Archive for January, 2012

The Buffalo Chip Lady

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog

Ada McColl gathtering buffalo chipsI love looking at old photos collected on historical  internet sites like KansasMemory.org. One of the most famous photos, that of a woman gathering cow chips, depicts the typical life of a pioneer woman in many people’s minds.

Here’s this woman, stuck out on the Western Kansas plains, with nothing but the flat prairie behind her—and she’s gathering dried buffalo manure to use as fuel to cook her family’s meals.

That was life for the women homesteading on the plains with no trees for fuel. Unless you lived on a river that had trees on its banks, you were pretty much out of luck. Prairie fires kept trees from foresting the Plains before towns and farms changed the landscape. So you gathered whatever you could find to burn, and people soon found out that dried manure gave a nice slow burning heat.

However, one of the interesting internet links with this photo on the Kansas Memory.org site is the story behind the staging of this picture. Yes, a young woman that wanted to be a photographer set it up. In 1893 Ada McColl posed for her camera, and her mother Polly actually took the picture featuring Ada, and her little brother Burt, (mistaken for a girl because of his clothing). You can read the whole story of the Pioneer Photographer: The Story of the Cow Chip Lady in this link (then scroll down to page 10).

I always wonder about the people and scenery in old photos, so it was neat to find the story behind this particular one. Even though Ada staged the shot, it was a common chore for many a woman on the Kansas prairie in the 1850-1870s. Ada would have used her family’s cow herd’s dried manure to fill her wheelbarrow because the buffalo herds were gone from the state twenty years before this picture was taken.

But Ada gave us more than a glimpse of how the first pioneers  scrounged for buffalo chips after a herd passed through the area. She showed the view of the endless prairie in the horizon, the taste and smell of the dirt blowing on her face from the constant wind, the dry gritty feel of the dried manure on her hands, and the weight of the wheel barrow.

That’s what I aimed to portray in my books… not only visual sights for the reader, but for all their senses as well. But, I have to admit, this picture says a lot without words…

Why were these Quilts kept?

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in about Trail of Thread book series, Blog

Double Wedding Band quilt owned by author Linda HubalekWe had a warm sunny day this week, so I pulled out a tub of quilts I inherited from Lois, my mother-in-law. They had been stored in a cedar chest, made as a high school project by her future husband back in about 1925.

I spread a white tablecloth on the driveway and unfolded the first quilt. The double wedding band quilt is a beautiful display of color, stitching, and handwork. The intricate machine stitching alone had to take days to do. The quilt is a real work of art, in perfect shape, probably rarely used except as a display on the bed for when company came. It could have been a wedding present.

The second quilt I spread out was almost past the “thread bare” stage, faded from years of use and washings. Scraps of fabric, with no color scheme, just made from what was available. I’m sure it dates back to at least my mother-in-law’s days of growing up in the 1920s- 1930s. Researching the pattern, I’d say it is a Double Quartet quilt block pattern featured in Capper’s Weekly in 1927.

Double Quartet Antique Quilt owned by author Linda HubalekThey are both machine stitched, with no signature or date on either quilt.

Lois was a very practical, organized woman, and never seemed attached to mementos from the past. She only kept and used what she needed. So now looking at this old worn out quilt, I wonder who made it, and why did she keep it.

I’m guessing the first quilt was kept because it was a gift, and a treasure due to the workmanship. The second quilt though, even plain and worn out, must have had very special memories attached to it.

My writer’s imagination flashes through many scenarios. Was it on Lois’ bed when growing up or on her sister Helen’s bed who died when the girl was a teenager? Made by a grandmother and used by the grandfather that lived with her family. Or, was it just an old quilt used as a picnic blanket in their first car?

I’ll never know the history of these quilts since the previous owner is now gone. I’m just guessing they were kept for some special reason besides for display and warmth.

Maybe I’ll honor these quilts with new “memories” in one of my future books like I did in the Trail of Thread series …

Orphaned Quilt Blocks find a new Home

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, quilts and quilting

Orphaned quilt block made by Irene Akers

Orphaned quilt block made by Irene Akers

I found three quilt blocks, tucked in different drawers in different dressers, when sorting for my parent’s move from the farm into town recently. I wondered when these orphaned blocks were sewn, and why they were not incorporated into a quilt.

I handed the first one to Mom, which she promptly flipped over.

“It’s hand stitched, by my mother because I recognize many of her dresses in fabric pieces.”

“Any feed sack material,” I ask?

She rubs a couple of materials between her finger and thumb. “No, all the material is from dresses.”

Orphaned quilt blocks made by Ione Johnson

Orphaned quilt blocks made by Ione Johnson

The next two blocks match in pattern, but one is blue and white, the other peach and white. Mom didn’t bother flipping them over and laughed, “I made these blocks while in grade school and never finished it”.

Yes, she spent time around the quilting frame with her mother, grandmothers, and neighbors when visiting them, but she never made a whole quilt by herself.

I now know the answer with my mother’s abandoned quilt blocks, but not my grandmother’s. But that’s okay because even if these patches of sewed together fabric never became part of a quilt, they still have a memory to pass on from one quilter to another.

Mom inherited several trunkful’s of quilts from her grandmother Kizzie Pieratt, so I guess she just didn’t need to make her own. Moreover, with WWII, family priorities and types of bedding changing, maybe young wives didn’t quilt as much in the 1940s.

Now these quilts and memories of Great Grandma Kizzie are mine to savor and share.

Is this a talent that is learned, or passed down? I guess it depends on the family. The love (and necessity) of quilts and quilting done by her mother, and especially her grandmother Kizzie did not pass on to my mother, but they did skip a generation down to me.

Because it’s the beginning of the New Year, I’m thinking about projects to start—and to finish—in 2012. Where can I put my talents to the best use, to get the most out of my time, and make something lasting that can be enjoyed by me, and others, now and in the future?

What talent and legacy are you passing on in 2012? Please let me know —and share it with your family so they know the story too!