POTSDAM HERALD-RECORDER, POTSDAM NY
Wednesday, January 14, 1948
It might be interesting to go to an old-time quilting party in our old house. Very likely it would take place in the "settin'" room, as the parlor was reserved for funerals or other important occasions. The Currier and Ives prints and the melodeon were not for careless ones or the bright sunshine. The fact that many such treasures exist to-day and are equally valued testifies to the care bestowed upon them.
The women of the neighborhood journeyed in buggies or maybe behind an ox-cart. There would be little elegance in their equipages, anyhow, for the day of the rubber-tired surrey and the motor car was yet a century ahead of them. These pioneer women dearly loved their quilting parties, which antedated the Ladies Aid Societies, the 20th Century Club, the Fortnightly, and the bridge clubs by one hundred years. Human nature, especially feminine nature, has not changed much since Time began.
Their lives too, were full to the brim of hard labor and much isolation and self-sacrifice. So it was a treat to gather in another's home to see how it was furnished, to hear the slowly dispersed news, and to admire the new pieced quilt. If it was of a new pattern, excitement ran high and all would want the "pattern." Maybe it would be the new "Road to California," "The Rising Sun," the odd "Duck's Foot in the Mud," or a "Charm" pattern. And how well they did their beautiful quilting! Hours were spent placing those tiny stitches. The materials were calico or, if a "Log Cabin" pattern, of wool, but in any case mostly gay and the cottons were apt to be crude greens, yellows, or dull browns.
Tongues would wag briskly, each adding her bit of gossip to the general fund. But no more so than Modern Woman at her bridge club. And they had such a wealth of activities to talk about, and such exciting confidences to give out.
Some had finished the making of her soft soap, others had completes a beautiful hooked or braided rug; still others had finished weaving a piece of lovely linen, firm and long-wearing. Or another was nearly through filling a pair of goose-feather pillows for her daughter's marriage supply. One mourned the loss of a silver spoon, thin and precious, brought from Vermont. It spoiled her set of one dozen given when she started out for the West, which was St. Lawrence County, N. Y. The hostess might show us her priceless coverlet of blue or red wool, woven in an intricate pattern or a new Paisley shawl sent for a Christmas gift.
Then again, a little one had has measles and was slow in recovering. One was bothered with rheumatiz, another with "tisic." A neighbor woman was coming, but came down with "ague," of which she was a frequent victim. Some of them had poor teeth and needed good eyeglasses. Then absorbing topics of general interest occupied their attention. A new road was being surveyed out to another part of the town. The "meetin'-house" needed more candles. Deacon So-and-So made too long prayers, and perhaps the President was not in their good graces. However that might be, they could do nothing about it, as the suffrage movement was still a long way from them. Their labors, their flowers, their many children, their neighborliness filled their lives and naturally their conversation.
We of this generation--of canned an boxed food, and also of various internal troubles--probably would not attempt to consume their supper finally laid on a groaning board. Such hearty dishes of pork, of duck, of ham, sausage, or turkey. Such quanties of fried potato, cabbage, turnip, such tempting pies, huge fried cakes and rich baked ones--all topped off with cider, tea and coffee. Oh, no, not for us, those delectable viands, for we are either "on a diet" or liable to have an attack of appendicitis or gastritis, none of which they had ever heard of.
But perhaps you are the proud owner of that old quilt your wonderful great-grandmother had quilted that distant day, or perhaps you will make one for yourself. The fine art of quilt making is by no means lost and most women yearn to make one for themselves at some or other. Be that as it may, the quilting party might be over, but the quilt was by no means done, as the pattern was intricate and nothing but the finest handiwork was acceptable. Many months would yet be spent at odd moments finishing it, and then there remained the binding and finishing off. Modern quilts can be made on a large embroidery hoop similar to the smaller ones and put away when not being worked on. I have made two in that way.
And so the guests hitched up the nag or walked the distance home through the sand and mud, under the stars, or in the bright moonlight. Some would have a pattern of the new quilt, others a recipe of some fancied dish she had enjoyed at supper. But quilting was not the only accomplishment of our pioneer great-grandmothers. You may have a sampler which came down to you from your mother's mother. It will be worked in cross stitch on a piece of linen she wove herself. The silk will be faded and the whole a little tender with the years. It will have the alphabet worked on it, perhaps the date and name of the maker, and I have seen little houses and trees on some. On my own treasured sampler, the little girls must have been taught the cross stitch, as some of the work is imperfect and crooked, but I live it all the more for that. For years and years a threaded needle was there, just as the hands which worked the sampler placed it so long ago, but it became lost in some way. Their cross stitch work may be seen on many different objects and was supremely beautiful. Their rugs also were artistic and probably first made for warmth; but the artistry in every woman's soul could not be withheld--a useful object was made to be beautiful as well. All their garments were beautifully sewed. Tatting was another of their accomplishments. One of my favorite means of artistry was a bouquet of wax flowers, entirely true to Nature, placed in a shadow-box frame possibly octagonal in shape and made by some man in the family.
A dear friend, Mrs. Grace Daggett Adams, gave me the one her aunt, Miss Meribeth Daggett, gave her. Of forget-me-nots, roses and green leaves, it is marvelously lovely and a constant joy to me. Their babies' dresses were marvels of tucking, cording and embroidery.
Marvelous pioneer women! You have driven about our St. Lawrence County, you rejoiced in its forests, its lovely rivers making their musical way to the matchless stream on our north boundary and thence to the sea. You reveled in the vistas of field, and little brooks, in the "cattle on a thousand hills," the signs of prosperity and plenty--an empire in itself. Let us, as these possessions of ours unfold before us, give a grateful thought to the men and women who made them possible by untold hardships and self-denials. For the land did not clear itself nor did the fields make their harvests alone. Only continuous labor and patient endurance through many years revealed the possibilities and beauties of our beloved North Country. And we shall hope that our children, descendants of those sturdy forebears, will unfold still more opportunities and wonders latent in our soil, streams and woods.