Ollie Jane Wheeler Hasty was my paternal grandmother. She grew up in the foothills of north Georgia, married my grandfather in at the age of 17, bore him seven children there. Then they bundled up the six living children and household goods, drove a wagon to the flatlands of south Georgia where she gave birth to three additional children.
A faithful farm wife and mother, I don’t think she ever got over leaving her parents and her two-year-old Susan Margaret in the cemetery in Cherokee County.
After sixty-eight years of marriage, she was widowed and shortly thereafter came to live in the house with us. For the last seven years of her life, she educated me by example. An example that a woman’s hands are never idle, that an old person still has a role to fill and contributions to make to this world, and that kindness is the only attribute a lady needs.
When I was 15 and she was 93, Granny died in the kitchen while washing dishes after lunch. She had been sewing that morning. I hope to be able to sew on the day of my death. And, at age 93 would be good, too.
Granny made many quilts in her lifetime. Daddy, the ninth of the ten children, recalled that she made their clothes from feedsacks, then when they the clothes were worn out, she cut them up and used the good parts in quilts. I have disassembled old quilts she had made to discover that another old worn quilt had been used as the batting layer.
Her quilts were generally utilitarian. Often they were string pieced on a muslin background with big stitches using a coarse thread.
But I own an exception. I have the quilt that she made prior to her marriage. It was on her bed on her wedding night in 1890 and on every anniversary night for sixty-eight years. Some of the binding is worn and replaced, which indicates that it was used more than sixty-nine times, but I suspect as time went on and it was beginning to wear, this quilt was put away to preserve its story.
When Granny “broke up housekeeping,” she passed the quilt and its story on to Christine, the oldest granddaughter. As Christine’s life was coming to a close, she chose to pass the treasure on to me, the youngest. And treasure it I do.
Now that I make quilts, I’ve examined the details of this construction more closely. The young girl Ollie Jane pieced the half-square triangles by hand, but appliquéd the basket handles on a machine. Yes, this was prior to 1890. The Baptist fan quilting is done by hand.
I did not know this quilt even existed while I had Granny to tell me about it. I fear that even had I known I would not have listened intently to the details. But I can learn from examining it and can be inspired by its existence. Perhaps this explains why I’ve made so many basket quilts.