Friday, 5 August 2011

Pioneer Women

The first time I visited the Pioneer Woman museum in Ponca City, I was overwhelmed by the quilts on display.  The main exhibit focused on patchwork-quilt-making and some of them were just breathtaking.  The one I've remembered ever since was huge.  It had a white background with a ring of patchwork on it.  I expected it would be called a wedding ring pattern,, but this design was much simpler.  Tell me you can look at a handmade quilt and not be awed. 

This is a 'modern' quilt but the pattern, aptly named as 'Road to Oklahoma'
dates back to the 1890s. It's said to be 'easy' to sew though the pattern looks
quite complicated. (I can't even manage a straight picture, never mind a seam!)

The main thing was that these were 'real' quilts, not 'modern' ones.  You could see that all the different fabrics used were not acquired for this purpose initially.  To me, a real quilt is one made from old clothes.  I know purchasing the coordinated cloth from the fabric shop, cutting big pieces into small pieces and sewing them back together in some sort of design comes up with a more reliable result.  It just seems artificial to me.  The real artistry is in using scraps, I think, and it's not easy to do.  I appreciate, too, that the vast variety of fabrics used in clothing these days, and particularly the stretchy nature of a lot of it, doesn't lend itself to encouraging 'real' patchwork anymore. 

A 'Crazy Quilt', made in the 1800s.

Finally, I have to hold up my hand here and admit that I've never even attempted a patchwork quilt.  In fact, the only patchwork I've ever done was a project I worked on in the car on this very trip, to while away the hours while Bill drove.  I'll show you what I made when I finish showing you where we went, OK?

Triange pattern, pieced circa 1900.

Although the main exhibit had changed I was really pleased that there was still the static part, with excerpts taken from various books, which are now added to my Amazon wish list.  I had actually tried to contact the museum at one point to find out the source of these quotes.  They haunted me for quite a while after that first visit.  My email wasn't answered, so I was thrilled to find them again.

Crown of Thorns pattern; stitched circa 1900

"Once during the bad drought of the fifties I crocheted a rag rug.... While I was working on the rug, I didn't have to think of the lack of rain, the hungry cattle, and the worry that, in spite of all my canning, there wasn't much food left in the house, and there was no money to buy more.  I put the rug aside only when I was so tired that I knew I could sleep."  LaVerne Hanners, Girl on a Pony

"It is the loneliness and, of course, the desire to create something beautiful, but more than all else, I believe women's fancywork reflects the desire to turn off the mind."   LaVerne Hanners, Girl on a Pony

"When my brother Felix was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1941, Mother began a piece of fancywork.  She bleached out a fifty-pound sugar sack and... started a border of drawnwork around it.... I was appalled that Mother had started such a tedious piece of work on such poor material.  I said, 'My god, Mother, you are putting all that work on an old sugar sack.  I would have bought you the finest linen.'  Mother smoothed the work over her knee and said, 'Oh, no, this is good enough.'.... She finished it just before Felix came home in 1945."   LaVerne Hanners, Girl on a Pony

Braided rugs are of course another use for fabric scraps

"Sometimes you don't have no control over the way things go.  Hail ruins the crops or fire burns you out.  And then you're just given so much to work with in life and you have to do the best you can with what you got.  That's what piecing is.  The material is passed on to you or is all you can afford to buy ...  Your fate.  But the way you put them together is your business.  You can put them in any order you like."  Mary White, The Quilters

Of course, patchwork and quilting are two separate things.  Patchwork is the piecing together of the different fabrics into a new large piece.  Quilting is the stitching together of layers of fabrics to make a thicker result.  I've seen some amazing stitchery done on a whole piece of satin to make a down quilt.  The intricate patterns of stitches used in quilting is a whole other form of art. 

The photo of the weaving loom didn't work very well. Another reason for
piecing fabrics of course will be that cloth used to be much more
expensive, being produced largely by hand.

"All the women would work hard every winter to make pretty new quilt tops so we could get together in the spring and start quilting...  We didn't have television in those days, and we were eager to visit and talk.  We laughed a lot ... we called them bees....  But if the men were around, we were as quiet as mice so they wouldn't find out how much fun we were having."   Twelve Golden Threads

I think that says a lot about the relationship between men and women back then.

These old fashioned hats fascinated me as well. 

Particularly this one of birds feathers, another sort of 'piecework'. 

And of course there are other old things on display which I enjoyed seeing. 

Bill pointed out this painting of a road being built, the old-fashioned way. 
He knew I'd be interested because my grandfather was a road builder
around 1918-1923.

Bill often remarks that he's glad I like 'old things'...


Jo said...

I have never been to this. Will have to put it on my list of places to see in OK.

Sandra said...

Shelley...a little behind, but catching up mid August on the "rest of your US trip". Loved the pictues of this museum. I love quilts. If you ever get a chance see the play THE is a beautiful play of women talking about the story behind the quilts, a collage of their life. As always, I love reading your capture life in all that you write. Hugs to you and Bill...Sandy

Shelley said...

Hi Sandra! Yes, when writing this, I investigated the two books they quoted from and discovered The Quilters was a play as well as a book. I mean to mention this to my Uncle Pat in case he'd like a different play to consider (directing, obviously, unless there are some male characters).