Several years ago when I inherited my grandparents’ bedroom suite, I chose to go with a “romantic prairie” theme for my bedroom decor. The house we live in now does not have the warm knotty-pine walls we had in our house in Idaho, but I still like that look and feel. Part of my decor includes treasured hand-made quilts and linens.
My sisters and I are blessed to have learned to do just about any kind of handwork–sewing, quilting, embroidery, crocheting, knitting–because our mother took the time to teach us. She learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on back. Because of this heritage I have a sincere appreciation for hand-made items, whether I know the person who made them or not.
My mother’s people are also very practical and frugal by nature. The young ladies might carefully piece quilts and embroider pillowcases for their hope chests, but nothing was considered “too good to use.” Mother does reserve her fine china for holidays and special occasions, but even the little children are privileged to use it on those occasions. A quilt might represent hours and days of work, but it’s hard to appreciate it if it’s tucked away in a cedar chest or a cardboard box. The place for the beautiful quilt is spread on the top of the bed where it can be admired.
And so, my quilts and linens get used, and eventually show signs of wear. For that reason, and with my “romantic prairie” bedroom theme in mind, I keep my eye out for vintage linens when I go to garage sales and thrift stores. During the past year or so I’ve brought home some lovely treasures–apparently made by someone who didn’t share my family’s philosophy about using what you have.
One of my first finds was this lovely hand-embroidered bedspread. As with all of my thrifted finds, I have no way of knowing when it was made. However, I am fairly certain it had never been used because it was unhemmed. Someone took the time to do all of that beautiful handwork and then never bothered to hem it to actually use it.
This quilt was rolled up, plain side out, in a plastic bag that quilt batting comes in. It was obviously machine-quilted and did not have a binding around the edge. I pulled it out of the bag to see what it was. I gasped when I saw the gorgeous Dresden-plate piecing with early 20th century fabrics–maybe even from feed-sacks. My next reaction was, “They have ruined it with machine-quilting!”
I make up stories to go with my thrifted treasures since I don’t know the true story. I speculated that Great-grandma probably pieced this quilt back in the ’40s or something like that and then tucked it away to finish later. Many years went by and when Great-grandma died, one of her descendants came across it and thought, “Oh, how pretty! We should have it quilted!” Because, of course, said descendant didn’t know how to quilt it herself. So she sent it off to be machine-quilted. (Which completely detracts from the design, in my opinion.) When the quilt came back with the binding unfinished, it was just left rolled up in the bag and stuck in closet. More years went by. Someone cleaned out the closet and sent the quilt to the thrift store unused and unappreciated.
That’s where I found it. And in spite of the ugly machine-quilting, I brought it home. My mother and I finished the binding, and yes, indeed, I will use it and appreciate it.
The most recent addition to my collection of vintage bed-linens is a pile of pillowcases and sheets.
These are also unused. They were crisply folded and smelled faintly of cedar. I think Great-aunt Matilda probably made these as a young lady 50 or 60 years ago. She ironed and starched them carefully and then put them away in her cedar hope-chest. Either she never married so never ended up using them, or she did get married but was saving them “for company” which never came. Poor Aunt Matilda! All I can say is, whoever made them knew her way around a needle. It is some of the most exquisite handwork I have ever seen.
And yes, I do plan to use them. For everyday, even. That is, if I can ever bring myself to wash the cedar scent out of them.