Quilts, Ticks and Line Dried Sheets
This is the "bedding page", with pictures of hand made quilts which have accumulated at our house over the years. I hesitate to call it a "collection" of quilts since all of the quilts are used in some fashion. I think of a "collection" as something that is put behind glass never to be touched, or something that is no longer used for its intended purpose. Most of these quilts are used year 'round for some purpose, either functional or display. Some are favorites that are especially welcome in the winter months for warmth. It just seems a shame to put them in a trunk, or out of sight, when they can contribute so much color to the surroundings. They also serve to visually jog the past memories of the loved one who made them. I would think that the creator of each, who spent many hours of painstaking handiwork in gathering the materials and placing each stitch, would not want them to be buried out of sight in a chest or trunk. Of course, as with most earthly things, there are a few that are just plain "worn out", and therefore see little, if any use. The old, worn and faded quilts are stored away, for a purpose that I am unable to fully explain. I could never think of any reason to throw any of them away. Maybe keeping them is an effort to retain a feeble grip on the fleeting moments of the past that were spent with my mother, grandmother, aunt, or a dear friend. And maybe, by hanging on to those "old rags" in the present, the many "ragged scraps of the past" will somehow remain pieced together.
Due to the size of the quilt picture files, I have put them on separate pages linked to the maker's name. Click on the links below to view the quilts. The files may take a little while to load but be patient, the pictures are worth the short wait.
Harriett Lucille Collingsworth 1901-1991 Kentucky
Laura Tennessee Hurst 1880-1963 Kentucky
"Nannie" Parr - Covington, Georgia
Dorothy Opal Jones - London, Kentucky
Aunt Emma Stoneburner 18?? - 1942 Ohio
The following Ramblin's about quilts, ticks and line-dried sheets may bring back a few good memories.
There was never a shortage of "rags" around our home, or any of our relative's homes. Some of those rags we even continued to wear, as "work clothes", with appropriate patches to cover the worn or torn spots. The old clothes that had been retired were stored in bags or boxes, in the corner of a closet, or were neatly folded in a drawer or chest. Some were stored intact, others were disassembled, with buttons removed and stored in an old tea canister, zippers were kept for whatever reason and stored in a dresser drawer. Some were cut to eliminate the seams of the original garment, and some were unraveled at the seams to save even the small area of cloth taken up by the seam of the original garment. These old clothes, overalls, dresses, jackets, shirts, curtains, tablecloths, dress pants, aprons, or cotton nightgowns, would later become patches for the clothes we still wore, or would become a part of a beautiful piece of handiwork called a quilt.
No usable scrap of material, of any kind, no matter how small, was ever thrown away at our house. How my grandmother, or "Mom" (I called her Mom because she raised me), kept tract of what material, how much, and where these scraps were located was always a mystery to me. But she did and as a child, I would see her cutting and hand stitching little squares and odd shapes as she listened to her "stories" on the little kitchen radio or while sitting in the living room next to the fireplace. It seemed as if she was always doing something or other to keep her hands busy. She spent much of her time in the kitchen doing things like cooking, canning, washing clothes or dishes, or reading her Bible. But amidst all that activity she still took time to sew, crochet and knit. She made most of her own dresses and aprons on an old Singer sewing machine, using patterns she ordered from mail order houses, and crocheted many different "doilies" that adorned the tables and dressers in our home. She knitted and sewed potholders and other little things that she gave away as gifts.
In the little windows of time that occurred between all the other activities required to keep the home going, Mom always managed to work at cutting and piecing little scraps of cloth together that would eventually turn into a beautiful quilt. It was always as if the future would go on forever and she would have time to finish what she had started. It was not a process of going to a point and then stopping, it was just simply moving forward with blind faith that enough time would be available and she would live long enough to finish stitching together every little scrap of cloth that she had ever saved. She was making quilts long before I was born, and had made several while quite young, with the help of her mother, who also had made several quilts over the years before she got to the point she could no longer form the intricate stitches required in "quiltin". There was nothing "fancy" about any of these quilts, and all were made for use, not show. Some were reserved for company but mostly they were just everyday quilts to keep us warm and snug in our beds at night. Some of the quilts we used were ones that had been made years before by her own mother and given to her when she married my grandfather and "set up housekeeping".
Regardless of our faith and the belief that enough time is left to do what has to be done, failing health and other things can interfere and shorten our time on earth. This can result in some things left undone. When "Mom" began to lose her short-term memory, she lost her ability to finish anything, much less projects that had been ongoing, or planned in years past. She went on to meet God in 1991, just short of 90 years on this earth. It was a meeting she eagerly awaited, and after she got to the point where she could no longer care for herself, prayed daily for the day to come soon. My wife and I watched this once proud and energetic woman waste away, in our own home, to an empty shell, ravaged by a dementia for which medical science has found no cure and can offer no explanation for its cause. The illness deprived her of her ability to pass on to others much of the knowledge she had accumulated in her many years on this earth. And others were deprived of the benefit of that knowledge. After her passing, the many uncut and un-sewn scraps of cloth were still there, much more than enough to last another full lifetime. But, in the bottom of her cedar chest, neatly folded inside out, and placed under all her other little treasures and memorabilia of the past, were three beautiful, meticulously pieced, and complete quilt tops. Thanks, Mom!
There are three kinds of "ticks". One is a disgusting, little blood sucking critter, that lurks in the woods waiting to attach itself to the back of your neck right where your hair starts, or to your "dawg", in a place where he can't bite them to death. Once on you, they will suck the very lifeblood out of you until they swell up big as your thumb. The aggressive little creature is difficult to remove and usually brings a hunk of skin with it when you yank it off. If you get it fairly early before it fattens up, you can hardly kill the thing because it is thin, quick, and slick. It almost requires a direct hit in the center of its body with the end of a sharp stick, or a good twisting under your shoe to waste it. I have known some folks down through the years that are the same way. Blood sucking, thin, quick and slick. And when you finally do get them off you, they always manage to take with them, a piece of your hide, a pint of your blood, or a big chunk of your wallet.
The second tick is the sound of a clock that represents the other half of a "tock", as in "tick-tock". This tick is the representation of half of a very small component of time and its sound lets us know of the passing of a very small but important part of life that just quickly got by. Ticks are different in sound, depending on the clock, but by the time you hear the "tick", or see a modern digital "tick", a special moment in your life has passed you by, never to be reclaimed. It doesn't seem like much, but like the pennies that people sometimes throw on the ground because they don't buy much, that little tick, although it can't be saved like the penny, can all too soon add up to the total years of a lifetime. Unlike the first tick, this tick should never be wasted.
The other tick, and the only one that really belongs on this page, is the coarse cotton material with heavy stripes, that at one time, was found in every household. This material was simply known as "tickin", to most country folks, and was as common in homes as eggs and lard. It was used to form the sacks, or "ticks", to contain the "goose down", used as stuffin', in pillows and "featherbeds". Most of you probably know what a pillow is, and some of you may even have heard of a "featherbed". But just in case some of you don't happen to know about either one, I will try to explain it as best this old mountain boy can.
A pillow is that thing you put your head on at night when you go to bed. I'm not talking about mama's breast or papa's hairy chest! I'm talking about the thing that stays at the head of the bed most of the time. Your's might be a solid chunk of soft foam, or one filled with chopped synthetic foam, or maybe coarse feathers from a chicken processing plant. And most likely it is encased in some kind of polywhatever in a faded out color. When you bury your face in it, the faint odor of an old car tire may be detected, especially if the pillowcase hasn't been washed in a few days. If it has been washed recently it probably smells "chemikally", like fabric softener or a dryer sheet but the old tire smell is still there if you pay attention. You might say that a "pillow is a pillow" if it supports your head. But unlike calling a "rose a rose", a "pillow" is not necessarily a "pillow". In order for a pillow to be a real pillow it has to be a genuine "tick" stuffed with goose feathers! Go ahead and strip the pillowcases off your pillows right now. If what you have left, after you remove the pillowcases, is not material with blue/gray stripes that is kind of coarse to the touch, and you can't shake all the stuffing down to one end, then you do not have a real pillow. Bury your face in it and what do you smell? What you have is really a modern "imitation" of a pillow that somebody told you was a pillow, and sold you as a pillow. It may look like a pillow and feel like a pillow but it ain't a "real" pillow.
Inside the ticken' of a real pillow is several thousand small pieces of goose down that someone painstakingly plucked by hand, over a long period of time, from the breasts of living geese. If you are not familiar with goose down, and how expensive it is, just go down to the ski shop and check the prices on a down filled parka or jacket. Talk about sticker shock! Anyhow, after the prepared ticking material was cut to size and sewn on three sides and part of the fourth, the accumulated goose down was meticulously stuffed into the tick until the desired firmness was attained. The small opening at the end of the tick was closed with hand stitching to complete the pillow. No outside stitching showing here folks. Everything looks like it was totally done from the inside, since not a thread is showing at the seams on the outside. Kind of like a football, done inside out and then turned right side out. (Very, very confusing, even to me, and I'm the one who wrote it.) The quantity, rather than the quality, of the goose down inside the tick determined if the pillow was soft, firm or downright hard. A good shaking, pounding and plumping will bring a goose feather pillow back to its original shape no matter how flat or wadded up it gets. Goose down pillows require very little maintenance, and generally will last for generations. However, there are ways to shorten the life of a good pillow, two that come to mind are drinking too much bad whisky and getting sick in your sleep, and placing a sleeping baby, with a thin diaper, on a pillow immediately after giving the baby a bottle of milk.
A featherbed was made in much the same way except on a larger scale, since in reality, it is simply a very large pillow. It could be used on the floor, or over a hard cotton mattress, as all mattresses were, before modern technology infiltrated the bedding industry. You could sleep on a featherbed year 'round, since it kept you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. When properly maintained it would fit itself to your body and support everything that needed to be supported. A featherbed could be rolled up, or gathered up, and stored away if not in use, and it could easily be placed outside on a sunny day for freshening. Extra featherbeds were great if you didn't have enough beds to go around and needed to make another bed on the floor for company. We have just retired a featherbed at our house due to failure of the ticking material. It has been in my family for three-plus generations! The goose down is being salvaged for use in new pillows that are currently under construction, using genuine, old-fashioned ticking materials. Modern folks can have their waterbeds, special bone supporting mattresses, and foam pillows. I'll settle for a goose down featherbed with a matching pillow anytime.
There was another use for ticking material scraps. Many families were fed with the meat of wild game secured from the woods with the help of an old Kentucky rifle or other muzzleloader. Kentucky rifles are loaded with a round lead ball, from the muzzle end, after a powder charge has been poured into the barrel. The lead ball is slightly smaller than the hole in the barrel so some means is required to seal the ball in the barrel over the powder charge. To do this, something else has to be inserted with the ball, to make up the gap between the ball and the inside of the barrel. This is usually a piece of cloth known as a "patch". The early gun-makers, armed with the knowledge that ticking material would always be available to the early pioneers, designed the rifles so that the space between the ball and barrel would be about .010 of an inch thick, which is the approximate thickness of the material. The shooter always carried a scrap piece of tick material in his shooting, or "possibles" bag. When loading his rifle the ticking material would be laid across the muzzle and the ball would be pressed flush with the end of the barrel, which forced the ticking into the barrel, completely surrounding and sealing the ball. The shooter would then cut away the excess material with a "patch knife" that was usually carried conveniently on, or about, his chest. The ball was then rammed down into the barrel with the ramrod to seat it on the powder charge. Hopefully, with loaded rifle, the hunter would then be able to bring home meat for the family.
"Line Dried Sheets"
If you have never had the opportunity to lay between a set of "line dried" bed sheets on a featherbed, with your head on a feather pillow that is encased in a "line dried" pillowcase, you have missed out on one of the great pleasures of life in the mountains. The pillowcase may have even been made from an old feed sack and was rough to the touch but the smell was always the same. It is nice in our modern times to get into a freshly changed bed with crisp, clean sheets and fresh pillowcases. If you take that nice feeling and multiply in by ten you will arrive at something near the feeling of clean sheets and pillowcases that have been "line dried" in the gentle breeze and bright sun of the Appalachian Mountains. Folks, we're not talking fabric softeners and dryer sheets here. The comparison just doesn't exist. Using dryer sheets to try and simulate the softness and smell of "line dried" sheets or other clothes is like putting up a plastic Christmas tree and then spraying that pine smelling stuff in the room to try and fool the senses. It's just not the same as the real thing!
These ramblings are only a small part of the good things that mountain life in the Southern Appalachians had to offer when I was a youth. Friends and family, a simple home located in a neighborhood where you didn't have to lock your doors, delicious home cooked meals almost everyday that sometimes included rabbit or squirrel that I had brought in from the mountains, and a small church where you knew everyone and everyone knew you. Those memories are very dear to me and I will cherish them forever. However, the one thing that I remember most is getting into a soft featherbed between line dried sheets, putting my head down on a soft goose down pillow and pulling a couple of hand made quilts up under my chin to keep me warm through a long winter night.
I just can't think of anything better!
This is an open page and I will add other photos as they become available. If you have a picture of your favorite family quilt that you wish to share with others I would be glad to post it on this page and give appropriate credit to it's maker. Contact me by Email below.
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Last Updated 5-31-99
© D. E. Blair 1998 -1999