Christmas, 1936, brought an exciting Christmas present for my Grandma Ohlin. Grandpa bought her an electric sewing machine! Until then, she had used a treadle machine to create clothes for her family. She was a seamstress, not by profession, but by necessity. She made clothes for her family, for church bazaars, and for grandchildren, using whatever materials she had available. She used scraps to make quilts to keep the family warm. Mom remembers that Christmas, when she was 10 years old. The gifts that year were all wrapped in red cellophane. It was the Depression, and you used what you had. Grandpa hid the machine at Aunt Fern and Uncle Walt’s house, to be delivered at the appropriate time.
When I was 4 1/2 years old, my family was preparing to move from Salt Lake City to Denver. Grandma was tieing a flannel quilt for my brother, a grey background with red yarn ties. I asked to help, and Grandpa said, “Sylvia, you are too young.” Grandma had other ideas when she responded, “No she isn’t, Carl.” Grandpa was sent to get the red crochet cotton and soon I had a needle in hand. I’m sure the ties I added weren’t great, but Grandma left them there. I’m sure she didn’t realize that would be the only quilt we would make together. She died seven months later after a short illness, but the memory of that day didn’t die with her. It is a treasured memory of a Grandma gone too soon.
The sewing machine became Mom’s machine after Grandma’s death, and with it, Mom clothed her seven children. Mom didn’t follow Grandma’s quilt making tradition, although Aunt Fern did. I was in college when Aunt Fern taught Mom to hand quilt, and I learned, too. My stitches weren’t great or quickly set, but I knew the basics. The sewing machine became mine when I was a freshman in college, since Mom had gotten a machine that would zigzag.
I had four children before I got a “modern” machine that did more than straight stitch, but Grandma’s machine was the one my older daughters sewed on first. Eventually, I stopped using it, and it was a piece of furniture for many years. Last summer, I had it repaired, ready for piecing quilt projects. Many years after my “quilting day with Grandma,” I started doing some “quilt” projects. I learned on my own, reading books and magazines, and sometimes, just “doing my own thing.” Aunt Fern shared quilt ideas and skills with me, too. Still, that memory of Grandma was with me each time I worked on a project.
As Christmas approached, I wanted to “make a memory” with my grandsons. We have been blessed with three grandsons. Matthew, 3 yrs. old, lives in another state and isn’t quite old enough for this kind of project. Aidan and Ryan, ages eight and five, live close and are just the right age for keeping secrets and having fun. We decided to make a quilt for their parents as a Christmas surprise.
The boys chose batiks from my collection during one weekend visit. I cut 8 inch squares and sewed them together on Grandma’s machine. Then the boys came over again to help tie the quilt. We used flannel on the back and a puffy bat to make it into a “snuggle blanket.”
We had a system as we tied. I put the needle down through the quilt “sandwich”, and Ryan would crawl under and pull the yarn through. Then the needle came up, and again, Ryan pulled the yarn through. Aidan came behind, cutting the yarn and tieing square knots. They took out the pins and wrapped up in the blanket, finished or not!
I bound the quilt with the strips left from the fat quarters, and then we wrapped it up in a big box. It was still a secret! What fun to see them give that big box to their parents. The boys want to make more quilts, this time for themselves. We will, and the tradition will continue…
I’m sure Grandma, and Grandpa, smiled as they watched…and it all started with a Christmas present, 75 years ago.