This is Zola Chandler, in her front room in the 1970s, working on a king size quilt. “Dresden Plate” design, a favorite of hers over many years, in several versions. This is also my favorite design and color.
Mom did not like king size because it is not only twice as big, and takes twice as long to do. But, it is so big that it is very awkward and difficult to get around it. You can see that it takes up the whole front room, leaving little space to go around it. To work on it meant removing furniture from the front room – her only room big enough. And, you had to get down and crawl on the floor from one side to another. Quilts can be rolled up onto the frame in order to get to the middle area. However, first the fabric must be stretched to its final width and length and sufficiently tied in order that nothing significant changes while working on the rest of it. Also, you must have multiple frames to handle the different sizes. Even more, it can be too hard for older women to handle.
Annie Friend made the facings for mom until she was 92. She and mom had created quilts over some 40 years. Mom was intensely loyal using the same hair dresser for a similar period. Such a large pattern was also extra difficult for little Annie to find enough matching fabric to make so many iterations for the facing. And, extra difficult for her to sew such a large pattern together. I think that the last king size she worked on caused her to say, at 92, that is enough – no more. At this point mom was losing her eyesight – macular degeneration – so she would have to follow the lines looking at them out of the corner of her eyes. However, I think Zola talked Annie into one more regular size. I think Annie had a few scraps left over that she couldn’t bear to throw away. Lifetime habits are difficult to break.
It was imperative that all the pattern fabrics match each other perfectly in each of the repeating design elements. Annie, the quintessential facing maker, dearly loved the tradition of using “odds and ends” to piece together for the facing. She had a large collection of scraps saved from this or that over many years, and finding enough of each fabric was as much art as craft. Killing two birds with one stone – not let anything go to waste, and make something good out of leftovers.
For many years, my family, like so many other Plymouth-ites saved every scrap of cloth. Clothes were “hard to come by.” And, the old pioneer mentality put that pig analogy to use, “use everything except the squeal!” So clothes were patched with older cloths that had worn out to where it could no longer be patched. It was not uncommon for a patch to have another patch on top of it. When the last possible use for an old pair of levis left only the unusable seams, then such fabric went into rope rugs. I have seen old nylons in many of these rugs. These were round or oval throw rugs made from cloth twisted into a rope and braided together round and round for as big as they needed. We always had several in our house. In the 30s and before, these were most often the only rugs in a house. Actually they are immensely useful and comfortable to use. Having throw rugs meant they were small enough to haul outside to the clothesline and hang and beat the dirt and dust out of–there were no vacuum cleaners back then.
In the end, while a king size is double the square footage, it involves four times the work to bring it off. And, it gets tiresome to repeat the very same patterns so many times. In the end, she would only make them for special people – this one was for me. The second and alternate Dresden design shows one rolled up so that she can reach the middle. The star design was also a favorite and perhaps the easiest of all the designs to make. She made it in many iterations of color and pattern materials–very popular. Mom, would always tell us in her letters when she was excited about a new design, and sending us a rough drawing. Then she would go run it by Annie, and they would collaborate on how it could be pulled off – Annie getting out bundles of patterned scraps saved up from who knows where. This would often see these two little old ladies spreading pieces of this and pieces of that all over Annie’s living room floor crawling around to put this one next to that one to get the colors right. Over more than 40 years they collaborated on quilt after quilt, perfectly melded personalities that had true love and admiration for the artistic skills of each other. A quilt made at church quilting bee. Mom and Annie Friend did the design, facing and stretched it. These are the ladies on the other side of the quilt frame trying to keep up with Zola doing her side all by herself, and talking as fast as she worked! You might call it the “perfect quilt storm!” They would put one lady on each end and the others shoulder to shoulder along the side – sometimes spelling each other – and watch the “cotton-topped-whirlwind” on the other side!
With mom is Annie Friend, a life long friend. Friends are New Plymouth old timers (you might even say New Plymouth royalty). Annie did the “facings” – the patterns on the quilts – to mom’s drawings. She would let Annie pick the particular cloth prints for each portion – only specifying the general color. They are melded and need to be “contiguous” depending upon the design. It is an art. Like portions of a dress that have patterns running thru it, when encountering a seam one doesn’t want the fabric pattern to fight with the seams.
Another quilt. Mom showing it with friends she made on a trip to England – who, of course, had to come around to NP to see Zola and her quilts. We had friends from New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Hawaii and many more that made the trip to NP to see mom – way out of their way where ever they were going. She always took pies as well as quilts for fairs. To watch her making pies was a wondrous experience! She literally wore out her kitchen countertop. I had to make her a new one topped with heavy duty formica! Ceramic or others counter tops don’t work as well.
This is my mom, Zola Chandler, delighted with her new cupboard surface I had made to replace the one she simply wore out making pies for everybody! She was very appreciative. Mom’s pies were a community resource. Every organization in New Plymouth, example: churches raising money for a building program, or annual budget. At that time we called them “bazaars.” They would ask her for pies to sell at their function to raise the funds. Mom would “whomp up” five pies for them. They always sold like hotcakes! Sometimes it was almost a weekly thing. Ever looked at a list all the organizations in New Plymouth! There are a lot, and they all knew mom and her pies!
Mom with a neighbor, Lillian Glasson, a mile down Butte Rd from home. They are looking at some of mom’s lovelies given to Lillian over the years. Mom’s flowers decorated all the homes up and down roads. Lillian took care of mom for her last ten years when mom was legally blind and couldn’t drive. Lillian came by everyday to check on her, see what she needed, kind of like family. Mom was so stubborn that she would not move off the farm after dad passed and she lost her sight. She insisted on “doing” for herself. She would accept, no personal help at all. No one could out-stubborn mom! She washed her own clothes, fixed her own meals, cleaned her own house. She just said she was blind not crippled! But her house was the focus of many people every day coming to check on her. Old friends came and cut her lawn, others came and described what her flowers needed and if she would tell them what she wanted done with them. Others would clean up the weeds out back. Old friends even came and shot the pigeons that had taken over our barn and made such a mess. No old woman had better, nor more steadfast friends and help. Old friends, like Lillian, would drive her to drs or, pick up things she might need in town. They were all her eyes and ears for what was happening in her yard. One reason mom would not move off the farm was that she was afraid that so many old friends that would stop by, so often unannounced, would not know where she had gone.
Here are a few more photos of a couple of quilts by my mother, Zola Chandler. One photo was taken at Boise state fair which mom was devoted to clear up to when she went blind. No fair, local, county, or state ever had a more devoted fan than she. They had Treasure Valley Quilt Shows in addition to quilt exhibits at Payette County Fair, and the state fair in Boise. Zola was a regular at all of them. I have no idea how many quilts she made. I do not remember a time since we moved into our new house in winter 1944 when mom did not have a quilt frame up some where. When my mother was older, my sister, Carolyn, took mom to all the fairs. As good as her singing was, mom’s whistling was simply brilliant. Even with my tin ear, I can tell when folks are not exactly on key even a tad – you know those harmonics – sidebands give them away. Mom’s voice had no harmonic problems that often plague older women. She could go years without whistling, yet come out with absolute perfection at any time at all! Just raw talent. As a boy I whistled every day in the fields, even learned some bird songs, but on a scale 1-10, I was at best a 2, while mom was a 10! Back in the 30s we would often hear national singers like Bing Crosby and others whistling – remember his White Christmas, 1941? But as time went on the whistling pretty much went away. Pity. I never heard anyone whistle like mom could – professional, anyone. Some folks just have raw talent in music. I’ve said before how emotional my mom was. Well, she and a neighbor lady took all us kids to Ontario to the first big Ringling Circus. They had a cable about 50′ long to which the elephant herd of at least a dozen were chained where they could feed them hay. As a group the two families went out to admire all the elephants. Just as we got in front of the middle of the long line, one elephant raised his trunk and let out big trumpet – shreak! Mom took off running, like her life was in danger! The rest of us just stood in awe – no one else was scared. Mom was very embarrassed by that! How could she take off and leave her kids in the face of danger! We razzed her for years about it!