Category Archives: Quilting

The Lost Art of Self-Reliance

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Knowing how to sew and make one’s own clothes is one step toward being self reliant; knowing how to grow and preserve one’s own food is another. My grandmother grew up in the post-depression era, and her family was heavily impacted by the Great Depression. They learned how to take care of themselves.

There were many skills that were deemed necessary for survival, but the most important was, as my grandmother said, “all of them.” One of the great many skills that my grandmother utilized quite heavily was the art of sewing and cloth making. She used to, and still continues, to make her own clothes and quilts. It is not a skill that one forgets when it is used to survive the harsh times; the clothes that she makes represent a lifetime of fending for one’s self. The stitchings in her work show a level of mastery that can only be rivaled by the modern mass made sewing machines. The amount of time and art that is put into the making of her clothes shows a level of determination that has all but disappeared in today’s society.

The life that many Americans lead in these modern times is one of mass production and mass waste. In the Depression Era there was little to no waste, and anything and everything that could be saved was saved and reused later. The amount of things that people were able to use time and time again was tremendous! Some food preservation techniques were advanced and effective. Take the art of canning.  Canning was a very effective method of food preservation. It allowed for things such as jellies and fruits to be preserved for long periods of time without spoiling. Canning was a tremendous breakthrough for the world of food preservation and was utilized by many, many people to save all that they could. My Grandmother is among them.

My grandmother has been described by many as “eccentric” because she does numerous things to prepare for times of crisis, such as growing her own food. The art of growing one’s own food has been around for centuries, and it allows for individuals to be reliant on themselves. This activity today tends to make people think of something that is “unique” or unneeded. Some people tend to rely heavily on the almighty supermarket, oftentimes spending hundreds of dollars just to have food for only a few weeks. However, by raising their own food, like my grandmother, they would be able to eat for months for a rather small amount of money.

My grandmother still uses the skills she learned as she grew up in the Post-Depression Era. She can make her own clothes and her own quilts, she can grow and preserve her own food, and she knows how make it through tough times. She is truly a shining example of self-reliance in the world of today.

Quilting in the Lowe Household

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Between this generation’s fast-paced lifestyle and technologically-centered world, we often neglect the memories of the past, especially those of our local communities.  The stories of those before us are quickly fading into the background, and it is our duty to document these accounts before it is too late.  When you first look at a quilt, you may not think it has much of a historical significance.  With a second glance, however, you can see that quilting can reveal a lot about the lifestyles of the time periods in which they were popular.  Marlene Lowe, 92, was gracious enough to provide an interview on the subject.

Marlene Lowe was born on January 22, 1920 in Anderson, MO. Quilting was a hobby that was close to her heart in her youth.  She mentioned that some of her favorite memories of her mother were during those times.1

“[She] was always busy taking care of all the kids at our house, so when she sat down to quilt, it was one of the few times I got to really spend time with her,” Lowe recalled.  “She’d tell me all the stories from when she was a little girl and teach me how to stitch each piece together.”1

“My mother was always quilting,” she said.  “She’d call up the ladies down the road and they’d come over and spend hours just quilting and talking about what was going on in town.  I’d sit and watch the whole time, listening to everything they had to teach me.”1

Lowe learned quilting from her mother when she was a young girl, and often spent time working on projects with her.  She made her very first quilt when she was ten years old, an item she still has in her possession today.  Her pride for that project was easily seen on her face as she described how she had constructed it, stitch by stitch.1

“It was a pretty thing,” she said, “made from a dress of mine that had little flowers all over it. I spent hours on it, making sure every piece was in the right place.  It was a lot of work, but the satisfaction I got when I was finished made it well worth the effort.” Lowe continued to quilt as she grew older, but was eventually forced to stop due to her arthritis.1

The process by which the quilts were fashioned is also interesting in itself.

“My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” Lowe explained.  “We couldn’t afford to buy fabric from the stores, so we used old clothing.  I was the youngest in my family, so I got all my sisters’ hand-me-downs.  When I outgrew them, my mother would cut them up and take whatever fabric she could from them to make a new quilt.”1

According to her description, making a quilt was an extensive process.  To begin, it was best to lay all of the pieces onto the floor in order to see the entire quilt. Then, piece by piece, women would stitch every seam by hand, unless the quilter was fortunate enough to be able to afford a sewing machine.  Batting, a soft material used as padding, was then stitched to the patterned front.  Another large piece of fabric was added behind that, and all seams were stitched over once more to ensure everything was secure.1

Quilts were heavily used throughout the Lowe household.

“We used those quilts constantly in the winter,” she recounted.  “We had a wood stove, but it was hard to keep the whole house warm.  We’d put three or four quilts on our bed at a time to make sure we stayed warm during the night.”1

This was common during the 1930s.  The Depression was gripping the nation at the time, and money was hard to come by, as the Lowe household knew very well.  Quilts were an inexpensive way to guarantee that the entire family stayed warm.  This was also the time period when quilting patterns became extremely popular.  Quilters no longer had to trace pattern pieces and mark lines for cutting and sewing.  It was common for patterns to be sold in local grocery stores or distributed in magazines. If a pattern was purchased, it was typically shared with friends.2 This activity not only gives insight into the hobbies of those that lived in the World War II era, but also marks the stories of the lifestyle during one of our nation’s most defining periods.

Quilting was a large part of our national and local history that is often overlooked today, like many aspects of our former times. It is important that we ensure these details are documented before they are gone forever.  We as a generation must learn to look to our future, while never forgetting our past .

 

1. Lowe, Marlene. “Quilting in the Lowe Household.” Personal interview. 24 Nov. 2012.

2. MacDowell, Marsha. “Quilting in the 1930s.” RJR Fabrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov.

2012. <http://www.rjrfabrics.com/_media/patterns/pdf/pages/trip_world_03.pdf>.

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