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.
This quilting season is nearly over. Only a few more weeks and the old school house will be transformed into part of the museum. Tourists will reminisce about the small wooden desks, the old maps showing countries that no longer exist. Children visiting will pull hard on the rope to ring the school bell high up in the belfry. Volunteer docents will open the historical buildings everyday from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The quilters will take a break from their Friday routine. Some will continue to sew at home. Others will put their energy into gardening. And of course with summer in Montana, there are always plenty of out of town guests.
Although there is a symmetry to the quilting that happens every Friday from September til May, there are also changes. Renata had the awesome idea to display quilts in the old church over Rendezvous weekend. We received many compliments and one of the quilts sold. A few new people to town have become great volunteers to help with displays in the museum and to help keep the grounds neat. Bev is taking over scheduling docents for the museum. No easy feat to have a schedule that includes having someone knowledgeable to work there every single day of summer. Dianne and a few others are putting together a mass mailing – the first time we have done anything like this. We know we need to find more support for keeping the buildings in good shape, for having volunteers help with projects, for paying bills.
Often we roll our eyes – how many times do we need to explain that Lincoln County owns the land under the Historical Village, but the buildings, grounds and upkeep are managed by the Tobacco Valley Board of History? Since the 1970s, a stalwart group of volunteers have kept this lovely area of Eureka in tact. Items are carefully archived. Old photos filed. Questions answered when someone stops by to ask about the early days.
As you attend Shakespeare in the Park or the Eureka Montana Quilt Show this summer (both events held at the Historical Village), appreciate the grounds, this lovely public space that is so valuable to our community. Consider some small way you might help us maintain it.
Yes, the snow is nearly melted in our valley. There are still patches under trees and on the north side of the old school house but otherwise we see bare ground, mud puddles and a few spring flowers pushing through. The women are hard at it trying to get the current quilts finished by the end of April. That is when things shift for us into the next season.
On April 28, it is Rendezvous in Eureka which mean vendors fill the Historical Village grounds and there is the largest parade of the year down main street. The old school house will be transformed from the place we quilt all winter into a book sale. Stop by if you are in town to pick up some great bargains. Then in May school children take their annual trip to visit the museum. We also have a rummage sale, another opportunity for bargains and to get raffle tickets for a lovely quilt we made. And finally on May 26, the Historical Village announces the summer season. Everyday until Labor Day, volunteer docents will open all the buildings and are available to provide information to visitors from 1:00 – 5:00pm.
So now we are trying to get the last quilts finished up. Jana, a guest from the Czech Republic, has been joining us to learn how to quilt and to share her travel adventures with the women as they sew. Cathryn created a pile of new baby quilts that are perfect to welcome little ones to the world. Sally made some lovely children quilts that are for sale in the museum along with our full size tied quilts and, of course, the beautiful hand quilted ones. If you are in town for Rendezvous or just ambling through the Historical Village grounds on a sunny afternoon, stop by to learn about our valley’s history and perhaps purchase a quilt to support this remarkable space.
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.
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.
Yes, it has been too long. Quilts have been started and even finished since the last post. And there were some lovely ones. The women are working hard to keep up with the requests – a quilt made from t-shirts a car buff collected, a quilt started thirtysome years ago and pulled out to be finished, a quilt someone made for a person she loves very much. And now besides quilting every Friday, the women are also hard at it making items for their annual bazaar on December 2nd.
You won’t want to miss this bazaar. There are many events happening in Eureka over the first weekend in December but the bazaar at the Historical Village is by far the best. Handmade baby quilts, aprons, crocheted hats and mittens, tree ornaments, items for your kitchen and items for your bedroom (lovely pillow cases that will be immediately snatched up) are available. There are the most delicate pine needle baskets made by Cathryn and some of Mary Louise’s hand dipped chocolates for sale. There will be a raffle for a basket of treats. Thick and soft flannel quilts hand tied so quite affordable are for sale in colors that call your name.
The prices for these handmade items are definitely within anyone’s budget and besides that – all the proceeds go directly to the Historical Village. No percentage for this or that, no fees or undisclosed costs. When you purchase something at the bazaar in the old school house this Saturday, all the money from your purchase helps maintain the Historical Village. Your Village which keeps the archives and the artifacts and the memories of our valley as well as offering a wonderful place for events like Rendezvous, the Eureka MT Quilt Show and Shakespeare in the Parks. Do you need any other reason to come to the Historical Village bazaar on Saturday morning? We open at 9:00am.