Joyce Bupp, farm wife

Garden planted. Check. Border flowers planted. Check. Porch boxes planted. Check.

With field corn and soybeans planted, wheat filling out heads and a dairy barn full of our grandson Caleb’s giant square bales of hay, the spring rush is mostly behind us for another season.

As much as I love gardening, it’s always something of a relief to have roots in the ground and enjoy watching it all grow.

Now it’s time to start a new summer project.

Last year’s summer project was a one-person paint party. The ancient, white-coated woodwork in our upstairs was badly discolored, scratched, nicked and otherwise battered by years of living with it.

Several days of warm, dry weather last year in early June became the perfect time to cover the wear and tear on the painted surfaces. By the time two coats of paint had refreshed woodwork and doors with renewed brightness, I was more than ready to pitch out the straggly paintbrush and move on to other jobs.

This year’s project promises to be more fun. It’s a quilt.

The unfinished quilt top came here with other items removed from my parents’ house after our mother passed many years ago. It has languished in storage since then, untouched and basically forgotten. Over the last few years, I finished knotting an assembled, but unquilted, similar design that had come down through the family. Then, our daughter brought a battered quilt top for repair and completion. It was one that she had made while her grandmother was teaching her to sew, when she was still a pre-teen.

Now, this remaining quilt top has been screaming at me to complete what someone, sometime, long ago, started. And, bringing these quilt tops to completed usefulness has become a labor of love and enjoyment.

The quilt top is not a fancy design, but a very basic one of all squares. Five-inch squares — made of four smaller squares pieced together — alternate with plain squares of the same finished size. They’re not bright, fancy fabrics, but very basic, homey cottons of mostly blue shades. They are assorted bits of “feed bag” fabrics in subdued florals, muted ginghams in blues, greens, browns, and even a few pinks. The occasional bright red squares dotting the 6-foot-by-7-foot quilt top stand out like the proverbial sore thumbs, but add extra interest.

Old quilt tops like this are pieces of history.

They’re simple, basic, utilitarian and made for everyday use. They testify to the thriftiness of the maker and of the era in which they were painstakingly hand-stitched, utilizing tiny bits of fabric that most of us today wouldn’t even bother to save. They represent a final use of a fabric item well-worn and used through long-ago lives about which we can only speculate.

Who wore the bits of blue chambray shirts and the pieces from dark, denim-like work items? From what mill(s) did the feed bags’ small squares of dainty rose-print fabric, green-leaf designs, and red-background with black and white dots originate? How many “rag bags” gave up their contents to help build this utilitarian item intended to provide everyday use and warmth.

Old quilt tops like this are also art.

Individual pieced squares may be dull stripes of brown and white, alternating with sections of blue and light gray. By themselves, such relatively plain bits of fabrics don’t stir any real appreciation. But, when put together with other shades, accented with brighter colors and interesting patterns (what item of clothing did the tire tread-like design originate from?), they form a kaleidoscope of design. Pieced quilt tops are reminiscent of stained-glass windows —by itself, each piece is nondescript, but when combined with others, they form one-of-a-kind art.

Old quilt tops represent someone’s life.

Who spent countless hours putting these tiny pieces into a finished puzzle? How many different garments — shirts, dresses skirts, pinafores — live on through these slivers of worn softness?

I wouldn’t dare throw away such a priceless treasure. In honor of the original creator, I carefully hand-stitched back together numerous small seams that had unraveled. Now it can be framed with edges of homey blue denim, backed with a cheery maroon pattern, and stuffed with filler sandwiched between for warmth. Hand knots at the corners of the pieced squares will secure it all together for posterity.

Perhaps some family member in the future will treasure this piece of history with as much reverence as I feel for it and its unknown maker.

Preserving a piece of history is sure more rewarding than painting woodwork.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.

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