When I was a child my grandmother and mother could both knit and sew, but regarded it as a chore. Neither of them enjoyed it or was particularly good at it.
But in our house we had one thing that was old and beautiful, Granny Dougall's quilt. She was not my grandmother, but my grandfather's grandmother. Her son, who was headmaster of a school at Melrose in the Scottish borders, married twice and both wives had large families, many of whom survived. My grandfather was one of the second wife's children. One of his half brothers was a cabin boy on his first voyage, unfortunately that first voyage was on the last wooden sailing ship (presumably the last on a regular commercial run) to go down going round the Horn, when he drowned.
Anyway to get back to Granny Dougall. As an elderly widow she lived with her son and his large family. In her 80s her main occupation was the creation of much-needed bedding for everyone. She used the scraps of fabric left over from clothing the family. All clothing was made at home and must have been a huge task. I only ever saw this example of her work. My grandmother burnt the rest! But I know that many of them were made of woollen fabrics. This one is cottons, mostly, I believe, shirt fabrics.
The strips are sewn to a fabric backing which was no doubt also left over from something. They are really narrow, to make the maximum use of even small scraps of fabric. It is all hand stitched, with tiny, even stitches. I wonder how she had the eyesight to do it so neatly in her old age and before electric light!
It is by no means pristine. This is a quilt that has had a long and useful life. There's lots of mending, some of the later mends done with a sewing machine. Pieces of fabric have been stitched in over the top of badly worn-out ones. And the outer binding, in red to match the centres of the blocks wore so badly that an old sheet had been added as a backing and brought up over the borders, covering them.
It's not the sort of thing any museum or collector would want, but I've loved it since I was a child, and knowing my mother to be a thrower-out in her mother's tradition, I made very sure I purloined it when I left home!
Here is a close-up to show some of the old fabrics.
She may have been 'just' an old lady living in her son's house and trying in some sense to pay for her keep by sewing household linens. But what an artist she was! She died sometime in the later 1800s long before I was born, but she has been an inspiration to me all my life. When I sit there making something I feel as if she were right behind me, at my shoulder.
And that's why I started, at the age of 10, with only Mary Thomas's Embroidery book and my mother's rag-bag, to make my first quilt. More about that another time!