Needlework: Preserving and Displaying Old Family Needlework Even Unfinished

Family History:  Preserving and Displaying Old Needlework

As we go through our boxes of family history related stuff we will likely find needlework, embroidery, clothing, quilts, and other textiles.  I recently found an unfinished cathedral window quilt.  I remember my Grandma working on this for years, in fact, my sisters and I helped her with it when we were visiting her as children.  So I know we made some of these windows too, but I sure couldn’t tell you which ones.  What is done is beautiful.  Too bad she never finished it, but I love what she did get done.  In talking to my great aunt I learned that the family had always called my grandma “Hattie the unfinisher”.  I think we are all  worthy of having unfinisher added to our name in regard to something in this life.  I know I am.  Seeing this piece of needlework reminds me of that nick-name that was given to my Grandma, so many years ago, by her siblings.

I could go ahead and finish this and make a quilt as intended, but let’s be honest, I know me.  I probably won’t ever finish that beautiful bit of needlework either.  Maybe it could be divided up to make a few pillows.  I’m really not sure what I want to do with this, but it is definitely too nice to just throw out.  My Grandma, my sisters, and I spent too many hours hand sewing those cathedral windows to just put them in the trash.  Maybe my life will change one day and I will find myself with the time necessary to finish that quilt.  I’m not wanting to commit to cutting it up into pillows, so for now I think I will display it.  I have my great grandma’s old Singer treadle sewing machine.  I think I will display the quilt  under the presser foot of that sewing machine.  I even have some of grandma’s old needles in a pretty package, some scissors, and an old wooden spool of thread that I think will look nice with it.  So, until I’m ready to commit to really doing something with those quilt pieces, this is where it will be.

When planning a display, keep in mind that UV light will cause colors to fade and it will weaken the fibers in fabric. I have adjusted the blinds behind the sewing machine so that the quilt is never exposed to direct sunlight. You can also get windows that block UV light, protecting your carpet and furniture. (Maybe when I build my next house!)  Wood is also acidic, so something should be placed between the fabric and the sewing cabinet.  There are spray sealants and varnishes available to seal the acid in the wood.  Be sure to choose a sealant that is acid free.  Just some things to consider before you display really old and fragile fabric and needlework.  In fact if this quilt were really old and fragile I wouldn’t handle it this way. Needlework: Catherdral Window Quilt

I think it looks nice for now.  Maybe one day I will decide to do something different, but this is a lot better than letting that quilt top remain folded up in a cardboard box full of stuff.  I think Grandma would be pleased that someone is looking at her handiwork, that someone appreciates her efforts.

Meanwhile, I think I will take a closeup picture of the quilt and make a nice scrapbook layout for our family history.  I will tell of the memories of working on the quilt with Grandma.  That way the memories will be preserved for all of us and not just the one who has the quilt pieces and happens to know the story behind them.

Family history is something that belongs to everyone in a family, not just the people who get the boxes of stuff that no one knows what to do with.  Finding and organizing that family history is the only thing that makes it meaningful.  Until you do it is just boxes of junk!

Have you found any old needlework in your family history search?  

What Did you decide to do with it?

Would you like to learn how to make a Cathedral Window quilt?  Your own posterity would probably enjoy it if you left them a beautiful quilt.  Maybe they will be trying to figure out how to finish it when you are gone!  This video isn’t very high quality. but I think it explains the technique well.

Cathedral Window Quilt Video

Print Friendly

Quilt: How to Help a Family History Heirloom Quilt Live On

The Old Quilt that Mom Made

She originally made the quilt for my Grandma.  I remember sleeping under it when we visited her.  When she passed away my mom got it back again.  Now I have it.  We can’t all have it and some of us might not even want it.  One day it will wear out and no one will be able to enjoy it anymore.  In fact, when I was a girl we had an old quilt on my bed.  It had a lavender back and was done in what I realize now, was a wedding ring pattern.  I spent lots of time looking at it when I was little.  Just looking for the different places where there was matching fabric.  About five years ago I learned that the quilt was made by my Great Grandmother, who passed away 10 years before I was born.  She had made a quilt for each of her 3 granddaughters.  Sadly, I learned that about 50 years too late to salvage the quilt.  I guess I will always wonder why my Mom allowed the quilt to be used until it fell apart.  Maybe I wouldn’t let her take it off my bed.  I don’t think I was such a spoiled child that she couldn’t have gotten that quilt away from me, but who knows.  The quilt is gone now and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Family History Quilt 1

For that reason I have decided to to be more careful with the quilt my Mother made.  It is a family history quilt.  The center contains a block for each of her parents and then a block for herself and each of her siblings.  They are all represented with a picture she copied from a coloring book that she felt expressed the personality of each.  (Yes, I know, it’s a copyright violation.)  She has painted them with liquid embroidery paint. (Aunt Martha’s available at Hobby Lobby and other craft stores. There are other brands too, but I think most have faded out of existence.  Actually my Mom used to sell Artex.)  Each block has a section under the picture, a different color for each, with the name, date of birth, spouses name, date of marriage, and in some cases the date of death now too.  (A constant maintenance project, that I need to get to.)  All around the edges are small rectangular blocks which are color coded to each individual block in the middle.  These outside blocks have the names and birth dates of all my grandmothers grandchildren and great grandchildren.  It is a pretty wild looking quilt, lots of colors and blocks.  I need to finish it up with all the great grandchildren.  They hadn’t all been born at the time my mother quit on the quilt.  I think I will stop with the great grandchildren (the children of all my cousins) because the quilt is getting too large.  (My Grandma only had 13 children and 47 grandchildren!)

I have made a 4 page scrapbook layout documenting the quilt for our family history album.

Printed in real size you can read the quilt blocks on these pages.

Family History Quilt 2

My Grandparents quilt blocks and the blocks of an aunt and uncle, who both died as infants, each have a dark blue portion on the lower part of the quilt block.    Each of my other aunts and uncles have a different color that is carried out to the edges of the quilt in small blocks with the names and birth dates of their children and grandchildren.  The outer quilt blocks are arranged from oldest to youngest.  The blocks get smaller with each generation.  It is quite the never ending project!

Family History Quilt 3 Family History Quilt 4 My Mom was a real genealogy nut and she invested a lot of hours in this quilt.  The bottom block in the layout above is the one she made to represent herself.  I really do believe that her life’s dream was to be a mother and she was certainly the best.  I miss her every day.  It is my hope that this family history quilt that she made will live on, even after it is thread bare, through these layouts.

Do you have a family history quilt?

Who made it?

How was it made?

How will you preserve it?




Print Friendly