The Quilting Frame
Among my earliest childhood memories were times when my cousins and I would play beneath my Mothers quilting frame while she and my Grandmother sat sewing quilts. As a three or four year old child I had no concept of quilting frame construction only the fact they made great tents for playing and hiding under. Guess, for the non quilters it would probably be a good idea if I give you a brief description, of which I learned in later life, how the frame was made and used.
The frame was hung from the ceiling by way of small ropes looped through screw type eyelets. These eyelets were screwed through the lath and plaster, and in some cases the wooden ceilings. Sometimes during the actual sewing of the quilt, the frames were left hanging full length until the quilt was finished. Other times the frame was raised by way of pulling the ropes through the eyelets in the ceiling and tying them off at the frame.
The frames themselves were made of four hardwood slats larger than the width and length of a normal quilt with holes in each end of the slats larger than a sixty penny nail – the nail being approximately six inches in length. Length wise there was only one hole in the ends of the slats, however the end or width slat had nail holes about six inches apart along the entire length of the slat. Finishing nails or brads approximately one inch in length were nailed across the full length of each slat about one inch apart with approximately one half of the nail remaining out of the slat. These were used to attach the edges of the top and bottom materials used for the quilt with the cotton batting laid in between.
When ready for use, the frames hung just about chair height making it easy for my mother and grandmother to slide their chairs comfortably under the frames for sewing. Depending upon the stitch they were sewing, most of the work was done along the length of the quilt. As they finished a full length of sewing, they would just wind the quilting frame with the finished part wrapped around the frame and reinsert the end nails back in the slats and keep sewing until they finished the quilt. The border or edges of the quilt were sewn to finish after taking the quilt from the frame.
It sounds like I was an expert on quilting frames, but the only thing I was really expert at was swinging on the frames themselves. Not known to my mother - the frames holding a non finished quilt made a great trampoline…good thing four year olds didn’t weigh much. In the annals of frame playing it was great sport to run full length under the quilt jumping up and bouncing my head into the bottom of the quilt – even as my mother sewed. Needless to say this sport never lasted very long!
With the end spikes (nails) sticking through the slats at the ends, play could be hazardous – as proven by my cousin Billy. Seems, he forgot to duck as he ran under the frame and received a two inch gash in his scalp. Another incident happened when a neighbor’s son, who just happened to be seven, swung on his mothers frame and pulled it from the ceiling. Too many ice cream cones!
I recall one evening when my devilish cousin Pete was over and had quickly volunteered to play with us younger kids. This usually meant bad news for us little kids. Pete was nine and seemed to know all the tricks of the trade when it came to being devilish. He also knew how to lower my mothers quilting frame - and he did just that before suggesting we play tag. Seems Pete had turned the lights off in my mothers sewing room and when the game began my friend James and I made a mad dash for the sewing room. Little did we know Pete had lowered mothers quilting frame to only two feet off the floor. As we ran into the darkened room, we went sprawling on top of mothers quilt ripping the material from the small nails along the rail. Needless to say, we had made a mess of mothers quilt along with cutting our legs on the small nails holding the quilt in place. Lucky for us, but unlucky for Pete mother saw through his prank and let him reap the rewards of his miss deed.
In terms of my quilting frame days they were short, but great fun, and after all said and done I guess I most enjoyed just lying on my back under the frame watching mother sew - just trying to guess what design she would make with her needle and thread next.
----------------------------------------------------Author: Joe Spearman