Completing a century of quilting

Lap quilting Grandma's Garden

Lap quilting Grandma’s Garden

In December I began hand quilting a Grandma’s Garden quilt my grandmother began to assemble about a century ago. This month I finished the task. Throughout, I was literally wrapped in history as I held the quilt on my lap and took each stitch. 

The flowers that comprise this quilt spent nearly 90 years in my maternal grandmother Mary Elizabeth Haylock Jensen’s trunk. After my grandfather died of the Spanish flu in 1918, Grandma packed many mementos of her family and childhood into a large trunk that moved with her from place to place as she worked to provide for herself and her two daughters. She never remarried.

Eventually the trunk found a home on the farm I grew up on in Jackson County, Iowa. Grandma Jensen lived with us during the summers and with her other daughter (my aunt Joyce) during the school months. After my grandmother died, when my parents retired from the farm to live in Preston, Iowa, they brought the trunk with them, moving it lock, stock, and still unopened into the basement of their home in town. My mother—Ruby Belle Jensen Denter—probably knew what was in her mother’s trunk, but she never dealt with the contents until after my father died in 1999.

Then she opened the trunk and out came a treasure of old quilt pieces, enough to assemble a dozen quilts of different designs. The products of not only my grandmother’s work before she married in 1914, but also of her mother’s work. We have reason to believe that at least two of them-a crazy quilt so fragile pieces of taffeta and silk literally crumble to the touch and a pineapple quilt-were made by my great-grandmother Lydia Belle Luckey Haylock sometime between 1875 and 1910.

Grandma's Garden quilt detail

Grandma’s Garden quilt detail

At the time my mother retrieved the quilts from Grandma’s trunk, her eyesight was failing from macular degeneration. She wanted the quilts completed and she turned to me, though I have little quilting experience.  I turned to my sister in law Anita Gogerty, an accomplished quilter. Anita consented to put the quilt pieces together if I would do the quilting.

The projects required a varying degree of work. The Grandma’s Garden, with its hundreds of hexagons required more effort than any other. It was one I actually never imagined would be finished.  Anita took me totally by surprise when she brought it to me after Thanksgiving last year. 

Almost every night, I sat working on the quilt, thinking about the colors, marveling at the hand stitching, imagining my grandmother’s life. Every night I worked on the quit, my appreciation grew for the vintage fabrics, for what having such a treasure meant to our family and our history. I felt a tremendous responsibility to my grandmother, to my mother, and to the quilts. And I felt honored to contribute to the history of these quilts.

I am pleased that some of my ancestors’ quilt story is finally outside the trunk for others to enjoy.

Grandmas Garden Quilt Genealogy
Carol Ann Denter Bodensteiner (1948 – ) & Anita Gogerty
Ruby Belle Jensen Denter (1916-2008)
Mary Elizabeth Haylock Jensen (1891-1972)
Lydia Belle Luckey Haylock (1857-1916)

Comments

  1. A.D.Trosper says:

    That is beautiful. I loved reading about the quilts.

  2. Thanks, Audra. It’s been an amazing experience working these quilts, knowing they are so old.

    • A.D.Trosper says:

      I know the feeling. I get it every time I cook with my old cast iron. My oldest pan was my grandmother’s. It originally belonged to her grandmother. So it is a very old pan with lots of history in it. And it is still in beautiful condition.

  3. Carol nice story. I remember your grandmother Jensen very well and I am sure that finishing the quilt was a labor of love for you. What a great item to pass on to your grand daughters.

    • Thanks, Mike. Since you knew Grandma Jensen, you may also imagine the range of emotions such a project brought to the surface! The time I have spent with the quilts she started created greater empathy in me for her life. Sure would like to talk to her now.

  4. Carol, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve walked into an estate sale and found a box of quilt pieces that someone was getting rid of. I often wondered at the memories held in them, but never felt drawn to them as you obviously are drawn to those family heirlooms waiting to be assembled. You have completed a treasure, one that hopefully will be appreciated by generations to come. You do sense the book in all this, don’t you?

    • Oh, yes, Sherrey, I do feel the book! In fact the grandmother who started these quilts is the genesis of the novel I’m writing now. The quilts were doing a fine job of inspiring me.

      Discussion of this post has generated more ideas – some fiction, some non-fiction. Laurie Sargent alerted me to author Kathi Macias who’s written three novels based on quilts. Here’s a link to her blog: http://findinggoddaily.com/tag/the-moses-quilt/

  5. What a treasure, Carol. You will have quite the heirloom when finished. I love how you are doing it by hand, the old-fashioned way. I have pieces of a quilt from my mother who passed away recently. She made a cat quilt for my little first-born daughter, cut all the pieces out for my second-born and never did anything with them. I feel bad only one daughter has a grandma quilt. I wish I had a relative to help me! Maybe when I retire I’ll get around to quilting it…for a granddaughter.

    • I know a lot of people machine quilt these days, but that would have been difficult with the way this quilt is done. Hand quilting was my way to be in touch with this heirloom. Linda, I wonder if you could find a relative to finish the second quilt? Or at least get it assembled so you could do some of the quilting. I was fortunate to have a sister in law who was an avid quilter. Without her, I’d never have been able to tackle this task. Good luck!

  6. My grandmother was a quilter, and I have added a few stitches to quilts, but I’ve never tackled a project as big as yours. My hat is off to you. I suppose you know the play Quilters? I thought of it immediately.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      My mantra was, “One stitch at a time,” Shirley. I was overwhelmed if I thought of it in total. But I could do one stitch. I don’t know the play Quilters. I’ll look it up. Thanks for the tip.

  7. What beautiful stories you have Carol. The quilt is just precious but the history is just priceless. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

  8. I love your quilt Audra 🙂 thank you so much for posting this

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