The Quilt Trail

Painted Tributes to a Venerable Craft

Story and Photos by Carolyn Chandler

During 2012, the huge Sheep Fire raged for several weeks in the Nez Perce National Forest near our home on Slate Creek, south of White Bird.

My husband Glenn and I were in the Black Hills of South Dakota when it started, and concerned neighbors and friends called to let us know about the threat. I asked my sewing buddy, Ruth, to go to my house if the fire got close, take out all my quilts, and pack them in the car.

As it turned out, we arrived home in time to get ready for possible evacuation. Of course, the first things we packed were important papers, pictures, and clothing, but my quilts were next on the list. In the end, we didn’t have to evacuate. Firefighters, those wonderful men and women who risk their lives for the rest of us, established a fire line a mile east of our home, and it held.

The reason I placed such a high priority on my quilts in that emergency begins with childhood memories.

“Look, Sis, here’s a piece of material from my old skirt.”

“And one from Daddy’s shirt.”

“And from the dress you used to love.”

My sister Phyllis and I sat on the double bed we shared, the kerosene lamp lit beside us, and examined the latest of Grandma Ball’s homemade quilts. Growing up in a small village in the Alaska Territory, we were always covered by a few quilts when the wind was howling, or a raging blizzard was screaming outside, and the temperatures were way below zero. I remember times when the whole family took our mattresses and bedding (including many quilts) downstairs to the living room, to be closer to the oil stove. Sometimes the radio would crackle as we tried to listen to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and His Dog King and other radio programs but it was fun, and we laughed together as we huddled under our quilts, until it was time to sleep.

My in-laws, who settled in Slate Creek Canyon in the early Forties, were thrifty, capable people who recycled numerous items (they called it “making do”), refashioning them to last for many years in one form or another. They often made “new” quilts out of worn-out clothing, patching them as needed. Glenn’s mother Myrtle saved old clothes and made treasured Lone Star Quilts for each of her grandchildren, using pieces of Grandpa’s shirts, Grandma’s clothing, and material from the child (and his or her parents) for whom the quilt was being made.

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