Quilting Your Family’s History
Do you have a quilt in your closet with no clue who made it or why? Or maybe you have a stack of clothes from a loved one that you’d like to make into a quilt? Either way, a quilt can be a lasting way of preserving memories.
I have a rich heritage of quilting in my family. Four generations of women snipped and sewed to create colorful and practical quilts that are a piece of our family’s history. Starting with my great grandmother’s, here are four different quilts and the lessons I’ve learned from each one.
Quilt #1 Discover the story behind the quilt
Selena Beddoes Kelsey
I grew up seeing this quilt in my grandmother’s home. I loved the black velvet and the fancy fabrics in the squares. When my grandmother passed away, my mother inherited the quilt. Just assuming that my grandmother had made it, I finally asked my mother about the history of the quilt and discovered that the squares were actually made by my Great Grandmother, Selena Beddoes Kelsey.
Born in England in 1864, Selena immigrated as a young girl with her parents in 1868, settling in Springville, Utah. She was a true pioneer and probably made many quilts to keep her family warm in the hard Utah winters. Those quilts are long gone, but in her later years, she pieced together squares of velvet and beautiful fabrics. In a collaborative effort, her daughter-in-law, my Grandmother Florence Creer Kelsey, sewed the squares together and finished this quilt. I love this example of service by my grandmother and am grateful that she preserved Great Grandma Selena’s handiwork.
Quilt #2 Gain Insight into your Ancestor
Florence Matilda Creer Kelsey
I made many quilts over the years, mainly out of scraps of wool I’d used to make coats and other clothes for the children. The batting would come from our sheep; sometimes I’d pick it from the fences and off of the ground. I’d wash and cord it. I would put the quilt up in the kitchen to be quilted and the neighbor ladies would come to help. (Personal History of Florence Matilda Creer Kelsey)
I knew my Grandmother Florence well, at least as well as a child can know an elderly grandparent. We spent every Sunday afternoon at her home and she came to our home for holidays where she loved to listen to me play the piano. She sewed my sister and me a nightgown every Christmas and shared my love of reading and books.
My Grandma Florence attended LDS business college in 1914 and became a teacher and librarian. Her life changed drastically when she agreed to marry my grandfather and ended up homesteading in southern Idaho in a one room house.
Florence took on the challenge of a rough farm life all while raising six children. She traded her fancy clothes for work dresses and spent long days taking care of animals, a garden, a home, and children. With three girls, she still found the time to design and sew fashionable clothing: wool skirts, jackets, blouses, dresses. Seldom using a pattern, she could make anything. Even in her elderly years she continued to sew and create beautiful pillows, quilts, pillowcases.
Hidden away in my mother’s closet, I discovered this gem of a quilt made by Grandma Florence in the 1930’s. Really heavy, this quilt kept my mother and her sister warm in their little unheated bedroom. I love that my grandmother used leftover fabrics from the jackets and skirts of her girls and designed a colorful as well as utilitarian quilt. Despite the rigors of raising a family on a working farm, she created beauty from the bits and pieces of her life.
Quilt #3 Carrying on the Tradition
My mother, Anna Mae Kelsey Shults and me
My mother followed in her mother’s footsteps and sewed dresses for my sister and me all through our growing up years. She happened upon this quilt pattern in the 70’s and made a quilt using fabric from the dresses she had sewed for me. I love matching up the quilt blocks to the dresses I remember wearing.
Not only did my mother carry on the tradition of sewing and quilting, she had a great love of her family’s history and preserved photos, stories, and mementos that I now treasure.
Quilt #4 My Dad’s Memory Quilt
My dad, Bobby Gene Shults and me
When my dad passed away, almost five years ago, my sister gathered up his distinctive blue jeans and button-down shirts so we could make memory quilts. A cowboy at heart, we picked out a cotton print complete with horses, hats, and spurs to balance the denim and plaids. As we cut and sewed, we shared memories of our dad’s sense of humor, kindness, and love of family. The extra squares became pillows – one for each of my children to remember their grandpa. Maybe fifty years from now, my great granddaughter will spread out my quilt and wonder about me and the love I have for my dad.
If you have a quilt in your family’s history. Don’t wait to discover the story behind it. You might be surprised to learn about the ancestor who made it. Make sure you take a picture of it and upload it to your ancestor’s page on Family Tree to share with all of your cousins.
Maybe you’ll be the one quilting your family’s history. Have a t-shirt collection? Scraps from dolls dresses? The sky’s the limit when it comes to quilts. My next project will be a quilt from the nightgowns my grandmother made me, yes, my mother saved them for me! I am blessed to have this heritage of women who put their creativity into quilts that I can wrap around me and feel their strength and love.
Have fun quilting your family history!
My brother wrapped in Grandma Selena’s quilt, my little sister, and me. Some of my Grandma Florence’s quilting under the tree.