Piecing a Legacy: A 1930 Quilt Story

With the perspective of youth, Dennis McCann observed, “Those must have been depressing times, those long ago days of bread and milk, of feedbag clothes, and canned tumbleweed dinners. Of little or nothing.” Jane Tamse countered in her feeble, quivering voice, “Those were frugal days, but they left us with a happy childhood.”

Making of Memories

I ran across this piece of advice in a sewing book. “Stitch together scraps of family love into a warm memory quilt that cradles in its folds encouragement and truth that still apply.”

When my mother passed away, I was thirty-three years old. One of the bags in her back closet held muslin feed sacks cut into 12 inch squares with a stack of 48 state bird/flower transfers to be ironed onto the material for embroidering. With three small children, I started the project, then laid down the needle for thirty years.

My granddaughter, Kaeley, started attending the local quilting club, Stitchers, with me after I retired from teaching. I finished embroidering 24 of the squares, making a State Bird/Flower Sampler. Under the guidance of master quilters, Kaeley sewed the feed sack material into a thing of beauty. As a college student, Kaeley sleeps under a quilt started by her great-grandmother of the 1930’s, embroidered by her grandmother, and stitched by herself. A lot of love wrapped up in that comforter.

Ramona Clark and Cleo Lampos with finished quilt started by Cleo’s mother in the Dust Bowl with feed sack muslin squares and transfers from newspapers.

The finished quilt started by Cleo’s mother in the Dust Bowl with feed sack muslin squares and transfers from newspapers.

Piecing Together a Life

quiltQuilts remind me that all the scraps and pieces of shredded longings and tattered lives can somehow be stitched together into a beautiful display. The people of the Dust Bowl experienced brokenness. The dreams of their youth were unfulfilled by the circumstances that hammered them and tore their aspirations into shreds. Farmers lost their livelihoods which shattered their dignity. For the first time in American history, middle class workers lived one paycheck from destitution. Homemakers gathered scraps of materials to create the necessities of life. Relationships grew ragged under the strain of constant deprivation. Hope frayed into thread strips of despair.

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But God, the ultimate source of Creativity, views this brokenness as pre-art. God uses the patterns of repentance-forgiveness and trust-obey as He hovers over scrappy lives with a heart of compassion itching to make art out of every tear, every shredded dream, every unfulfilled dream. From these ragged scraps, He creates a design of usefulness and beauty from our messy lives. Those children who grew up in deprivation were pieced together into patterns that shaped them into adults who took on responsibility without flinching.

The Greatest Generation

From the challenging childhoods of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl emerged a group of people who met life headlong without fear. We call them the Greatest Generation.

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