Meaning of Quilts

Today, I have the honor of hosting a guest blogger, Linda Hubalek. Linda’s sixth grade teacher assigned her class the traditional “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”. Linda had an nontraditional answer…she didn’t want to be a nurse, a teacher, or a mom. She wanted to be a farmer! Linda’s sixth grade dream came true when she graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in Agriculture/Horticulture and spent years doing agronomy research and eventually starting her own business Prairie Flower Creations.

Much like her own ancestors who headed West, Linda found herself in California tending a cement garden and longing for the fields of Kansas. Linda “visited” her beloved Kansas by writing the Trail of Thread series about Kansas pioneer women.
Although Linda is back in Kansas (growing bison this time, not prairie flowers), she’s still writing about Kansas women. Her FOURTH series, the Kansas Quilter series will be released late this year. 
Welcome Linda as she give us a glimpse at "The Meaning Behind Quilts." Don't forget to add a comment for the Ebook Giveaway (Kindle copy of the ebook: Trail of Thread).

By definition, a quilt is a coverlet or blanket made of two layers of fabric with a layer of cotton, wool, feathers, or down in between, all stitched firmly together, usually in a decorative crisscross design. The top layer may be a single piece of fabric, or it may be a made from a variety of scraps of material that were pieced together to form blocks, that are then sewn together to make the top layer.

When one thinks of pieced quilts, pioneer women automatically come to mind. This group of women often had to move, start new households, and work with what they had on hand. Their quilts would have been used daily, made and patched to last through the rigors of pioneer life.

NIK1059Image via Wikipedia

For example, Deborah and John Pieratt, featured in the first book of my Trail of Thread series, left Kentucky in 1854 when the Territory of Kansas was formed. They were part of the thousands of families that packed wagons and headed east for the promise of a new life. Quilts would have been used for bedding—in the wagon or on the ground, as a hanging shelter, or as a partition for privacy. They were also used for burial of loved ones along the trail.

Thimble of Soil, the second book in the series, features Margaret Ralston Kennedy. She was a widow who moved with eight of her thirteen children from Ohio to the Territory Kansas in 1855. She was dedicated to the cause of the North, and helped with the Underground Railroad in both Ohio and Kansas. It is possible that some of the quilts she made had special blocks giving direction to runaway slaves.
Orphaned Maggie Kennedy, portrayed in Stitch of Courage, the last book in the series, followed her brothers to Kansas looking for a better life as the states fought out the history of the Civil War. Women made and gave quilts for the soldiers to use during their journeys and battles.

What was the meaning for all these quilts? They were all just fabric to provide warmth and protection, but they also connected the hearts and souls of the past, present, and future.

The young woman on the trail packed quilts to use, but also to bring memories of her family left behind to her new frontier home.

The older woman—who stitched directions in her quilt that hung outside to air— gave freedom to people trying to escape a bad life.

The soldier wrapped in a dirty quilt, trying to keep warm and get a bit of sleep, was given the security of knowing that someone from home was thinking of him and waiting for his return.

Think of the countless hours of work and devotion it took to create these pioneer quilts. These finished masterpieces of the fingers gave a sense of accomplishment to the makers, and comfort and connection to the users.
Do you have a special quilt passed down through your family? What does it mean to you?

About the Linda Hubalek and the Trail of Thread series:

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Margo Dill said…
I do have a couple of special quilts. The most special is one that my college roommate made by hand for my daughter. By the way, I love the titles of these books!

Kath Fearing said…
In my newly adopted town of Norris, Tennessee there is a quilters league of women (from surrounding towns as well as Norris) who create works of art with their fingers. Each Fourth of July during the town's celebration the quilters hang their quilts to be admired and judged for prizes. I have seen the most amazing examples of quilting at the hands of these talented women. Their imagination and artistry surprises me every year. I can only imagine at the ones that most people never get to see because they are passed down from generation to generation and never seen by the general public. It is a skill I do not have, and I appreciate the care put into every stitch. They are novels that tell the stories of families stitched together by hand.
Courtney said…
I had no idea quilts were used to direct slaves to freedom! How amazing pioneer woman were!!! My Aunt has made a special quilt for each one of my children. I thought about just keeping them safe for them but that was not their intended purpose. My girls love their quilts. They are great to keep you warm, have a Teddy bear picnic, make a fort, wrap up a baby doll, play peek-a-boo, and the list goes on and on. One day my Aunt came for a visit. I was nervous for her to see all her hard work so beat up. She watched as the kids covered themselves in their quilts and turned to me with a smile and said, "I'm so glad they love them!".
Quilts may keep us warm but it's the love that they are made with that makes them special!
Dear Margo,
Thanks for your thoughts and sharing about your daughter's quilt. May it warm her body and soul for many years.
Dear Kath,
Thanks for sharing! I took my mother-in-love to a wonderful exhibit down in Old Deerfield of quilts. One of the most amazing ones was made of squares that were only 1/2 inch in diameter. Incredible!

You may not be able to stitch a quilt, but you are able to stitch a story together, which is something many people can't do. We all have our own gifts and talents.
Dear Courtney,

Thanks for your comments. Your children are blessed to have their own quilts, especially ones made by your Aunt. Very special, indeed!

Yes, quilts were hung on clothes lines by the women of the underground railroad to let slaves know when it was safe to move, what houses where safe, if someone has made it to freedom and other important bits of information. It is amazing that the bounty hunters never caught on. There is a great book on the various patterns,Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad [Paperback]
Jacqueline L. Tobin (Author), Raymond G. Dobard (Author).
Chris said…
I have a quilt that my grandmother made for me. She feel ill over a year ago with cancer and did not share this information with anyone. Just told the family that she had the flu and could not get rid of it. She was a rough and tuff West Texas woman. She told me over the past year that she was going to finish my quilt. Well in February of this year she went to meet her maker. :( She was 90% done with the quilt. I found a wonderful woman to finish it. I received the quilt last night and wrapped myself in it all night long and thought of all the wonderful times that I shared with her. It is two fold. She started this quilt when she was ill, but yet she wanted to make sure I had something to remember her by. I felt her warm embrace last night wrapped around me. I am so glad that I will have that for many years. I travel from town to town working for a pipeline company, and gets very lonely. Well always have my grandmothers warmth with me. Just thought I would share.

Thank You
Your grandmother sounds like a strong and courageous woman. Thank you for sharing her/your story with us.
May her quilt be an everlasting link to the love you shared.


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