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Quilt stories – family memories

Many times when I think of my mother, Mildred Ackerman Jent (1917-2008), I picture her sitting in her rocking chair with a quilt spread all around her lap. Needle and thread in hand as she stitched away. Yes, all the piecing and quilting done by hand. No machines involved. She made lots of quilts over the years. One quilt stands out in my mind. Upon hearing of the death of Elvis Presley she designed her “Elvis” quilt. The names of the songs embroidered on each record quilted in the quilt. It is a unique quilt.

Ron Jent, Franklin (Warren RECC)


This quilt top was pieced by my grandmother, Mary Thomas Abell Sheffer, over 50 years ago. Through an unusual set of circumstances it came into my possession in October 2008. My daughter suggested having a quilting bee. So, on January 16, 2009 the quilting began.
For two weeks, 45 of grandma’s descendants quilted on this quilt.
It was a most memorable experience. We reconnected with relatives we hadn’t seen for years. We remembered times past—sometimes by just recognizing a patch of fabric that was a 4-H apron or a baby’s pjs. It’s more than a covering—it’s a piece of history!

Irene Moore, Nicholasville (Blue Grass Energy)


She pieced a few, but by kerosene lamp, she hand quilted well over 3,200 quilts! Aunt Emma Reis didn’t bother to change with the times. Since age 12, her fingertips, long calloused by needle pricks, still skillfully stitched her craft for friends, neighbors, strangers and a couple national companies until age 82. Although the 21st century loomed before her, a wood cook stove, a bucket of freshly drawn water from the well, a wood popping heating stove and a set of old rugged quilting frames, permanently parked in one corner of her four room cottage, were among her few tools in this modern day. Yet, as she cooked and canned the gleanings from her bountiful gardens through the summer’s sultry heat, you would find her by end of day crouched over her frames quilting from her straight-back chair those tiny stitches, creating another lovely masterpiece.

The queen-size postage stamp quilts designed from small, colorful one-inch square fabric pieces were, to me, her most inspiring quilts. Aunt Emma meticulously stitched around each of those hundreds of wee squares, patiently rolling her frames as she worked toward the finish. Amazingly, within a week, another showpiece spawned from her quick, masterful hands.

No matter the quilt size or the manifold designs, each one was then carefully packaged for shipping and carried over two miles to the local post office. All the years her wage was only $5 per quilt and seldom exceeded $25. Even so, Aunt Emma’s greatest joy was bringing warmth through the comfort of a quilt. What a tenacious labor of love!

Barbara Reis Stone, Vanceburg (Fleming-Mason)


It’s been more than 20 years since I made Mama her quilt. It was in a pinwheel motif, and although I usually tacked my quilts with yarn or embroidery thread, this time I used old buttons, placing them in the middle of each pinwheel. The quilt took me a few years to complete, with both my sisters helping. Mama was thrilled, and because she and her husband lived in Pennsylvania, she got a lot of use out of it. When Mama passed away in 2000, her husband gave me the quilt. Someday, I will pass it on to my daughter.

Charlene Lovett, Liberty (Inter-County Energy)


It all started for me with my paternal grandmother, Kitty. As a young child I would sit with her on the couch as she hand-pieced quilts—I was hooked. My mother started me out with cross stitch, embroidery and crewel yarn work. I did that for years. As I grew into an adult, I always had the desire to learn to hand quilt, but life got in the way. In my early 40s my father was the one to bring my dream to fruition. We bought a finishing kit for a quilt frame and he built my frame for me.

By this time I was married with children leaving the nest, and I had time for my interest. My mother-in-law was an avid hand quilter and she taught me. I can never thank my mother and mother-in-law enough for teaching me needlework. It is what gives me peace in this world of chaos. From the many friends I have made through my quilt club, Laurel Silver Threads, to the serene enjoyment of hand quilting in the quiet of the day.

Tanya Calder Worley, London (Jackson Energy)


As I neared the front door of Nellie Ross’ home, I could hear her favorite gospel program blaring loudly on the television as she worked on her latest quilting project. You see, Granny Ross quilted out of necessity for her family. She was mother to 12 children and her quilts provided much warmth during the long winter nights. When each child married, she had a special quilt ready to bless their new home. As the years passed, there was not a grandchild nor great-grandchild that did not receive a beautiful quilt made with loving hands by Granny Ross!

Junnie Brooks, Campton (Licking Valley RECC)


Quilts have been an integral part of our lives for generations. These homemade works of art were created to provide beauty, warmth and protection. Our most treasured quilt was created prior to 1877 by Jackson Smith to teach his mother, Susan Campbell Smith how use her first sewing machine. Each successive generation has appointed one family member to be caretaker of this quilt. Nora Smith Evans, Clara Evans and now Robert Rice have preserved and shared the story of this quilt. With our children and grandchildren, seven generations of our family have been touched by this family treasure.

Stella Rice, Barbourville


I made this quilt for my youngest daughter, Allison, after her birth. It represents a clothesline of baby clothes on a sunny day against a blue sky. Embroidery on the clothing details the baby’s name, birthdate and weight. A coordinated pillow sham of a bright yellow sun completed the crib ensemble.

We live on a cattle-hay-tobacco farm. After 48 years of married life, I still hang our laundry outdoors to dry. I have fond memories of my grandmother’s “wash” on the line in the country air.

Willadean Logsdon, Sonora (Nolin RECC)


To show our grandma how much our family loves and appreciates her, we decided to make a patchwork quilt and present it to her at our annual family reunion. We purchased material and sent a square to family member, including my grandmother’s three sisters and their children and grandchildren. Every day my sister waited for the mail, eager to see the cross-stiches, iron-ons and painted masterpieces that arrived. The 22 squares were as varied as the subject matter (handprints, animals, maps, vegetables, family crests). Grandma cried when we gave her the quilt, which was even more meaningful because Granddaddy, her life partner for over 60 years, had died the month before. Now she can wrap herself in the quilt and be assured that she has the loving support of the entire family.

Cindy Massie, Pembroke (Pennyrile Electric)  


I designed this quilt to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary on October 8, 2000. I had scanned over 45 family photographs and printed them on chemically treated fabric. While constructing it, I thought that even though my mother couldn’t see it due to macular degeneration, my father could enjoy it. But on October 7, my dad was hospitalized for temporal arthritis and within the following three days, he had lost 95 percent of his vision. Even though both of my parents were legally blind, they cherished this quilt, which depicted their family history. Entered into the 2001 Dogwood Arts Festival (Knoxville), it won Honorable Mention.

Joanne Fransen-Gilliam, Russellville (Pennyrile Electric)


I’ve been quilting for 25 years. I started a quilt for my little sister 20 years ago. I got discouraged, put it away, then I’d get it back out. My father would say, “You need to finish that for her.” Well, when he passed away it encouraged me to finish it. I knew he would be proud. I finished it last year, changed some fabrics and made it with his clothes and my grandmother’s clothes. My sister cried her eyes out when she received it for Christmas last year. That was the best feeling knowing how she will treasure it forever.

Dixie Meyers, Louisville (Salt River)


Families are like quilts. Lives pieced together. Stitched with smiles and tears. Colored with memories and bound by love. I’m not sure of the author but this is so true in my family. My quilt story is about my dad’s 100th birthday celebration. He was born Theodore Meece on Sept. 3, 1901. We had a gathering at our 100+-year-old country church, and he spoke for one hour. Each person told their relationship to him. Some were his students from the schools where he taught; some were church family, past pastors, in-laws and family. The quilt was made from the ties of our family menfolks—we used the theme “the ties that bind us together.” Afterward, we met at the Somerset park for a big picnic. He lived to be 105 years old and raked hay on his 102nd birthday on his farm on Poplarville Road.
My mom was always a quilter and her needles wove the fabric of her life. She was always looking for used beautiful material from dresses, aprons or feed sacks for a quilt piece. It might take six months to finish a quilt. We never heard of a queen or king size back then. Women had their own “face to face book” parties and would gossip while helping finish a masterpiece. Such pride in those little stitches. Meanwhile, the men were helping someone build a barn or something worthwhile. Our community helped each other with their needs during those times. We would ring the friendship church bell if there was an emergency, and no matter your political or church views, we all joined together as neighbors. Why can’t it be that way today?
This is my quilt story, and I am the most blessed person in the world to have lived during that peaceful time.

Doris Meece Arnold, Somerset (South Kentucky RECC)


My mother, a fine seamstress, decided I should learn to sew by making a quilt. Unmotivated, my quilting ended abruptly with a small, unfinished patchwork top. Over the years, I displayed it, always hiding the unfinished portion. I began to recognize the squares as fabric from childhood clothes, grandmother’s dresses and homemade decor. One Christmas, I opened a gift from my mother—my patchwork top—quilted, bound and bordered with childhood pictures of my siblings and me. My mother passed away not long after that. The rescued quilt remains a treasure of memories.

Angela Girdley, Fountain Run (Tri-County Electric)


I come from a very close-knit family; my mother was one of nine. Sundays the family spent the day together. Through the years, the aunts and my grandmother passed on sewing skills to the kids. My favorite is my family quilt I made over 20 years ago. I sent each family a square and had them write/draw on it along with their kids and dates and return it to me. I embroidered each and made into a quilt. Many family members are no longer with us, but our family will always be together and wrapped in the quilt of love.

Gloria Hollifield, Benton (West Kentucky RECC) 



As a child, I’d cozy up to mom as she sewed, paying careful attention to each stitch. See her fingers hold the needle, her hand pull the thread. This student received a lesson—memorable, unforgettable. How to express appreciation for those sweet, special moments? Secretly, as an adult, I stitched my first quilt. Mother loved cats, the subject for this perfect, surprise birthday gift. The day arrived, and I relished her delight. She couldn’t believe how much I remembered. This gift, cozy and comfortable, held many years’ learning at mother’s knee, covered her and provided comfort for years to come.

Linda J. Hawkins, Morgantown (Warren)


When my children were young we spent summers at our cottage in New Hampshire. It was initially boring for the children since we didn’t have TV, etc.  Each summer we concentrated on a new skill or learning experience such as swimming or painting. In the summer of 1981, it was quilting, and I made this family tree quilt for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. It hung in a place of honor at the anniversary party. After they died we decorated a room at the cottage in remembrance of them with this quilt as the focal point.

Barbara Burkard, Lexington (Blue Grass)


I named my quilt “Family Ties.” I had a husband and five sons with a collection of pretty ties. I wanted to keep them and a quilt was the best way to do so. I hand-stitched each with a whipstitch and quilted around each tie, plus the white background. I am on the left side of my quilt and my friend on the right. I have had it to several quilt shows. I am proud of my workmanship.

Laverne Pennycuff, Smiths Grove (Warren)



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