Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Turkey Tracks

This is a photo of my great-grandparents, taken around 1914, so almost 100 years ago.  We called them Grandma Bess and Poppy, but their names were William and Bess (Miller) Risley.  The little boy on Poppy's lap grew up to be my grandfather Richard Risley.  The baby is his little sister Mabel.
Poppy got a job on the railroad, where he worked until he retired.  They lived on a small farm near Petersburg, Indiana.  He and Bess had seven children.  Two died as infants, and the other five lived to adulthood.
I was lucky enough to know them later in their lives.  I just barely remember the farm, and Poppy building me a wooden swing to hang from a tree.  We used to go to their house for Sunday dinner in the summer.  Grandma would be cooking happily in the kitchen, laughing and visiting with the women.  Poppy loved playing with wind-up toys with the kids.

Grandma Bess made quilts.  Piles and piles of quilts.  She quilted three quilts every winter.  And all the stitches in the quilts were by hand, including piecing the borders and backing.  It was something she loved to do.  She had a sewing machine, first a treadle that was eventually passed to my grandmother, and then a small black electric that might have been a Singer featherweight.  She used the machine for making clothes, and made the quilts by hand. Poppy would sometimes tease her about buying new material and cutting it up to sew it back together.

This is more what they looked like when I knew them.

When she died in 1969, the family members were allowed to choose the quilts they wanted, by turns.  My grandmother brought home several quilts that were more recently made (1960s).  She was disappointed not to get a red and white cherry basket quilt that she admired.  I've often wondered what it was like.
We slept under those quilts for years.  And my mom washed them (a LOT) in the washing machine.  When they started to get worn, she tried mending them, and eventually gave up and put them away.  When I began to be interested in quilts, Mom gave them to me.  You can see the batting coming through in some of the squares.
This one was called Turkey Tracks.  It's not the pattern we usually think of by that name.  It does look like the track a turkey makes, though.
We know what Grandma called it, because she embroidered the name and the date she finished it on the back.  I only have one of her quilts that doesn't have this.  She never added her own name, however.  It could be for religious reasons, or just that she was a modest person.
Here's the quilt laid out.  Unlike some of her earlier quilts, this is not a scrap quilt.  The fabrics would have been purchased just for the quilt.  By this time in her life they were living in town, just the two of them, and she would have had more time for quilting.
The blocks themselves are made like sections of North Carolina Lily (Brackman 765 covers most of the variations).  Gotta love that wild black print!

The border treatment is unusual.  I wonder if she was experimenting.  It seems like there should be another black print square on the lower border, but she put a background square there instead.  Did she run out?  Or did she want a sort of floating look?
The worn places don't show up as much when the quilt is stacked, or draped over a chair.  I love to run my hands across the softness of it, and think of family memories.
May the Thanksgiving holiday bring the joy of new memories to you and your family and friends.

P.S.  I'm not decorating for Christmas until Friday, but the Christmas cactus is going ahead without me!


  1. I really enjoyed reading about your Grandma Bess and her quilting. I was inspired to begin quilting because my grandmother and great-grandmother quilted.


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