singing at the second service I saw a tiny hand lettered sign that said, "Garage Sale" with a second line added below it: "Everything HALF off!" The day was warming up and it was already in the 90's at 11 am, so I figured they wanted to get done and get out of the heat.

This Garage sale was actually held in the garage. A collection that was obviously from an older person's home. The colored prints on the bed linens and the calico aprons, plus the titles on the hard bound books were the clues. There was a lot of Christmas stuff, which never interests me and the prices were high. But then I spotted a collection of old tyme quilt blocks! I got so excited. They were in with the white elephant stuff, under some mixing bowls... no price. That either meant they wanted more than I could spring for, or they didn't know what they had. The piecework was by hand, very poorly done, but the fabrics were wonderful! Old browns, turkey reds and indigo blues. Nine patches, strip pieced blocks and a half finished log cabin block. There were dozens of Nine patches. I bet I could rework them.

I made small talk with the three women at the table. They were in their 60's and these were their mother's things. I made comments about the costume jewelry on the table by the cash box, I asked how long they'd lived in Ukiah Valley, I enjoyed their stories. Finally I said, "Will you take two bucks for these?" "Sure." (!) I couldn't believe it.

Now granted these colors don't appeal to everybody. I mean, why would you want to work with these drab somber colors when you can go to the local fabric store or quilt shop and buy new yardage in any color or amount you want? But it's the feeling that I'm touching history that gets to me.

Bless her heart, whoever she was. The hand stitching on the piecework is so bad. There's no attention paid to direction or grain, no consistency of seam allowance, no fine cotton thread used here, but coarse, black buttonhole twist weight. But somebody, somewhere once sat down and stitched these pieces together using what she had.

My experience with old quilts told me these pieces might be circa 1880. So I went to my trusty Dating Fabrics: A Color Guide and took a look. Scrappy utility quilts usually span many years of fabric. Some of the browns and turkey reds definitely place these blocks in the last quarter of the previous century. But the double blues and some of the pinks bring it into the first quarter of the last century. The fact that there are black prints also lead me to think it's more likely to be circa 1910 than 1880. But even then, the fabrics are approximately 90 years old.

There are 40-six inch Nine patches. Most of them are threaded on a string to keep them together. I've read about doing that, but never bothered because I have boxes, bags and bins to put my patchwork in. But in 1910, this woman didn't have Ziploc or Sterilite.

I've begun reverse engineering the blocks. I don't feel guilty about undoing the work. The stitching is irregular, the seams are puckered and the blocks don't lay flat, not a single one. Pretty soon I'll have enough vintage fabric to recreate this patchwork. It'll feel like I knew the woman that made these, because when you undo someone's work, you get a chance to wonder about them. What did she think about as she worked on these blocks? What did she dream about? I bet she wasn't that different from me in some ways. She had hopes and disappointments. Her life had its' ups and downs. And in this we have become sister quilters.


Su Bee said...

WOW!! If that dosen't make your day/week/month!!! Congratulations on a great find - can't wait to see!

Anonymous said...

I love reading about your great "finds" and energy in recreating the patchwork and I really,really love those "sterling sissors" !

Anonymous said...

Woop's I forgot to sign my name on my comment!

Lucy said...

Wow what a treasure to find !! And Yes I have also something with the past .. I can dream so much with old pieces blocks etc.etc...

The colors are so speicla in these blocks.. mmmm