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Sharing and Displaying Heirloom Quilts

By Elaine Marze

If you are one of the lucky ones who has an heirloom quilt handmade by a loving grandmother there are some nice alternatives for displaying and sharing these precious memorabilia while also providing a great opportunity for some family stories, the kind to be passed down through generations.

My grandma, Emmie Eldorado Self Byrd, made a quilt for me in 1970 which one of my granddaughters uses on her bed now. She appreciates that it was hand-quilted by her great, great-grandmother 50 years ago. I also had an even older quilt sewn by grandma that was coming apart in places so I looked for ways to preserve it, and then a cousin in Mississippi told me he would love to have one of Grandma’s quilts so I considered various ways to share this piece of our family heritage.

Twenty years ago one of my aunts, Charlene Byrd Owens, made stockings and little pillows for family members out of one of grandma’s “Friendship” quilts. A friendship quilt is one where each quilter embroideries her name on the block she quilts. Sometimes referred to as a quilting bee, the ladies would take turns helping each other complete a bed covering. The stocking Aunt Charlene gave me was embroidered by “Gussie,” a neighbor and another Byrd relative. It is proudly displayed on my office wall today. Some other folks who share their vintage quilts frame pieces under glass.

After consideration, I decided to desecrate an old quilt made by G-Ma in an attempt to best display and share it, albeit in sections. A quilter friend helped me cut out two rocking chair pads but in order to spread the most joy from this family treasure I boxed up the other half and sent it to my aunt in Minnesota who volunteered to turn Grandma’s quilt into multiple items. She used part of it to make stockings for my granddaughters who live in Arkansas and the cousin in Mississippi. He has grandchildren who will be beneficiaries of these little bits of the past and the grandmother who inspired us by being a rock upon which our family was built.

I was blessed and privileged to go with my grandma to quilting’s when I was a little girl.  The ladies worked on quilts hung by a frame that could be lowered from the ceiling for the sewing, one similar to the one attached to grandma Byrd’s ceiling. I was proud to sit beside her as she taught me how to take tiny stitches on my allotted quilt block. I felt so grown up sitting among those ladies, listening to their conversations about which hens were producing the most eggs, which cows were drying up and what pretty new flour sack designs were for sale at Castleberry or Ivy’s general stores. The sweet memories of those times linger still.  I guess the ladies alternated houses because I remember at least two homes I accompanied grandma to, and one of those was and still is distinctive 60 years later due to a blue bottle tree in the front yard next to the family graveyard.  When the sunlight hits those navy-blue glass Milk of Magnesia bottles it is truly beautiful and a landmark to drivers on the scenic highway that runs pass the house in Sabine Parish, Louisiana.

Who knows how many times and places the pieces of Grandma Byrd’s quilts will bless her progeny, but for sure her spirit will live on across the country and ages.