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Quilt Stories

Cecilia Macheski Editor
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Quilt Stories
    Book Description:

    More than thirty stories, plays, poems, and songs featuring the making of quilts--written from 1845 to the present, mainly by American women--document women's literary history. Featuring the work of Bobbie Ann Mason, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Walker, Sharyn McCrumb, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, and many others, Quilt Stories is a colorful literary album of stories, poems, and plays that celebrate quilting as a pattern in women's history. These stories -- grouped under the themes of memory, courtship, struggle, mystery, and wisdom -- reflect the importance of quilting in the lives of American women, not only as a practical craft and a creative outlet, but also as an integral part of the social community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4365-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    So speaks the narrator inAunt Jane of Kentuckywhen she stares in amazement at the piles of quilts Aunt Jane has brought out to air. The same might be said of the stories, poems, plays, song lyrics, autobiographies, and novels written by women from the mid-nineteenth century to the present that celebrate quilts and women’s lives.

    Quilt Storiesbrings together over twenty-five literary “blocks” to form a quilt of words. The works gathered here represent only a small portion of the literature about quilts and quiltmaking written in the last 150 years and while this is not a definitive...

  5. I. MEMORY BLOCKS: Stories of Remembrance and Meaning

    • The Patchwork Quilt
      (pp. 11-15)
      Annette (pseud.)

      There it is! in the inner sanctum of my “old-maid’s hall”—as cosy a little room as any lady need wish to see attached to herboudoir,and gloomy only from the name attached to it—for there ismuchina name;and the merriest peal of laughter, if echoed from an “old-maid’s hall,” seems like the knell of girlhood’s hopes.

      Yes, there is the PATCHWORK QUILT! looking to the uninterested observer like a miscellaneous collection of odd bits and ends of calico, but to me it is a precious reliquary of past treasures; a storehouse of valuables, almost...

    • Excerpt from Natural Resources
      (pp. 16-16)
      Adrienne Rich
    • Quilts
      (pp. 17-19)
      Robin Morgan
    • Looking at Quilts
      (pp. 20-21)
      Marge Piercy
    • Celestial Timepiece
      (pp. 22-23)
      Joyce Carol Oates
    • My Grandmother’s Quilt
      (pp. 24-66)
      Paulette Jiles

      The old Huffman house outside New Lebanon, Missouri, is small, made of board-and-batten; it has a fireplace for cooking, three rooms downstairs and an attic with a small window. In the 1880’s there was still a great deal of original timber on the rolling hills; not all of it has been cleared. The farms of the area are small, because the soil is good, and are mostly self-sufficient. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad takes the surplus to market out of Otterville, the nearest town. Jesse James is hiding out 150 miles away in St. Joseph, and the most profitable...

  6. II. DOUBLE WEDDING RING: Stories of Community and Courtship

    • The Quilting Party
      (pp. 69-73)
      T.S. Arthur

      Our young ladies of the present generation know little of the mysteries of “Irish chain,” “rising star,” “block work,” or “Job’s trouble,” and would be as likely to mistake a set of quilting frames for clothes as for anything else. It was different in our younger days. Half a dozen handsome patchwork quilts were as indispensable then as a marriage portion; quite as much so as a piano or guitar is at present. And the quilting party was equally indicative of the coming-out and being “in the market,” as the fashionable gatherings together of the times that be.

      As for...

    • Excerpt from The Minister’s Wooing
      (pp. 74-84)
      Harriet Beecher Stowe

      By six o’clock in the morning, Miss Prissy came out of the best room to the breakfast-table, with the air of a general who has arranged a campaign,—her face glowing with satisfaction. All sat down together to their morning meal. The outside door was open into the green, turfy yard, and the apple-tree, now nursing stores of fine yellow jeannetons, looked in at the window. Every once in a while, as a breeze shook the leaves, a fully ripe apple might be heard falling to the ground, at which Miss Prissy would bustle up from the table and rush...

    • Miss Jones’ Quilting
      (pp. 85-91)
      Marietta Holley

      Our minister was merried a year ago, and we hev been piecing him a bed-quilt; and last week we quilted it. I always make a pint of going to quiltings, for you can’t be backbited to your face, that’s a moral sertenty. I know wimmen jest like a book, for I hev been one a good while. I always stand up for my own sect, still I know sertin effects follow sertin causes, to wit, and namely, if two bricks are sot up side by side, if one tumbles over on to the other one, the other one can’t stand,...

    • A Quilting Bee in Our Village
      (pp. 92-98)
      Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

      One sometimes wonders whether it will ever be possible in our village to attain absolute rest and completion with regard to quilts. One thinks after a week fairly swarming with quilting bees, “Now every housewife in the place must be well supplied; there will be no need to make more quilts for six months at least.” Then, the next morning a nice little becurled girl in a clean pinafore knocks at the door and repeats demurely her well-conned lesson: “Mother sends her compliments, and would be happy to have you come to her quilting bee this afternoon.”

      One also wonders...

    • Aunt Jerusha’s Quilting Party
      (pp. 99-117)

      Old-fashioned sitting-room. Patchwork quilt on frames, resting on four chairs at side of stage.JERUSHAstands beside quilt with chalk and string in hand.

      Jerusha. There! I’ve got it all marked. I hope the ladies’ll come early and I hope they’ll quilt as fast as they’ll talk. I had to invite more than I needed to jist to quilt, ‘cause of hurtin’ folks feelin’s, but I’ve got some patchwork on hand so I’ll set part of ‘em to piecin’. I shall have to manage to keep Widder Hines away from the quilt, ‘cause she don’t know nothin’ bout quilt in’....

    • Whitework, or Bride’s Quilt
      (pp. 118-119)
      Jane Wilson Joyce
    • Excerpt from Double Wedding Ring
      (pp. 120-142)
      Patricia Wendorf

      Wendorf’s novel is told in the form of the diary of Rhoda Greypaull Salter. A pioneer woman with limited education, Rhoda is determined to keep a diary of her journey from Somerset, England, to the United States after her first marriage. Her spelling is often irregular, as she writes “qwilt” for “quilt,” but her voice is compelling nonetheless. In this excerpt, she tells of her courtship with her second husband, Captain James Kerr Black, a Civil War veteran and now a successful farmer who commissions her to make her own wedding quilt.

      The first blizzard of the winter strikes and...

  7. III. RADICAL ROSE: Stories of Struggle and Change

    • The Dream of Washing Quilts
      (pp. 145-147)
      Rebecca Cox Jackson

      A dream. I was washing. I was squatting down, washing three bed quilts and singing as I was awashing. And this same sister came to the south door and said, “What are you adoing here?” “I am awashing.” “Ain’t you afraid to be here?” “No.” “Why, you are in great danger.”

      I then looked and saw I was in a place walled all around with stone. The place was four square. I was in the center of it. There was no window in it, only one door. That was in the southwest corner, opened in. The south door she stood...

    • Gospel Quilt
      (pp. 148-158)
      Alice MacGowan

      The great oaks in the yard whispered together in full-hearted summer happiness. Several teams were hitched along the fence, men standing near them or sitting about on the roots of the big trees, conversing in a Sabbath undertone. Children ran out and in, one fat, flaxen-haired girl of six leading always. The Mase cabin was in Sunday trim and full of company, for there was preaching at the Brush Arbor church.

      Within the big, shady, black-raftered kitched Lavena stood cooking tirelessly. Her face, as delicately oval and purely white as a pearl, was set in pathetic lines this morning; the...

    • Excerpt from Black April
      (pp. 159-173)
      Julia Peterkin

      Before day was clean Big Sue got up out of bed and went to the front door to look at the weather. The cool air was soft and still, trees and birds were asleep. The earth itself was resting quietly, for the sun tarried late in his bed. The stars had not yet faded from the clear open sky, but Big Sue was full of excitement. Only a few hours more and she must have everything ready at Maum Hannah’s for the quilting to commence.

      Her own big room was almost large enough for a quilting, but it was better...

    • Everyday Use
      (pp. 174-182)
      Alice Walker

      I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon. A yard like this is more comfortable than most people know. It is not just a yard. It is like an extended living room. When the hard clay is swept clean as a floor and the fine sand around the edges lined with tiny, irregular grooves, anyone can come and sit and look up into the elm tree and wait for the breezes that never come inside the house.

      Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes: she will stand...

    • Bible Quilt, circa 1900
      (pp. 183-184)
      Jane Wilson Joyce
    • Excerpt from How to Make an American Quilt
      (pp. 185-190)
      Whitney Otto

      There is a South African myth regarding a being calledSikhamba-nge-nyanga,which translated means “She-who-walks-by-moonlight.” This is what is said of her:It is man’s privilege to gaze upon her.But when he violatesthe customs which protect and nourish her, she returns to nature.In order to ensure her survival, she must be allowed to walk freely, un-touched and unmolested.

      A Guyanese story says of black slaves that the only way they can be delivered from “massa’s clutch” is tosee the extra brightness of the moon in their lives. The darkness will always be there, but they can...

  8. IV. WHEEL OF MYSTERY: Stories of Murder and Mystery

    • Rose of Sharon
      (pp. 193-193)
      Jane Wilson Joyce
    • Trifles
      (pp. 194-206)
      Susan Glaspell

      The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse ofJohn Wright,a gloomy kitchen, and left without having been put in order—unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the breadbox, a dish towel on the table—other signs of incompleted work. At the rear the outer door opens and theSheriffcomes in followed by theCounty AttorneyandHale.TheSheriffandHaleare men in middle life, theCounty Attorneyis a young man; all are much bundled up and go at once to the stove. They are followed by two women—theSheriff’swife...

    • Excerpt from The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
      (pp. 207-208)
      Sharyn McCrumb

      Nora sat down in one of the wing chairs, and pulled a length of quilted cloth out of her sewing basket. “I’m glad for some company, Laura Bruce. I don’t get about much these days. You don’t mind my sewing while we talk, do you? I see better in daylight.”

      Laura took a sip of her coffee. “Please do. What are you making now?”

      Nora Bonesteel looked down at the dark fabric in her lap, and her expression became somber. “It’s an old-fashioned quilt, I reckon. I’ve been working on it for a few weeks now. Something has been troubling...

    • Excerpt from The Body in the Kelp
      (pp. 209-220)
      Katherine Hall Page

      And so the auction unfolded, assuming a character distinct from all the other auctions Gardiner and Company had run or the crowd at-tended. You never knew what was going to happen. The Warhol cookie jars turned out to be wooden lobster pots that had been in the barn. Few lobstermen used them anymore, and as the tourists and dealers bid them up, all the locals resolved to go clean out their sheds.

      Pix and Faith were determined to wait until the bitter end for all the real bargains, and at about four o’clock the box lots started. Faith quickly snared...

    • Pieces to a Quilt
      (pp. 221-230)
      Mari Sandoz

      The Lang Eighty contained not even a shirt-tail patch of level ground. Most of it was a deep gullied cup of gravel and crumbling sandstone, sloping abruptly into a dark pool. Now and then a glimpse of a summer cloud lay on the still surface but its whiteness only accentuated the dark reflections from the ten-foot bank of volcanic ash just above the water line. Even the cress-grown spring didn’t bubble but welled up with slow complaint of green water under ice.

      Back from the pool, under a solid nose of stone, squatted Lang’s old shack weathered to the gray...

  9. V. OLD MAID’S RAMBLE: Stories of Age and Wisdom

    • An Honest Soul
      (pp. 233-242)
      Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

      “Thar’s Mis’ Buss’s pieces in the brown kaliker bag, an’ thar’s Mis’ Bennet’s pieces in the bed-tickin’ bag,” said she, surveying complacently the two bags leaning against her kitchen-wall. “I’ll get a dollar for both of them quilts, an’ thar’ll be two dollars. I’ve got a dollar an’ sixty-three cents on hand now, an’ thar’s plenty of meal an’ merlasses, an’ some salt fish an’ pertaters in the house. I’ll get along middlin’ well, I reckon. Thar ain’t no call fer me to worry. I’ll red up the house a leetle now, an’ then I’ll begin on Mis’ Bliss’s pieces.”...

    • Excerpt from Aunt Jane of Kentucky
      (pp. 243-256)
      Eliza Calvert Hall

      They were a bizarre mass of color on the sweet spring landscape, those patchwork quilts, swaying in a long line under the elms and maples. The old orchard made a blossoming background for them, and farther off on the horizon rose the beauty of fresh verdure and purple mist on those low hills, or “knobs,” that are to the heart of the Kentuckian as the Alps to the Swiss or the sea to the sailor.

      I opened the gate softly and paused for a moment between the blossoming lilacs that grew on each side of the path. The fragrance of...

    • The Bedquilt
      (pp. 257-265)
      Dorothy Canfield

      Of all the Elwell family Aunt Mehetabel was certainly the most unimportant member. It was in the old-time New England days, when an unmarried woman was an old maid at twenty, at forty was everyone’s servant, and at sixty had gone through so much discipline that she could need no more in the next world. Aunt Mehetabel was sixty-eight.

      She had never for a moment known the pleasure of being important to anyone. Not that she was useless in her brother’s family; she was expected, as a matter of course, to take upon herself the most tedious and uninteresting part...

    • Love Life
      (pp. 266-280)
      Bobbie Ann Mason

      Opal lolls in her recliner, wearing the Coors cap her niece Jenny brought her from Colorado. She fumbles for the remote-control paddle and fires a button. Her swollen knuckles hurt. On TV, a boy is dancing in the street. Some other boys dressed in black are banging guitars and drums. This is her favorite program. It is always on, night or day. The show is songs, with accompanying stories. It’s the music channel. Opal never cared for stories—she detests those soap operas her friends watch—but these fascinate her. The colors and the costumes change and flow with the...

  10. About the Authors
    (pp. 281-285)
  11. Sources and Permissions
    (pp. 286-287)
  12. Suggestions for Further Reading
    (pp. 288-289)