While browsing the Q.S.O.S. archive recently, I noticed that many quilters’ earliest memories of quilts and quilt making were of time spent playing or hiding under a quilt frame while it was being quilted. I found almost 30 interviews that recalled long afternoons under the “tent” of a quilt-in-progress (and almost as many that recalled the delicious snacks that would come with these quilting bees!).

Here are a few of those early memories of playing under a quilt frame:

Virginia White Quinn: Oh, my earliest memories are of my mother’s quilting bee. And they used to quilt in the winter. I would come home from school, I cannot remember earlier than that, but I would come home from school and my sister and I would play under the quilting frame. In the morning before we went to school, my dad would set up the quilting frame on stanchions with clamps and he would help Mother set that up in our small, little house. And then all the women would come, I guess, after I’d gone to school. And then when we came home, we’d play under there. And my mother always made Jell-o, fruit Jell-o, and donuts for the dessert for the women and so that was just fabulous.

Betty Black: Well, I remember my mother didn’t quilt, but she belonged to a women’s sewing circle and every once in awhile they’d get together and do a quilt; and I can remember as a very small child, when you have a quilt frame it’s just like a tent, and I can remember being underneath that quilt and having two or three of us underneath that quilt. Did you ever get hit on the head with a thimble? And have somebody gong you when you weren’t behaving? [laughs.] But I remember that it was such a neat place to play under there.

Rachel Clark (right): My earliest quilt memory is actually my grandmother quilting. Mygrandmother had a quilt frame set up in the living room at Big Mama’s house and she would quilt–smoke her pipe–and we would play under the quilt frame and that’s probably my earliest quilt memory.

Virginia Angers Kuglar:
My interest in quiltmaking began when I was just a small child and my mother quilted and at that time there were friends in the community that got together and quilted. And, I can remember that the children would always play under the quilt frames, or the quilt, because the quilt then hung from the ceiling. And, as they would roll the quilt and roll the quilt, then when it got down so far to completion, they would run the kids out from under there and we would have to go play someplace else. That was my first memories of quiltmaking. 

Nadj Pankey
[M]y father raised me and my aunts that helped take care of me during the daytime, well, my father was a farmer and they took care of me during the daytime and they always had quilts hanging from the ceiling and you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard that story in my shop, you know, I grew up with a quilt hanging from the ceiling. But I did the same thing, they would put the quilt down in the daytime and they would work on it and they’d raise it back to the ceiling at night for people to sleep in the bed that was in that room and that’s kind of how I got introduced to quilts, and of course, I slept on a quilt always.

Even quilters who didn’t grow up playing under a quilt-in-process mention it in their interviews, such as Sherry Boram:
I don’t know that there were really any other quiltmakers in my family that I was exposed to. I was never able to sit under a quilting frame as a child like a lot of quilters were able to. I never had that experience, but I just like fabric. I can’t keep my hands off of it.

Carlie Nichols, who makes quilts for the Quilts of Valor program, says that many 
of the veterans she gives quilts to have shared their “playing under the quilt frame” stories:
Well, it’s been really interesting, especially with these older veterans–well, not even the older ones, the younger ones have told me these stories too. When we go out and display our quilts and tell them what we’re doing, most of them will say, “oh, my mother had a quilt and the ladies all came over at least once a week and they all worked on it and in between they rolled it up and it hung up on the ceiling and it just was up there and they told us and they’d bring it down when the ladies would come–we just loved it when all the ladies would come and work on the quilts because we got cookies and snacks and we could play under those quilts and we could pretend they were a tent and everything”…

Interested in reading more stories about growing up under a quilt frame? Check out Q.S.O.S. interviews with Ona Porterfield, Nadine Kennedy and Betty Boehm–and many others! You can always find more quilt stories at the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Alliance’s site.


Posted by Emma Parker
Project Manager,  Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories