Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations

Nona’s Stories: Quilting and Feather Beds

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When we lived in North Texas and before I started to school, I used to quite often spend the night with Grandma Burns. I was about six years old and she was teaching me to crotchet and sew by hand.

(Kay, I gave you the two little doilies I made then, edged with my first crotchet. I hope you still have them.)

In Grandma Burns’ spare bedroom where I slept was a huge—it had seemed to me then—walnut bed. It had been handmade by her parents’ slaves. The tall solid walnut headboard extended almost to the ceiling. On this bed was a big fluffy feather “mattress,” and big fat pillows, and two beautiful quilts. One, especially, I liked. It had many, many small pieces.

The feather bed and pillows were filled with goose feathers from Grandma’s own geese.

Every morning when Grandma made the bed, she would “beat” the feather bed with a broom. She told me this was to “fluff” the feathers and to get air into the feathers. It made the mattress look like a giant pillow.

Then, the houses were  heated with only a fireplace, which wasn’t kept burning at night, so the nights were very cold. But when a person sank down into a fluffy, soft feather bed, covered by several quilts, they slept warmly.

Grandma told me about one of the quilts that was my favorite. She said her mother made the quilt when they lived in Tennessee, and it was all done by candlelight, before the days of kerosene, and brought to Texas when they came by wagon train in 1851. Grandma was just a child then—she was born in 1843 in Tennessee. She said she slept under that quilt on that long trip by wagon train.

She told me how the cotton batting in the quilt was from the cotton grown on her father’s farm, and how all the family sat around the big fireplace at night, and by the light of the fire, picked the seed out of the cotton, even the small children helping.

Her mother “carded” the cotton into the batting for the quilt. And how the quilts were made. The quilt “frames” were two long pieces of wood, a little longer than the sides of the quilt, and two shorter pieces for the ends. There were holes drilled a few inches apart the length of both the side and end pieces of the frames. The quilt lining was sewed through those holes to hold it taut. The batting placed on top of the lining and the quilt top last. The frames were suspended from the ceiling with an arrangement of ropes and pulleys so the quilt could be drawn up near the ceiling out of the way when not being worked on. The sides of the quilt was rolled under as the quilting progressed, and fastened through the holes in the frames by bolts, this enabled the quilter to work toward the middle of the quilt, they always started on the outer sides of the quilt.

Grandma Burns died in 1931. A few months later I was surprised one morning—we had moved back to Uvalde then from Miranda City, when the Railway Express truck delivered the feather bed, the two quilts, and the pair of pillows from the bed I had slept on, and the pair of pillows from Grandma’s bed. She had left them to me in her will. I gave one quilt to Dutch. I still have the pillows, feather bed and my favorite quilt.

-Nona

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