When I grew up on the farm featured in my Butter in the Well book series, the upstairs bedrooms were not heated – except for a floor register in each of the two of the rooms that let a little warmth rise up from downstairs. At night we’d leave the living room which was heated by a propane stove, and crawl into an upstairs bed that was lined with blanket sheets and heaped with piles of handmade quilts. It was the standard way to keep warm during the winter months. (And in the morning we’d bring our clothes downstairs to dress in front of the stove.)
Almost all of these quilts were made by my great grandmother Kizzie (Hamman) Pieratt, plus a few by her daughter, my grandmother, Irene (Pieratt) Akers. Kizzie was a very prolific quilter, even with eight kids and a farm to run. She made a quilt for each child, grandchild, their spouse, and all her great grandchildren, plus hand quilted other people’s quilts for part of their income.
I can’t say I knew the quilt patterns back then- just that they were all different, a combination of leftover fabric for a variety of decades. Several were heavy crazy quilts made from old wool coats. Most of the quilts made during the 1920’s through the 1940’s and had then popular quilt patterns and made from feed sack material. There were also a few unusual ones, like my Dad’s quilt made of men’s silk ties.
We called the quilt she made me during the 1950’s “the postage stamp quilt” because it was made of one inch squares of material, (plus she made a matching quilt for my doll bed). The full size quilt has thousands of hand cut and stitched pieces of material in it.
When I moved to college, the quilts stayed home and I moved on to store-bought blankets, not only plain in color, but very light in weight. (I still have problems sleeping on a cold night without the weight of a heavy blanket since today’s microfiber blankets are so very light.)
Moving forward a few decades and looking for a theme for my next series after Butter in the Well, quilts came to mind because I have always planned to write a book about my great grandmother Kizzie.
In 1938 my mother’s great aunt Martha Pieratt gave her a quilt. At that time the quilt was over 100 years old and had been handed down through her mother’s Kennedy family. Doing some research on it while planning my Trail of Thread book series, it turns out to be the Cleveland Tulip pattern and it came with Martha’s mother Maggie Kennedy when she moved from Ohio to Kansas in 1858.
Quilts and quilting seemed like a perfect theme for the stories of my mother’s side of the family, so I wove a quilt theme into this book series and featured twelve quilt patterns in each book. The titles also went with the quilt theme.
My Trail of Thread book was about Deborah Pieratt’s wagon trail journey to the Kansas Territory in 1854. The second book, Thimble of Soil featured Margaret Ralston Kennedy’s decision to move her family from their safe Ohio home to the unsettling territory in 1855. And the final book in series, Stitch of Courage, followed Maggie Kennedy Pieratt during her young years as she marries James Monroe Pieratt during the Civil War.
As I work on my fourth series, The Kansas Quilter, I’m taking a closer look at the family quilts that my great grandmother Kizzie made during her ninety-seven years.
I think of the time it took to make each quilt, the preparation, the cutting of the material, the hours sewing the blocks and then quilting all the layers together. And who helped her put them together? What conversations passed across the quilt frame? What was going on in the community, state and world during the construction of that particular quilt? Who was born in the family to commemorate the patches of material and time put into this quilt?
These are just a few of the questions I’ll try to “stitch” together as I research and write about this pioneer woman that spent so much time making quilts. Please join me in this project by reading my blog as I will post tidbits and photos about Kizzie Pieratt. I think she’s a Kansas pioneer quilter you’d like to meet…