Thursday, October 29, 2015

DELTA QUILT SERIES: Denim Britches Quilts

"I made all my quilts out of old shirts and dress tails and britches legs. . .whatever part of the pants wasn't wore out, like the pants legs, cause the knees mostly be wore out--we pick cotton on our knees." Loretta Petty, Architecture of the Quilt
As cooler weather arrives and thoughts of winter come to mind, I--like the Delta women before me--begin to think about keeping the family warm. . .Luckily, all I have to do is turn on the central heat and bring out a few blankets. . .Not so in the past. . .when making quilts for warmth was a necessity for winter survival.
At their very root, utility quilts are just that--objects made for warmth. . .not a lot of value is  placed on precise piecing and stitching. . .or buying new fabrics and pattern books. . .Often, these everyday quilts aren't all that pretty in a traditional sense . . .Yet, once a person realizes that they are in a category of their own. . .and recognizes  characteristics in common. . .the Southern utility quilts take on a certain charm. . These are not the quilts of  affluence. . .They were first and foremost a necessity when the cold winds of Southern winters blew through the tenant houses that were built with poor construction and little insulation. . .Yet, looking beyond the need for warm covers, there is something appealing about these practical everyday quilts. . ...'Make the pieces fit' but in a pleasing manner. . .and use the technique called improvisation to do it. . .


As I began to research local Delta quilts in the light of those in other Southern states, I found that I had to remind myself to see these quilts in a much different perspective--to see them for what they are. . .to see the beauty of them as a connection to the life of sharecroppers and tenants. . .These quilts tell a story, if we will only look closer.
Finding quality examples of Southern utility quilts is not easy. . .simply because most were in use everyday and were not considered to be collectable. . .Over the years, most of the quilts have disappeared. . .The discovery of these three britches quilts was exciting. . .Even though they are in disrepair, they are good examples  of similar ones found on the plantations and farms in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. . .
Britches or britchy quilts are sometimes called work-clothes quilts. . .They are probably my favorite. . .but the hardest to find thus far. . .Although I don't know the specific stories behind them, I'm certain that the old shirts and denim have seen their share of picking cotton and farm work. . .They have been aged through many washings and much wear and tear. . .
'Tenant farmers in the South wore a muted palette of browns, grays, and blues. . .Old denim pants and overalls, field-worn and sun blocked, create a rich spectrum of dusty blues. . .wear-tears, stain, patches, mendings and faded seams provide further nuances. These characteristics are an integral part of the work-clothes aesthetic. . ." Architecture of the Quilt
It so happens that two of our vintage britches quilts are similar in construction. . .Of course, any quilt that utilizes denim or any other work pant qualifies. . .I chose these first quilts because they are constructed in the simplest of ways. . .It is the METHOD of piecing that is the key to understanding them. . .
The first two examples are sometimes called the 'Lazy Girl'. . .I'm sure you can see why. . .Strips of any good fabric from cast-off work clothes are sewn in vertical rows. . .every inch of that fabric is incorporated. . .including the removed pocket areas where there is less fading. . .The 'batting' in this particular quilt is old work shirts. . .worn and torn. . .laid flat . . .between the top and the backing. . .hand-in-hand with the characteristics of other Southern rural utility quilts: 
  • Strips in vertical rows
  • Every part of the clothing is utilized, including the underneath side of the removed pocket
  • Batting of old work shirts
  • Not enough denim to finish the quilt, so a patch of khaki is added
  • Backing from flour sacks
  • Binding folded over from the back and stitched
  • Use of large utility stitches to hold the three layers together

Here's another example of the 'Lazy Girl' style. . .pieced with the same method yet looking different due to the fabrics at hand. . .
  • Vertical strips
  • Covering another quilt underneath that was too worn to use, making this quilt thick and heavy
  • Backing from printed feed sacks in a random fashion
  • Tacked to hold the layers together
  • Bound by folding the backing to the front and stitching

Our third britches quilt is a type of medallion pattern at it's simplest form. . .The center is constructed first. . .usually dictated by the largest piece of salvaged fabric the maker has. . .Then strips are added around it until the desired size is achieved. . .fairly traditional. . .but without using a planned and precise pattern. . .It is another 'make-do' creation. . .
  • Use of work clothes
  • Flour sack backing
  • Very thin with only a little fabric as batting
  • Patching of holes in order to make larger pieces of fabric (Love the heart shapes)
  • No matching of fabric patterns in the strips
  • Binding by folding the front to the back and stitching
  • Utility quilting stitches in the Baptist fan style
  • Use of unconventional black thread for quilting, possibly the only color that was on-hand

This quilt would be very easy to copy the method of piecing. . .It would come together fairly quickly. . .I was so excited when I found this one that I could barely contain my enthusiasm while negotiating a price with the owner. . .He saw it as a 'rag'. . .so there wasn't a lot of convincing to do. . .'One man's trash is another wo-man's treasure'. . .(grin)

The britches quilts may look like rags to some. . .and of little value to others. . .but when you look below the surface, you begin to see their connection to farm history. . .Make-do. . .Creative. . .The Remnants of Hard work and Survival. . .Priceless to this Farmer's Daughter.
In future posts, I'll share more techniques of construction and reveal a few of the signs and symbols often incorporated into Delta quilts. . .I have many more to show you. . .We've only begun our journey.

GEES BEND: ARCHITECTURE OF THE QUILT, by Paul Arnett, William Arnett, Bernard Herman, Maggi Gordon, Diane Mott, Dilys Blum, Lauren Whitley, Amei Wallach, Joanne Cubbs, Tinwood Books, 2006                                                                       

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Shining Up the '56 Chevy Bob Truck

Wow! I never thought a little shining up of the bob truck would make such a difference. . .

BEFORE (Fall 2015)

BEFORE (2012)

The goal was to protect what's left of the truck paint from another winter of ice and snow. . .I never dreamed it would look so good with just a day of 'elbow grease'. . .
This truck is so special to us. . .It happens that it was bought new by my Dad for this very farm back in 1956. . .It was sold to the Dilldines in 1975 when Daddy retired. . .As a child, I rode with my Dad in this truck many times. . .A LONG story of how it ended up back home. . .If you'd like to read more about it. . . CLICK HERE 
Besides the obvious link to my Dad, there is another reason the truck means so much to us. . .We left the  'DILLDINE FARMS' name on the doors in memory of our friend Tommy Dilldine. . .whose family has farmed our land since 1975. . .I'll never forget how much care and support Tommy gave us when John and I moved here in 2005. . .I'd known Tommy all my life and it was sure special to have him take such an interest in us. . .Any time we needed anything, Tommy was there. . .We'll never forget his kindness. . .and honor him in this very small way. 
Now that the cab looks so good, the truck bed needs some attention, too, doesn't it?. . .Those thick cypress boards have lasted several decades but with each winter, they deteriorate more. . .Finding cypress to replace them may be a challenge. . .We'll 'worry' about that next year. . .since Winter is almost here and we have other projects more pressing. . .Maybe in the Spring? . .Of course we'll keep you posted. . .(grin)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Beginning to Look LIke FALL

It's FALL AT THE FARM. . .One of my favorite seasons. . .Since we are not conducting tours this year, I'm only decorating a little. . .Nothing like I've done in the past. . .We are trying to beat the Winter weather that will eventually come. . .Still have many repairs and projects to finish. . .I can't have Fall, though, without HER CROWS and MUMS. . .Decided to concentrate decorating around the OLD BOB TRUCK that sits out front. . .I found these beautiful mums at Lowes for 4.99. . .They were unloading the truck so I grabbed them. . .And of course, we have a Her Crow all dressed for Halloween. . .overseeing everything. . .Just a FUN little vignette. . .