Day 147: Quilting Lore

Original Design Quilt, Carl Klewicke (1835–1913)


Quilting is one of the more impressive Ozark art forms out there, in my opinion. My family has inherited several family quilts, all of which are amazingly sturdy despite being made of cloth thinner than paper. I can remember as a kid looking over the patterns on the quilt tops as they lay out over a bed, or were hanging up on a quilt-rack, tracing back and forth the twisting and looping seams. Quilting is far from dying out, there are still quilting bees held around the area that attracts locals and tourists alike.

Here’s some quilting lore from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

“Handwoven coverlets and the like should always be washed in snow water, according to the old grannies; some say to ease the spirits of the dead women who made them yeas ago; others contend more practically that snow water does not cause the old homemade colors to run or fade. Many hillfoik believe that it is bad luck to mend an old quilt or comforter by patching, although there’s no harm in darning small rips or tears.”

“Every old quiltmaker knows that when a quilt is once stretched on the frame it must never be turned around; if it is turned, at least one of the quilters will lose her skill, or her eyesight will fail, or her hands become paralyzed.”

“Groups of unmarried women at quilting bees used to shake up a cat in the newly completed quilt and then stand around in a big circle as the animal was suddenly released. The theory was that the girl toward whom the cat jumped would be the first of the company to catch a husband. At other times the quilters would wrap an engaged girl up in the new quilt and roll her under the bed, but the exact significance of this procedure has never been explained to me.”

“If an Ozark girl breaks a needle while making a quilt she is depressed; some say that she will die before the quilt is finished, others think it means only that she will die before the quilt is worn out, which is much less serious, since quilts sometimes last longer than an ordinary lifetime. But it’s bad luck to break a needle, anyhow. Most any mountain woman knows better than to make a dress or other garment for a person who is critically ill, as to do this means that the sick person has very little chance of recovery.”

“The first dream that one has in a new house, or when sleeping under a new quilt, will nearly always come true many mountain girls are anxious to ‘dream out’ a new quilt or coverlet.”

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