Quilts, whether ornate or basic, everyday designs, have been a part of the world’s history for centuries. The oldest example still in existence is a quilted linen carpet found in a Mongolian cave and now housed at the St. Petersburg Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Archaeology Section. Another of the earliest surviving quilts in the world was made around 1360 in Sicily, a section safely ensconced at the V&A Museum in Bargello, Florence and another section held in a private collection.
Through the years to present day, quilts have been used to keep warm and give comfort, as well as to raise money for special projects and to spread awareness of various causes. The intricate patterns — Jacob’s ladder, hen and chickens, Roman square, wedding ring, Dutchman’s puzzle, square deal, log cabin, lone star, rail fence and hundreds more — result in quilts also serving as colorful artwork often used as decor.
Creating quilts has always provided a chance for family and friends to gather for conversation, to share helpful hints, lend a supportive shoulder if needed and to laugh. For one Denison family, however, the tradition of quilting has become not just a way to spend quality time together, but to help others.
The quiet teenager with a shy smile skillfully maneuvers little triangles of bright fabric under the sewing machine’s fast-moving needle. When all are attached, the triangles will complete one square of the “confetti” quilt she and her grandmother are making.
Ginger Herold of Denison can’t help but grin as she watches her granddaughter, Courtney Neal. As in generations past, Herold is happy to share her love of quilting, passing the art form on to future generations.
For Courtney and Herold, quilting is a weekly tradition. It allows them to make eye-catching quilts, most of which will be given away to those in need, and to spend precious time with each other before the 16-year-old becomes an adult and busy with her own life.
“She’s getting good. She can drive her sewing machine in a straight line,” says Herold as she watches Courtney steadily sewing the fabric squares. “But I want her to learn at her own pace because I don’t want it to be tedious. … Grandma wants her to be a quilter, but only if she wants to be.”
Herold began teaching Courtney to quilt when she was just 12. The two even took a quilting class together. The girl was a quick study and won a prize on her very first quilt.
“Courtney got a second place on that quilt at the county fair. She even quilted it by herself on the (quilting) machine. Needless to say, I was walking on air,” says Herold.
Courtney, who says little but smiles a lot, shared a warm look with her grandmother and continued to sew.
“I like sewing the squares together,” says Courtney when asked what her favorite part of quilting is. “And I like hanging out with my grandma.”
Courtney may well follow in her grandma’s footsteps. Not only does she want to keep creating the colorful quilts, but has been promoting the art to her friends, one of which she says is interested in learning, too. Herold is quick to assure her granddaughter that her friend is more than welcome to join in their weekly quilting sessions. The more the merrier!
The process of quilting has come a long way from its humble beginnings when everything was done by hand. Modern sewing and quilting machines, many equipped with computer programs, have taken the place of the delicate, time-consuming handwork.
“Quilting is so much easier than it used to be,” says Herold, who made her first quilt about 50 years ago. “I used to hand-quilt, but it was so hard and took so long.”
Herold says she always wanted to quilt, but after her first quilt, life got in the way. Being a wife and a working mother took precedence for many years. It wasn’t until about 1980 that she gave in to her quilting fever. That fever spread, capturing the hearts of Herold’s sister, Charlotte Gravley of Denison, and their mother, the late Martha Preston.
Though the sisters lived states apart at the time, quilting brought them together and closer than ever. Gravley, who had sewn but never quilted, went to visit Herold. The sisters decided to make a quilt and did just that. However, Gravley was still working at the time, so didn’t begin quilting in earnest until she retired.
“When I retired in 2000, I said, ‘OK. I’m taking up quilting,’ and I did,” says Gravley. “Then I said, ‘OK. If I’m going to quilt, I’m going to join the quilt guild,’ and I did. We were living in Bella Vista, Ark. at the time, and it was a quilting community. But after going to the quilt guild and seeing their work, I said I was going home and cutting all my quilts into rags. They (quilt guild members) did such wonderful work!”
Not one to give up, Gravley took classes offered by the quilt guild. She also convinced Herold and her mother to come to Arkansas and take classes too. The quilting threesome even went to their first quilting convention in Nashville, Tenn. Not long afterwards, Gravley, Herold and their mother were all living in Denison and became members of the Sherman Quilt Guild. It was the start of a quilting hobby that the sisters have turned into a project of the heart.
The sisters each spend 30 to 40 hours or more every week making quilts and lap robes of all sizes, which are then given away to a variety of charities, causes and individuals in need. Both cut out the material for quilt squares and sew them together at their individual homes. Herold then uses her long-arm quilting machine, lovingly named “Eleanor,” to quilt the item and Gravley completes the project by binding the edges.
“It was my idea to start this (quilting projects), but, boy, when Charlotte got into it, it got to be big time,” says Herold.
Gravley, like Herold, says she didn’t realize how much she would enjoy quilting.
“When I took it up, I didn’t know it would consume me,” says Gravley. “It’s a creative outlet and it’s satisfying to give to others.”
Herold seconds Gravley’s feelings about being able to give away their quilts and adds, “Quilting is a stress buster. It’s just relaxing.”
Though both admire the few individuals who are still hand-quilting, neither want to give up their machines.
“There are some who still do hand-quilting, but I figure I wouldn’t live long enough to quilt one by hand,” says Gravley with a laugh.
Making a quilt that will stand the test of time first involves picking quality fabric. It doesn’t come cheap.
“When we first started, good quilt fabric was around $7.99 a yard, but now it runs anywhere from $9.95 up to $12 or $13 a yard,” says Gravley. “You want a good fabric that’s got a tight weave and smooth finish with well-dyed colors, so go to an actual quilt store that carries quilt-grade material. … We make a lot of queen-size quilts, and it takes about 10 yards of fabric for the quilt top and around seven yards for the back, so it’s a lot of fabric to purchase.”
Gravley adds that, though the prices for quality quilting fabric may seem high, they aren’t compared to other countries.
“Houston is the biggest quilt convention, and we’ve met women there from all over the world,” says Gravley. “They all bring big, empty suitcases and fill them with fabric to take back home because the cost for quilt fabric in their countries runs between $18 and $25 a yard!”
In addition to the fabric Gravley and Herold purchase themselves, they are often the recipients of fabric leftovers.
“If people give us scraps, we use them,” says Herold.
Those leftovers are often turned into colorful “scrap” quilts which both sisters say are some of their favorites.
Taking quilting classes are also high on the sisters’ suggestions for anyone interested in beginning or improving their quilting techniques. The Sherman Quilt Guild, as well as local and area quilt shops, all offer classes throughout the year.
Besides their quilting projects, the sisters are regulars at local and area “quilt retreats,” as well as weekly “sit and sew” gatherings with fellow quilters. One such “sit and sew” is held weekly in Farmersville.
“We live for retreats! We can’t wait for the next one,” says Herold. “Everybody brings stuff, and it’s just so much fun. Everybody gives ideas, and we hear some of the funniest stories! … And we’re getting more and more young people who are attending. I’m so happy to see young people coming into quilting.”
Gravley adds enthusiastically, “We’re trying to get it so that there’s a retreat at least once a month!”
Quilters even have their own sage sayings and advice to follow. “One of the quilters’ sayings is that if you get your own blood on a quilt, you can spit on it and your saliva will take it off, but it won’t take off someone else’s blood,” says Gravley. “I’ve done it, and it’s true. It works!”
Since beginning their quilting in earnest, the sisters have made and donated bed quilts and lab robes to the Salvation Army, the Crisis Center, a local fire department for a family that lost its home, for Home Hospice patients in memory of their mother, and other charitable activities. Each piece carries their custom note, “Happy quilt. Made with love by Ginger Herold and Charlotte Gravley. May you be warm and comforted.”
The sisters mean every word on that note.
For information on quilting, contact Herold at 903-271-0591.