Tag Archives: antiques

In Stitches


Mama, The Aunts and the fabric of memory

I’ve been missing Mama and The Aunts a lot lately.  Mama’s birthday was July 4, and the second anniversary of Aunt Ruby’s passing is coming up on August 12, so I guess those are a couple of reasons they’ve been on my mind.  While I was blessed to know all of Mama’s sisters well, when I refer to The Aunts, it’s Aunt Ruby and Aunt Martha I am thinking of.

They were the ones who sewed quilts together with Mama, along with Ruby Allred, our next-door neighbor on Ford Street.  I and many of my family members possess these works of art and craft, some stored away in cedar chests while others decorate our beds and couches.  Their colors and patterns brighten our lives and homes with warmth, both physical and spiritual.

It is fairly easy to determine the age or era of our family quilts by the fabrics used to make them.  Lots of the older ones contain material from many of Granny’s old dresses, and they are backed with a type of cotton fabric that Mama and The Aunts called “domestic”.  It was basically a coarse cotton muslin near as I can tell.  Later quilts were backed with king-size bed sheets.  They provided a good expanse of seamless fabric and were smoother than domestic.  I think that domestic had become more costly as well, which may have contributed to the switch.  Some of the later quilts also had lighter-weight batting inside between the patterned top and the plain backing.  These lighter quilts are perfect for use in warmer weather.

The older quilts backed with domestic seemed to pucker up more after laundering, especially if the batting was also all-cotton.  I love that almost seersucker-y texture of an old quilt, as well as the weight and substance of it.  I love the contrast of white stitching against solid-colored fabric.  Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred sewed with such precision!  They made such teeny-tiny, evenly-spaced stitches, as Aunt Martha would say, “Ever’ stitch a stitch of love.”



Nowadays quilts are available in many stores, mass-produced, machine-made items, often designed to look like their older, handcrafted counterparts.  And many of them are good quality and beautiful.  I’ve actually bought some retail quilts over the years.  But even the nicest ones can’t rival the quilts made by Mama and The Aunts and “Mamaw” Allred.  The hours spent choosing the fabrics, cutting and marking, and the late nights sitting around the frames as their thimbled fingers sewed—no amount of money can buy the love they left behind, in stitches.


Close Encounters Of The Kitchen Kind


Relics of a bygone era


I have my Granny’s ancient sifter.  It has shiny red apples painted on it and a crank handle with a red wooden knob.  I have no idea how old it actually is, but it is OLD.  I remember hearing that, in her healthier, more active days, Granny always made a cherry pie on George Washington’s birthday.  By the time I was born into the family, Granny’s health was starting to fail and she had slowed down a lot.  I don’t remember seeing her cook much when I was a child, but I know that, since Mama and my aunts learned how to cook from her, Granny must have been quite the good Southern cook in her day.

For decades she fed and nourished a husband and 9 children, after all.  Mama must have learned how to make cornbread from Granny.  I feel confident that Aunt Ruby learned how to make her biscuits from Granny as well.  (Like Mama’s cornbread, Aunt Ruby’s biscuits were unique to her, and no one else’s were ever as good.  Mercy, what I’d give now for Aunt Ruby’s biscuit recipe in her handwriting!)  Aunt Mary, Aunt Martha and Aunt Elaine would have learned lots of their dishes from Granny as well.

Granny’s sifter must have helped make hundreds of pies and thousands of biscuits in her cooking days before it was passed down to Mama, and then to me.  It is almost like an hourglass in a way, the fine dust filtering through the mesh screen into a waiting bowl, sifting flour and memories.  I wonder what that little sifter would tell me if it could speak?

I can see Granny’s little hands turning the little red knob on the side, or just shaking the whole apparatus to work the flour through.  My hands are small like hers were.  I can remember Mama teaching me how to make pie pastry and from-scratch cake, explaining the mysteries of when to measure first and then sift, and when to sift first and then measure.  (It’s all in how the recipe is written.)

I don’t bake as often as I’d like these days.  But when I am able to take the time to make something that needs sifting, I take down Granny’s little red apple sifter to start the process.  There is something almost hypnotic about watching clumps of flour transform into fine, snowy powder as they pass through the screen…my hands repeating the motions of Mama’s and Granny’s hands before me, resting where theirs rested and touching what theirs touched, all in the process of Making.Image