I suppose it is no surprise a tinge of ageism creeps in when quilting with this group of women. Our ages stretch from mid sixties to mid nineties. Besides piecing, hand quilting and putting on bindings, these women also set up wooden quilt frames which are large enough to hold a queen size quilt. They schlep boxes with fabrics and other odds and ends when there is a rummage sale. They schlep boxes of books when there is a book sale. They move furniture around in the museum as needed, set up displays and archive the treasures. They trim bushes on the grounds, pick up trash and shovel snow – whatever the season requires. They keep accounts, run membership campaigns, and sell raffle tickets. They oversee construction projects in the Historical Village and often do some of these projects themselves. Two of the quilters recently helped to replace broken slats in the boardwalk.
When there is work to be done, especially this time of year, we look around at our ranks and wonder where some younger people are. Not so much because we can’t manage, but because it seems there are things young people might learn about maintaining their valley’s heritage and running a museum, picking up skills along the way such as grant writing and chinking an old log building. And this is where ageism slips out, while sitting over the quilt stitching. Remarks are made about ‘those’ people who spend too much screen time, or time constantly checking messages on their phones. Or those people who say they would like to help out but it is just too difficult for them to find time on a Wednesday morning or a Saturday afternoon or any other time when help might be needed at the Historical Village.
Thus that tricky sneer of ageism, the shrug of shoulders, the roll of eyes at the group – those young people – who are summarily dismissed. And of course it isn’t true as of course there are some young people who do make an effort, who do show up. Magdalena, delightfully middle aged, stepped up to help on a regular basis at the museum. Madison, who graduates from high school this June, is bringing a group of her high school friends over next week to weed. But as some of the current quilters started helping at the Historical Village back in the 1970s, they wonder where the young people are who will pick up the torch to carry it forward. And young doesn’t necessarily mean teens or twenties. Middle aged is fine for learning the skills we can teach, or bringing skills already honed. As we keep our eyes open for individuals willing to step up, ready to take the torch, we also are going to try hard not to fall prey to ageism.
We are working on a quilt with a history. I suppose that isn’t so surprising. Many quilts have history. Do you remember that beautiful one made by an elderly quilter from Gee’s Bend? It was pieced from her husband’s old work clothes. She said every time she got under that quilt, she felt as though her husband was still with her.
The quilt we are working on now came from Kentucky. The brother of a friend sent it to me. The women at the Historical Village think the fabrics are from the 1940s. When it arrived in the mail, the top pieced with colored fabric and squares of plain muslin was stiff with age. Bev carefully washed it and washed it, finally getting it to a point where it could be quilted. We found a large piece of muslin for the back. But how to quilt this slightly irregular beauty? The pieced blocks are delicate and also aren’t exactly square. At the same time the colors and patterns are special enough we wanted to do more than simply tie it.
So Cathryn in her wisdom pointed out that we could quilt the plain squares and tie the remainder. What a perfect plan for this unique quilt! A pattern with small hearts was selected. It is a bit slow as the fabric tends to hold the needle but we are getting there. It might be finished by late spring. It is one of those quilts that has a lot of character although who is to say how long it might last. Still it will easily grace whatever bed it ends up on. Hopefully the person sleeping under it will feel cared for.
Doing this quilt is a reminder how it is not always necessary to stick with the usual plan. Sometimes a dilemma presents itself that requires creative thinking. The solution doesn’t have to be !00% of this. It could be 81% of this and 12% of that and 7% of something else, still getting the job done well. Somebody might have looked at this particular quilt top and thought it wasn’t worth saving for much of anything. But as we quilt and tie it, the women remark on the fabrics and interesting piecing. We figured out a solution and are making it work. Yes indeed, it’s a beauty.
As the women at the Historical Village hand quilt, we realize we are different from those who do machine quilting. We don’t have an attitude about it. We simply see it as two variations on a theme. There are those who like to sew patterns by hand and there are those who like to create their magic with a sewing machine.
Despite my six years with the hand quilters, I must admit that was the only dstinction I thought about when it came to quilting. Yes, there were quilts with countless small pieces in intricate designs compared to others that are more traditional log cabin or bear paw patterns. As I am fairly new (some of the original quilters in this group began sewing in the old school house back in the1970s), I sew where I am told, the design I am given and try my hardest to make small even stitches.
Then a few weeks back someone suggested we each put together three 12 inch blocks which then could be built into a lovely quilt. Sally went through all our boxes of fabric picking out those she thought went well together. These were laid out so each of us could take the amount needed for our individual squares. Then the discussion began. Most of the women examined the fabrics, picked up some of this and some of that, talked about which patterns they would use for their blocks and they were ready A few brave souls declared they were not going to make blocks, they hadn’t signed on for that. Period. And so a few of the block-making talented women said they would each make six blocks to make up the difference.
And then there were two of us who looked like deer caught in the headlights. Make a quilt block? I hand stitched what I was told to do but now I was expected to actually put together a block of pieces and have them lay flat and have their corners match? Dianne and I grumbled about it while quilting that day. But at the end of the day, we both picked up fabric to take home. After all, this was a project for the Historical Village. We were adults who had access to YouTube and books. Surely we would mange.
Dianne’s blocks turned out beautifully. The corners were mitered perfection. She quietly told us the names of the patterns she used. We sighed in delight. I will admit that I did not use a pattern. I did not even look at a book with suggestions. I did make three blocks. I just started sewing hoping for the best. When I got to the old school house, I buried my blocks deep in the pile. But of course when the women went through the pile later to begin laying them out, they found mine which someone kindly called ‘free form’. Mary Louise told me straight lines and neat corners could be boring. I felt a bit like a grade school student bringing home art for the refrigerator.
We currently are stitching a couple other quilts. I suspect it will be spring or even the fall before we get around to quilting this one. I have no doubt it will be lovely though. And special with most of us represented in our own way and yet part of a larger whole.
Late winter in this part of Montana can be gray. And once we move from constant snow to snow with mud, that grayness feels even more difficult to endure. Which is why the Historical Village volunteers had the great idea to have a late winter community event that promises to rock your socks and raise some funds for maintaining the Village.
On March 3rd, The Wardens play at the Trego Hall starting at 4pm. An easy time of day to drive out and catch this great band from Canmore, Canada. Up in those parts, a ranger is called a warden. These three musicians/wardens have worked in the back country around Banff for a lot of years so know mountains and horses as well as music. Admission for the concert is $8/per with tickets on sale at the door.
We figured once folks come out to Trego to hear good music, they might just want to stay and enjoy themselves a bit longer. There will be a potluck after the concert (starting around 5:30) and then a music jam. Ray and Shirley Jacobs met The Wardens recently and encouraged us to bring them to Eureka. They will be there. Hope you are too. If you want a preview of The Wardens, check out their website here.
So mark March 3rd on your calendar and come out for a good time. Bring a dish to pass if you want to stay for the potluck, and if you play music then please bring your instrument along. Otherwise come to listen and enjoy this late winter treat. Oh, and there will be beautiful handmade quilts for sale as well.
This quilt wasn’t made by the women at the Historical Village. It was actually created by Patty, another wonderful quilter, who lives here in the valley. She must have quilting in her blood as she gets second hand clothes from various places, figures out a pattern that she likes, cuts up the clothing and begins to sew. I am always amazed at what she comes up with. This particular quilt she made as a donation to help refugees. Each time it was taken out to be shown at a fundraising effort, people sighed with delight.
The last time I took it out of a bag, it was to box it up at the post office. The quilt was about to be sent off to its new home and for whatever reason I always seem to do my boxing up at the post office on their counter. Two women in line watched me and when I shook the quilt out to fold it up as small as possible (a trick with a double bed quilt), they exclaimed simultaneously how beautiful it was. I agreed. One woman lamented that she always wanted to learn to quilt but had never had the chance to try. I pointed out she could easily join the Friday quilters at the Historical Village. They would be happy to teach her the joys of hand quilting. There are other quilt guilds in town that would be glad to mentor her along as well. But she had reasons – Friday’s weren’t the best day and she didn’t know if her sewing machine worked and besides where could she spread out a project like a quilt in her house.
There are always reasons aren’t there? Reasons why we can’t study Spanish or call up that older friend we think about. Reasons why we aren’t able to volunteer or clean out the top of the closet. Of course sometimes the reason makes sense. But often times we find ourselves justifying why we can’t do something that part of us really would like to do.
Rather than focus on all the reasons one can’t do something, this quilt made me aware of what we can do. Patty finds the used fabric and inspiration to make quilts. This particular one helped support a family who had the gumption to come to a new country. There is a friend in town who decided to learn Spanish so he bought some CDs, a bilingual dictionary and some books. I must admit I had my doubts about this self-teaching method until a few years later when I heard him converse in Spanish with a musician visiting from Mexico. There’s Bernice Ende, another friend from the valley, who has been a long rider for years now. She rides a horse across to all parts of the US. She tells me she can’t keep track of all the people who say they would like to do what she does. But they don’t. Sometimes their reasons make sense. They have young children at home or need to be available for aging parents. But sometime their reasons are downright flimsy.
So when you hear someone say with sincerity that he or she really wants to do something, tell them – you can! Push aside all the thin reasons they might offer up as to why they can’t. Encourage them to climb on that horse or pick up CDs to learn Russian or walk into the Historical Village on a Friday ready to learn how to quilt. Our world needs people who follow their dreams. Turn those dreams into realities. Yes, you can.
This time of year in northwest Montana, any glimpse of blue sky has everyone smiling. Even while focused on stitching, the women look up in unison when light through the old school house windows gets slightly brighter with a break in the clouds. January not only brought us a few snatches of sun, but also three new Tobacco Valley Board of History volunteers. Not quite enough for all that needs to be done but certainly a good start. Magdalena is new to the area and a great fit for helping with displays as she wants to learn more about local history. Michelle has the energy to help out with the grounds and the shrubbery once we get into spring. Ya’aqov, a retired librarian, is learning to maintain the archives from Cathryn. And having these three awesome individuals step up, encourages us to think there just might be others in the community who want to help maintain our local heritage.
Perhaps though people have other ideas about what to do with their spare time? Maybe they see maintaining artifacts, photographs and historical buildings from the Tobacco Valley as frivolous. Why think about the past when there are sufficient worries for the present? And don’t even mention the future! But our past has a lot to offer, not only to school children who come each spring to visit the exhibits or the tourists who pass through on summer afternoons, but to all of us.
Some locals lament about lack of business in the area and how the town is going to dry up. The old newspapers in the Historical Village files tell of the same sentiment numerous times throughout the town’s history. But there has always been something new that came along. Eureka was once the Christmas tree capital and there was logging. There were the years when the Libby dam and the train tunnel were built that brought many new people and jobs to this area. There were opportunities and change and dry spells and then new opportunities appeared.
The files show how the Tobacco Valley News, our local newspaper that still comes out weekly, got started. There are articles telling about how the valley first got internet and the volunteers who helped set it up. A computer shop now occupies the building where the office supply store used to be (a business now farther up the road in a larger space), and the same building that used to house the newspaper (which moved behind the bank). Things change for sure but there are things to be learned from the changes. How can we make transitions easier? Where do new ideas for our town come from? How have great additions to the valley come about in the past? What can we use from those experiences to continue to make this a place where we want to be?
The holidays are happening. Snow is starting to pile up. Sidewalks are slippery. Bazaar sales at the Historical Village have gone well although of course we hope there will be last minute shoppers on December 22nd. Last Friday the quilters had their annual party – a potluck and then gift exchange. The delicious food put everyone in a sleepy mood but we continued sewing until our usual closing time. Lynda and Sally even set up a second quilt that we will tie next week, a colorful cotton one Cathryn pieced. Although I am often content to sit and talk rather than sew, the pace is such that I feel compelled to be as productive as the others (no easy task with this group of women).
As usual we are sewing, talking with any visitors who stop by to drop off something or to buy some lovely handmade item, and discussing how to raise money to cover the Village’s costs, and how to get all the things done from archiving to replacing broken pieces of the boardwalk. It often feels there isn’t enough time for all we need to accomplish but somehow we still manage to listen to stories about families and friends, laugh at Bev’s jokes and grumble if the needle is not going through as easily as we might like.
Amidst the talk, different quilters talk about other volunteer work they are doing – helping with the Winter Bird Count, the library, the thrift store, the church. Its amazing how these individuals find time to do all this to make our community as good as possible. There might be a concern when we don’t see younger people stepping up to help with these projects and really in this case, younger is broad. We not only think about high school students but adults in their twenties to fifties. Of course there are volunteers but there never seems to be quite enough. So we hope some folks out there will put volunteering down as a New Year’s resolution. Once a week for a few hours surely would mean a lot.