Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Christmas Letter 1938

December 24, 1938
Dear Mother. . .I am writing to you this CHRISTMAS EVE with a HAPPY HEART. . .I don't know what comes over me each year at HOLIDAY time. . .There is something MAGICAL that settles over our farms. . .Even the animals seem to sense it. . .You know how much I LOVE Christmas. . .My own daughters talk among themselves that if they can't get what they want out of me at Christmas, there sure isn't any need to ask the rest of the year. . .I suppose they are right. . .I can't be a Scrooge at this time of the year. . .
Crops are a bit better this year. . .Cotton prices are rising slowly. . .Maybe this Great Depression is about over. . .Once again I'll be able to pay my TENANTS for their year of hard work. . .and I will be able to add a little extra at each one's door. . .. .I just yesterday received the last of the crates of ORANGES and GRAPEFRUIT from Florida. . .A few days ago, the shipment of RUSSELL STOVER CANDY arrived by rail. . .I think I'll have enough to give to FAMILY and FRIENDS. . .as well as the FARM WORKERS. . .And as usual, I made arrangements with L. M. (Moody Grocery) to deliver Christmas boxes to every FAMILY on the farms. . . .Let's see. . .I think I have close to fifty families now. . .I don't want any child to be without a CHRISTMAS WISH coming true. . .and I certainly don't want them to be hungry on that important day. . .I began gathering sizes and wishes from each family back in October so L. M. would have plenty of time to get the GIFTS together. . .I had to take a little out of my savings to do this. . .but it's worth it. . .Wish you could see the SMILES on the children's faces when the gifts arrive. . .
No matter how humbly our farm workers and tenants live. . .they do their best to CELEBRATE the birth of OUR SAVIOR. . .Sometimes it's very make-do. . .but it does speak of the JOY that is in their HEARTS for this season of HOPE. . .Families together in LOVE. . .I think that's the true SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS anyway. . .don't you? . .There were many Christmases growing up that all we had was a good meal and something you handmade for us. . .We didn't feel poor. . .We felt RICH. . .A chicken and your wonderful dressing. . .cranberry sauce. . .greens. . .and corn. . .and beans. . .and you never forgot my favorite. . .Mince Meat Pie.  


Speaking of FAMILY, mine is doing well. . .Irene is 11 this Christmas. . .She is changing from a little girl to a very pretty young lady. . .I admit I spoil her, giving in to her wishes probably one too many times. . .Alice scolds me often about it. . .but she is SPECIAL. . .a God-send in our older ages. . .Mamie and Naoma spoil her as much as I. . .They are both teaching at Dell this year. . .They have been busy with Christmas programs at CHURCH and SCHOOL. . .I've noticed a lot of whispering and giggles going on, too. . .a sure sign of the SEASON. . .All three daughters will be CHRISTMAS CAROLING tonight while Alice and I finish the TREE. . .They'll come back a bit 'stuffed' after eating candy and cookies. . .and drinking hot chocolate. . .at just about every house in Dell.
Alice asks for very little this time of the year. . .except. . .that her family all be TOGETHER. . .You know what a good cook she is. . .She started baking and preparing for the big dinner right after Thanksgiving. . .Just this morning she shooed me out of the kitchen so she could make all ready for tomorrow. . .To Alice, as it was with you, feeding the family well is not a task she bears. . .it is her act of LOVE. . .Plenty of food and the Love that goes into it. . .She tries to make at least one of each girl's favorites. . .and of course she makes my favorite Mince Meat Pie from your recipe. . .LIFE IS GOOD. . .
All in all, it HAS been a good year. . .full of surprises. . .and a lot of hard work. . .but many BLESSINGS also. . .I hope this finds you well. . .I know you must be missing Papa but thankfully you have my brothers close-by and I'm sure you'll be celebrating the day with them. . .I'm sending you much LOVE from my family. . .and many BLESSINGS in the next year. . .I LOVE YOU. . .


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ten Feisty Women, One Brave Man and A Farm Style Photo Shoot at C A's Grocery

I'm so glad I can let you in on a SECRET. . .I've been bursting at the seams ever since October. . .when TEN GALS and ONE GUY from TEMPS PLUS in Blytheville, Arkansas. . .visited the farm for a FUN-FILLED photo shoot. . .Now that the ad has come out in several MAGAZINES. . .and I'm told on billboards in Blytheville and Osceola. . .I can break my silence. . .
These LADIES. . .and ONE GENT. . .put on their BOOTS AND JEANS. . .
donned those CLASSIC WHITE T's. . .
and got their FARM STYLE ON. . .
While the photographer went to work, I snapped several behind-the-scene shots. . .
And here they are in the
Check out the rest of DELTA CROSSROADS. . .a magazine that celebrates LIFE IN THE DELTA. . .  They are FREE at banks, museums, and public places all across Northeast Arkansas. . .or. . .view the entire HOLIDAY ISSUE at: Delta Crossroads Magazine
And please. . .
if you see us on those BILLBOARDS. . .

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                                                                       
AFRICAN AMERICAN QUILTS, http://www.africanamericanquilts.net/

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. . .

Monday, September 28, 2015


PLANTATION, Utility Quilt Top 2012 Unfinished, D Duncan

One day long ago. . .when I was probably 9 or 10 years old. . .I remember pedaling my bike to C. A.'s store and noticing quilts on a clothes line behind one of the tar-papered shotgun houses on Adams Street. 'How different,' I thought to myself. 'Odd-looking quilts out of blue jeans.'  It wasn't the first time I had seen blue jeans quilts but it was the first time I saw so MANY--all lined up like field workers on their way to chop cotton. Some had pieces of 'other old fabric' worked in. Some were patched with fabrics other than denim. The remainder were predominantly of blue jeans, joined together in what I thought was haphazard with no plan in mind.
I'd been interested in quilts since I was 3 years old, having spent many days watching Mrs. Turner as she sewed patches together. Her quilts were perfectly pieced and beautifully quilted. But there was something about the line of  'blue jean quilts'  that interested me. I tucked the sight into the back corner of my mind.  As it turned out, it would be many, many years before I'd remember them.
Detail of PLANTATION, D Duncan
Let's fast forward to about 2007--living on the farm I inherited from my Granddaddy Magers. The days were filled with renovation work, building fences, planting flower beds, making it a place to call home. Busy days--but nights and weekends were 'mine'--at least an hour or two here and there--times when I could pursue my interests--Delta history, family genealogy, and anything to do with textiles--quilts, costumes, vintage fashion. . .One day as I thumbed through a few quilt books, looking at the traditional patterns I'd come to know so well over the years, I realized I was bored--bored with seeking perfection in piecing---with the repetition of block after block of the same--the same patterns and designs. Don't get me wrong. I still loved the traditional quilts. I think at that time I had collected well over 100 of them, and I will continue to add to my collection. . .However, to read more books about pattern-based quilts or make another one myself? Nope. My very soul needed something new.
Detail of THE FARM, D Duncan

For a couple of years I had collected utility quilts--the haphazard ones--the work horses of a household--nothing you would bring out to show guests. The one's to spread on the ground for picnics. The one's dogs and cats slept on. The one's draped over the car so there's no dust on it for 'Sunday-go-to-meeting'. I hadn't found many, yet I was drawn to them because they WERE put into everyday use. . .make-do and obviously (to me) had a story to tell. There weren't many on the market. Neither did I find any books on the subject. Was I the only one who saw value in this humble quilt?

Detail of THE FARM, D Duncan
I dusted off the ole computer and did a little 'googling'. Didn't find much on utility quilts except for link after link to Gee's Bend posts--enough that it got my curiosity up. The very first link I clicked on went to a page where 'low and behold' there in dead center was a blue jean quilt! The memory of such quilts I had tucked in the back of my mind many, many years before was now front and center. I read on. I had to know more. I was excited about quilts again. Could we in the Northeast Arkansas Delta have a connection with the quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama? Were these types of quilts found in other Southern states?
That was the beginning. Since that day, I have found many answers through my own research of census records, books, family stories, interviews, visits to museums, and old records. It's an on-going pursuit. From what I found--and what I remember seeing with my own eyes years ago--I can without doubt say, 'YES. . .There is a connection to the utility quilts of other Southern states.'  Little by little I'm amassing the evidence.
This is the first of many more posts reporting my findings. The 30 quilts from the Arkansas Delta that are 'kinfolks' to the utility quilts from other Southern states will also be shared. There is much, much more to the quilts than a casual glance provides--techniques--symbolism--a record of family histories--and more. These quilts are filled with the lives of their makers.
 Already inspired by the research, I have made several tops of my own that I will show you in more detail later also. They are filled with the symbolism, colors, and techniques of the Southern utility quilts but designed in my own style. You're seeing a glimpse of three such quilt tops in this post. But before I share my quilts and how I incorporated the age old techniques, I must build a foundation for you. If you are like me, you may not have heard of any of this before. This post marks the first of many more about the humble utility quilts and their association with our own Delta heritage. Hope you'll come along with me on my fascinating journey. . .

THE FARM, Utility Quilt Top 2013 Unfinished, D Duncan
 I have to say. . .I'm no longer bored. . .and. . .
NORTH FORTY, Utility Quilt Top 2011 Unfinished, D Duncan
NORTH FORTY, Utility Quilt Detail D Duncan