WPA Quotes about Quilt Construction


Allen Price: “My pappy helped at de hospital after [the Battle of Sabine Pass], and dey has it in a hotel and makes bandages out of sheets and pillow cases and underwear, and uses de rugs and carpets for quilts.”

Benjamin Johnson, Georgia: “De clothes den wusn’t but ol’ plain white cloth. Most of em’ wus patched fum de legs to de waist. Some wus patched so till dey looked like a quilt.”

Betty Cofer (“Aunt Betty”), North Carolina: I used to wait on the girl who did the weavin’ When she took the cloth off the looms she done give me the “thrums” (ends of thread left on the loom.) I tied’em all together with teensy little knots an’ got me some scraps from the sewin room and I made me some quilt tops. Some of ’em was real pretty to!”

Charlie Robinson, South Carolina: “Glad you come out here but sorry of de day, ’cause it is a Friday and all de jay-birds go to see de devil dat day of de week. It’s a bad day to begin a garment, or quilt or start de lye hopper or ‘simmon beer keg or just anything important to yourself on dat day.”

Fannie Moore, North Carolina: “My mammy she work in de fiel’ all day and quilt all night. Den she hab to spin enough thread to make four cuts for de white fo’ks ebber night. Why sometime I nebber go to bed. Hab to hold de light for her to see by. She hab to piece quilts for the white folk too. Why dey is a scar on my arm yet where my brother done let de pine drip on me… My brother was a holdin’ de pine so’s I can help mammy tack de quilt and he go to sleep and let it drop.”

G.W. Hawkins, Arkansas: “The women made all the quilts. What I mean, they carded the rolls, spun the thread – spun it on an old hand-turned wheel – and then they would reel it off of the broach onto the reel and make hanks out of it. Then they would run it off on what they called quills. Then it would go ’round a big pin and come out with the threads separated. Then they would run through something like a comb and that would make the cloth.”

Georgia Baker, Georgia: “No Mam, dere warn’t no special cornshuckin’s and cotton pickin’s on Marse Alec’s place, but of course dey did quilt in de winter ’cause dere had to be lots of quiltin’ done for all dem slaves to have plenty of warm kivver, and you knows, Lady ‘omens can quilt better if dey gits a passel of ’em together to do it.” In the words of the interviewer, “Georgia’s reeking pipe had been laid aside for the watermelon and not long after that was consumed the restless black fingers sought occupation sewing gay pieces for a quilt.”

Hannah Allen (“Aunt Hannah”), Missouri: “We set by de fireside and picked a shoe full of cotton and den we could go to bed. But you did alot before you got dat shoe full of cotton when it was pressed down, Dis was almost enough to pad a quilt with.”

Hattie Thompson, Arkansas: “[Mama] would spin and weave and the larger children did too. They made bed spreads in colors and solid white. They called the colored ones coverlets. They was pretty. Mama helped quilt. She was a good hand at that. They made awful close stitches and backstitched every now and then to make it hold. They would wax the thread to keep it from rolling up and tangling… Mama was a nice hand at cooking and hand sewing. She said Miss Sallie learnt her. She never could read.”

Henry Wright, Georgia: In the words of the interviewer, “As Mr. House did not give blankets, the slaves were required to make the necessary cover by piecing together left over goods. After this process was completed, it was padded with cotton and then dyed in much the same way as homespun. After the dyeing was completed the slave was the owner of a new quilt.”

Lillie Williams, Arkansas: “When I was a child I picked up pine knots for torches to quilt and knit by.”

Lina Hunter, Georgia: “Honey, dem old balmoral petticoats was some sight, but dey was sho warm as hell. I seed a piece of one of mine not long ago whar I had done used it to patch up a old quilt.”

Lucinda Elder, Texas: “While [the wood gang] is haulin’, de women make quilts and dey is wool quilts. Course, dey ain’t made out of shearin’ wool, but jes’ as good. Marse John have lots of sheep and when dey go through de briar patch de wool cotch on dem briars and in de fall de women folks goes out and picks de wool off de briers jes’ like you picks cotton. Law me, I don’t know nothin’ ’bout makin’ quilts out of cotton till I comes to Texas.

Lula Jackson, Arkansas: “Wasn’t no such things as lamps in them days. Jus’ used pine knots. When we quilted, we jus’ got a good knot and lighted it. And when that one was nearly burnt out, we would light another one from it.”

Martha Everette, Georgia: “Old Aunt Martha what nussed de chillun while deir Mammies wukked in de field was de quiltin’ manager. It warn’t nothin’ for ‘omans’ to quilt three quilts in one night. Dem quilts had to be finished ‘fore dey stopped t’eat a bit of de quiltin’ feast. Marse Billy ‘vided dem quilts out ‘mongst de Niggers what needed ’em most.”

Mary Island, Arkansas: “We lived in a log house with a dirt floor and the cracks was chinked with mud and our bed was some poles mailed against the wall with two legs out o the dirt floor, and we pulled grass and put in a lowel bed tick. My aunty would get old dresses, old coats, and old pants and make quilts.”

Mary Tabon, Arkansas: “Mr. Ash give me a lot of scraps from his garment factory. I made them up in quilts. He give me enough to make three dresses. I needed dresses so bad.” In the words of the interviewer, “One dress has sixty-six pieces in it but it didn’t look like that. They sent it to Little Rock and St. Louis for the county fairs. Her dresses looked fairly well.”

Richard Mack, South Carolina: “I loved dem days, I loved dem people. We lived better- we had no money – we had nothing to worry about – just do your task. Spin wheel and reel and reel for the yarn. I filled my arms full of quilt – hand made.”

William Stone, Texas: Describing his parents experience in Alabama, “Old Man River was sho’ purty in the fall, when dem wild geeses come in droves and de blossoms red and yeller. De fogs come hang over and chills and fever gets started. De women sot by de fire piecin’ quilts and spinnin’ thread, and de old men weave cotton baskets and chair bottoms, and de young men work on de levees, so dey hold Old Man River back when he start prowlin’ roun”gain.”

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