Friday, March 24, 2006

Homer Riggleman's Quilting Memories

Here's an excerpt on quilt-making from Mr. Riggleman's account of life on Point Mountain in the 1890's.A West Virginia Mountaineer Remembers by Homer F. Riggleman. 1980. McClain Printing Company, Parsons, WV. 140 pp. Strictly speaking, this is a tied coverlet, not a quilt. I'd like to know whether the top or the backing were pieced, or made of whole cloth. Mrs. Riggleman sewed the children's clothing by hand at home, so she would have had fabric scraps to use up.

We didn't have sheets or blankets then; we used old-fashioned knotted quilts made of cotton or wool batting sewn between two layers of cloth. Mother made these quilts on a frame of poles or slats set to the width and length of the quilt to be made. The frame rested in a level position on two supports about three or four feet high. First, mother tacked the edges o f the bottom layer of cloth over the quilting frame; then she spread the top layer over the frame and sewed it along one side to the bottom layer. After folding the loose end back out of the way, she spread about a one inch layer of batting evenly over the bottom layer of cloth. Sometimes she used carded wool batting. When the batting was evenly spread, she turned the top layer of cloth back over the batting and fastened it temporarily around the edges.

Next the knotting began, and we older kids helped mother do this. We each threaded a heavy needle, called a darning needle, with twine string, and working along in rows, we tied the two layers of material together at points two to three inches apart. At each tie point, I pushed the needle down through both layers with one hand, and with the other hand under the frame, pulled the needle through, and then pushed it back up near the same point, through both layers of material. Then with both hands above the frame, I held the tail end of the string with one hand, and with the other pulled the needle on through and out until the string was taut. Then I tied both ends of the string together in a tight knot, cut the string (with the needle) near the knot, and proceeded to the next tie point. By working steadily, we could complete the knotting in a day or so, after which, Mother stitched the edges of the quilt together. The finished quilt was about an inch thick and very warm.

Quilts could be made by "quilting" instead of "knotting," but because the layers of such quilts were sewn together in continuous seams, using ordinary needle and thread, they required thousands of stitches. Such fancy quilts were not only much thinner and less warm, but took many days to make. As neither we nor our neighbors had any time to waste in those days, we made do with knotted quilts.

No comments: