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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Quilts play a role in the Trail of Thread Series- by Linda K. Hubalek

By definition, a quilt is a coverlet or blanket made of two layers of fabric with a layer of cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched firmly together, usually in a decorative crisscross design. The top layer may be a single piece of fabric, or it may be a made from a variety of scraps of material that were pieced together to form blocks, that are then sewn together to make the top layer.
When one thinks of pieced quilts, pioneer women automatically come to mind. This group of women often had to move, start new households, and work with what they had on hand. Their quilts would have been used daily, made and patched to last through the rigors of pioneer life.
For example Deborah and John Pieratt, featured in the first book of my Trail of Thread series, left Kentucky in 1854 when the Territory of Kansas was formed. They were part of the thousands of families that packed wagons and headed west for the promise of a new life. Quilts would have been used for bedding—in the wagon or on the ground, as a hanging shelter, or as a partition for privacy. They were also used for burial of loved ones along the trail.
Thimble of Soil, the second book in the series, features Margaret Ralston Kennedy. She was a widow who moved with eight of her thirteen children from Ohio to the Territory Kansas in 1855. She was dedicated to the cause of the North, and helped with the Underground Railroad in both Ohio and Kansas. It is possible that some of the quilts she made had special blocks giving direction to runaway slaves.
Orphaned Maggie Kennedy, portrayed in Stitch of Courage, the last book in the series, followed her brothers to Kansas looking for a better life as the states fought out the history of the Civil War. Women made and gave quilts for the soldiers to use during their journeys and battles.
What was the meaning for all these quilts? They were all just fabric to provide warmth and protection, but they also connected the hearts and souls of the past, present, and future.
The young woman on the trail packed quilts to use, but also to bring memories of her family left behind to her new frontier home.
The older woman—who stitched directions in her quilt that hung outside to air— gave freedom to people trying to escape a bad life.
The soldier wrapped in a dirty quilt, trying to keep warm and get a bit of sleep, was given the security of knowing that someone from home was thinking of him and waiting for his return.
Think of the countless hours of work and devotion it took to create these pioneer quilts. These finished masterpieces of the fingers gave a sense of accomplishment to the makers, and comfort and connection to the users.
Do you have a special quilt passed down through your family? What does it mean to you?
(And by the way, click on the Trail of Thread link above, because it's free today, June 15th, 2014!)


  1. Hello Linda. What an interesting post. I love patchwork, my house is full of it, I am in awe of those ladies who made such wonderful works of art mostly without the aid of a sewing machine! I use a machine and even a small item takes a long time even using that! I loved the thought of messages being sewn into the pattern to help slaves escape, how wonderful, how on earth did that work though? Surely if other folk saw them they would know what she had done? That's intriguing. Thank you for such a thought provoking post.

  2. Linda,
    I have quilts made by my great-grandmother, who I knew well, and they bring back memories of her. They are treasures that survived the fire at my parents home and now safely in a cedar chest where I periodically take them out and remember. Doris

  3. LInda, these books look really interesting! I jumped on over and got Trail of Thread for my Kindle--It'll be a while before I get to read it, but at least I know I have it waiting for me.

    I have a quilt that I'm not certain where it came from. I know it must have been made by someone "earlier" in my family, but being the youngest, I didn't get a lot of the "passed down" things. Still I have it kept in a trash bag until I can get a nice holder for it and display it. I love quilts and always thought I'd love to learn how to do it. But I never did.

    I'm anxious to read your books!

  4. Fun post! We have a number of serious quilt makers in the family, including my step-mother-in-law who has given every grad or bride a quilt :-) Wonderful "theme" that underscores the traditional values we cherish here in the "West!" We had a couple old, old quilts here in the family home when we moved in; they're nothing fancy but they have always made me realize how creative and resourceful the old-timers were!!

  5. My maternal grandmother was a big quilter. She made each of her grandchildren a special quilt when we were born. My quilt had blocks with a kitten in a basket. As a devoted fire bug when I was about 5, I accidently set my quilt on fire. I was so afraid my parents would see what I had done that I buried it and never spoke of it again. Later my grandmother made another one for me that was primarily red. Probably pretty much appropriate for a kid who loved matches. Fortunately, I still have it.
    Those are some very interesting factoids about quilts, Linda.
    I think you should write a time travel western titled, "A Stitch In Time." Just a suggestion.
    I so enjoyed your blog today.

  6. Linda,

    I have no quilters that I know of on my side the family (crocheters, though). However, my husband's mom and his maternal grandmother were quilters. His mom doesn't quilt anymore (still recovering from a 'light' stroke a year ago), and his grandmother passed on some years ago. We have two of my mother-in-law's newer quilts and one that was handed down through the family from the WWII era.

    I'm a sewer, but I was never a quilter. My husband's younger brother used to tease their mom about quilting. He'd bring her a blanket and ask her to cut it up into little squares then sew it back together so he'd have a new quilt. lol

    Quilting is becoming a 'dying art'. Not a one of my mother-in-law's grandchildren or great grandchildren (36+ combined) have expressed any interest in quilting. It makes me kind of sad.

    It is so important to keep these traditions-- and the stories of the women who made the traditions -- alive.

    I've downloaded Trail of Thread, and I'm eager to read it. I've been on the look-out for books like these to give at Christmas time. Thanks. :-)

  7. I love reading pioneer and Civil War books about quilt so I am looking forward to reading your book. I am a quilter myself. I am on the road and have gotten some beautiful pictures of antique quilt taken at post the Custer South Dakota and the Hot Springs South Dakota Pioneer Museums. I look forward to posting them on my blog when I get home. Good luck with your book.

  8. oops I'm using my voice activation and I didn't edit my comment very well. Hope you can figure it out.

  9. Thanks for all your comments, everyone. People love antique quilts, and really cherish them, especially if they were made by a family member. I have almost two dozen quilts that my great grandmother and grandmother made, and I enjoy pulling them out now and then to study the details in them...and wonder who else was sitting at the quilting frame, what was the gossip of the day, the weather...details that will be worked into a book someday.
    Be sure to download a free copy of Trail of Thread before midnight too.

  10. Hi Linda!

    Your book looks interesting and I also downloaded one. I am determined to learn how to quilt in the next few years. I don't have a quilt, but my husband has one that was passed down in his family. I'm jealous. So I decided I was going to be the one passing down the quilt to my descendants! Its such a different day and age now.

  11. Hello Linda. Your blog today brought back memories of my grandmother. She would spend hours piecing together her quilting blocks. Quilting is a lost art. She made some really pretty ones in her day. On my husband's side the ladies get together once a month to work on a family quilt. I'm sure part of that time is spent catching up on the latest gossip in the family. When the quilt is finished it is taken to the family reunion and auctioned off to the highest bidder. I think its a wonderful tradition.

  12. Your blog brought back wonderful memories of both my grandmothers and one great-grand, but especially my father's mother. She was in a wheelchair for many years and she spetd much of her time piecing together quilt tops which she called 'crazy quilts.' My mother sewed many of our clothes and I remember her making sure to save all the material scraps for grandma. I'm thankful that I have several of those quilts. I passed one to my daughter and have two for my two grandchildren when they're older.