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Column #71

The Christmas Quilt

The Christmas Quilt
The Christmas Quilt

I was lucky enough to grow up in a family and at a time and place in which quilts were an everyday part of life. I don’t really recall sleeping under store-bought blankets at all during those years. Quilts were how we kept warm—and the women in the family made them. Given those facts, I suppose it’s not unusual that some of the passed-down family lore is related to quilts and their construction. One such story has to do with what I call the Christmas quilt.

The youngest boy among my father’s five siblings had been saddled with a grand-sounding, mouthful of a name:  Tolbert Commodore. He went by T.C. (wouldn’t you?), but the family called him Tot. Tot was an apt nickname for him, since it means small child and he remained “a little skinny feller” (as my dad used to say) all his life. What he lacked in size, however, Uncle Tot made up for in heart and gentle nature. Good things come in small packages.

When he was in school during the Depression years, Uncle Tot took a geometry class and was given an assignment to draft something with triangles. Unsure as to what to do, he asked his mother (my grandma), Pairlee, for help. Now Pairlee, being a quilter, always had a quilt in the works and several more in her head just waiting to get made. She asked Tot to draft a quilt block for her—one that involved triangles.

Uncle Tot had been born late in December, right before Christmas. Maybe that’s why Pairlee wanted him to draft a Pine Tree block for his geometry assignment so she could make him a quilt that was reminiscent of the Christmas season. She’d been saving some green fabric that she intended to combine with unbleached muslin to make a two-color quilt, and the Pine Tree seemed a perfect choice.

As is often the case with stories that are handed down, some of the details get muddied in the retelling. When I was younger, I always thought that the block Uncle Tot drafted was his original design and nobody ever told me anything different. I know now that “his” Pine Tree block is an old pattern, one having multiple published sources (Ladies Art Company, Ruby McKim, Kansas City Star), the earliest of which Barbara Brackman in her Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns dates to 1901. Pairlee could certainly have had access to one or more of those.

Whether Pairlee showed Uncle Tot a picture of the block in a magazine or newspaper or whether she guided him to create something that he thought was his own, I have no way of knowing since neither Pairlee nor Uncle Tot nor anyone else who new the facts is still alive. What I do have, though, is the Pine Tree quilt that Pairlee made for Tot from the block he drafted for her. I always bring it out at Christmas time, and it always makes me think of them both. 


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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