The Early Years
Many, many, many, years ago, I started quilting. I sat on the floor of my Grandmothers’ house in Meridian Mississippi, with cardboard cut-outs of bonnets, baskets and bellowing skirts, a flour sack of “rags,” and a pair of blunt scissors. The rags had come from the mule-drawn wagon which ambled through the streets collecting and dispensing the mountains of fabrics. Even at my tender age, I could proudly identify and select appropriate fabrics for intended uses. Cheese cloth for clabber, curtains, or kitchen; wool for quilt filler or blanket repair; cotton for quilt patches; and flannel for quilt backing. Finer fabrics, such as silk, didn’t make their way to the wagon in those early post war years.
When Granny felt I was ready, I was given a little sewing basket of my very own. The basket contained a shinny metal thimble, multiple wooden spools of colorful thread, scissors with pointed tips, a strawberry pincushion, a paper of pins, a little magnifying glass and best of all - needles, complete with a wire threader. Quickly, I made my way to the linen room where the cigar boxes of pre-cut fabric pieces were stored. I selected all the pieces I needed to make a Sun Bonnet Sue. She was my favorite because that was my middle name. Then came the difficult decision of which color to use to for a background.
Once I had the treasures, I asked my aunt for a hoop, and sat in the rocker next to Granny with my new sewing basket and carefully coordinated pieces of Sue. The lessons began. I didn’t know I had to use an iron. I had to wait until the stove got fired up again. It had already burned out from breakfast, and because it was summertime, there was no soup on the back burner. My excitement was overwhelming, I had to start sewing. So, I selected a not so precious piece of fabric and headed to the rocker for lessons on the basics. Granny would show me how to make a stitch, then I’d make at least 10 just like it. She called it my sampler.
That afternoon, while birds sang, the sun hone, and summer grass beckoned, I stayed in the house making a small sampler of embroidery stitches. I couldn’t wait for Granny to start supper. I volunteered to bring in the stove wood, shell peas, fetch water, or anything else I could do to get that iron hot. “Mind your needle,” my grandmother cautioned, “There will be plenty of time to finish your square before you go back to New Orleans.”