Southern Quilts

By Lainie Stubblefield

What is it about a wrapping up in a quilt that just make you feel safe, warm, whole?  

One of my treasures is a quilt that was started by my great grandmother and finished by my mother. It has many colors and patterns in the patchwork, with a theme of red stars throughout. The fabrics and batting are cotton. The stitching is done by hand with white cotton thread. Quilts take time to stitch by hand. They are layered, so the stitches have to go through all those layers. There is no rushing it when you are seaming by hand. The fabric pieces are solids, stripes, polka dots, houndstooth and plaids. If you look closely in the patchwork, there are fabric patterns of flowers, paisleys, teapots, butterflies, medieval knights, tee pees and even little guitars. Were these pieces from old dresses and shirts that had seen better days? Were they the remnants of making baby clothes? Probably a little of this and a little of that. But, stitch by stitch, those scraps of fabric made patterns of stars and those stars came together to make a covering. A covering that will keep you warm, yet is so much more than that. It is an expression of love.  It is a medium of art.  Some of them will grace the walls of museums across the world. Many will never be hung on a wall, yet are pieces of art none the less.

Some of them will grace the walls of museums across the world. Many will never be hung on a wall, yet are pieces of art none the less.

I had the privilege of speaking this week with Mary W. Kerr, a quilter, certified appraiser and author of many quilting books, including “Southern Quilts.” She said that cotton was prevalent in the South and was used more generously in the quilts of this region. The stitching was also a bit wider when the cotton was thick. All of that resonated with me regarding the quilts I have seen in my family, including the quilt I am writing of here.

I have wrapped up in that quilt too many times to count. It sits on my couch in the same room as my only television. Many others have wrapped up in it too over the years. It has been tear stained by me and even by many other friends who have journeyed this life with me. It has been the roof of a fort of laughter and imagination with my nephew. I have wondered before, what is it about a quilt that causes me to feel so safe when it surrounds me? I am tied to my roots when I am under that quilt. It makes me feel safe, warm, and somehow more whole. Stitched by hands that loved me, that fed me and cared for me unconditionally.

My great grandmother didn’t have many possessions in this world. They had a small coal stove for heat and an outhouse for a bathroom. She limped a bit from polio and often dipped snuff. She was the main caregiver for my mother, and must have taught her a lot because my mother oozes with care for others. Though my great grandmother never had much, she always had something to feed others and was able to save scraps of material to stitch together quilts of beauty. That seems to be a quality you see in many Southern women. I discussed this quality with Mary Kerr as well. She called it a “make do spirit”. Using what you had and adjusting to the mishaps along the way. This theme is seen in in all aspects of life in the South, including our quilts and our cooking.

I don’t have any other possessions from that family except the quilt. But, what an inheritance it is! This quilt speaks to me of where I came from and cheers me on to where I want to go. It seems to whisper…it is going to be okay, you will survive this and come out on the other side with beauty and not ashes.

For the full conversation with Mary W. Kerr and for more insights on Southern Quilts, listen to our Steel Magnolias Podcast episode here:

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