Sunday, September 27, 2009

Looking for the Perfect Sue?

I had seen these pre-made Sunbonnet Sues on Ebay several times last year when I finally decided to buy a set of them and see if they were really as beautiful as they looked in the pictures. So I bought a set and when they came, I was so happy. There were 12 in a set; good cotton fabric of quilt quality sewn very carefully all around the edges to one-sided fusible (slit in back and turned inside-out).

I called the set I bought, Hawaiian Sue, and made a twin quilt from them which I showed in the Odessa Spring Fling quilt show this year. It was my first attempt to produce anything that could be shown. As it turned out, I actually showed the Hawaiian Sue, Green Thumb Sue, and Sunday Sue quilts.

The Hawaiian Sue set and all the other lovelies on Ebay of this sort are made by Norma Downing of the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. Her email address is

She makes all kinds of Sues for quilts and will do custom designs as well. The Sues I received came pinned together. Each figure had five pieces and they were exquisite. I hand-stitched them to the block on point, then machine-pieced the alternating blocks to make the whole quilt top.

Susan Ryan, a wonderful professional quilter (her email address is, quilted it for me making huge flowers in the alternate blocks to match a lily design in one of the Sue dresses. Then, she echo-quilted the Sues. A vine quilt stitch was used in the borders. It's my favorite Sue quilt, so far and very easy to make. I'm just getting ready to release the pattern for it this next month.

Be sure to look on Ebay or Etsy for Norma Downing's Sues. They are really wonderful. And, if you want a really good quilter person who is artistic and easy to work with, send your quilts to Susan. Happy Stitching!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Reiter Family Album Quilt

My other grandmother, who lived in northern Idaho all her life after coming west, made quilts from old clothes. One quilt I loved was made from wool and velvet, linked together with a herring-bone stitch. It was a twin size and really warm. There was a flannel sheet inside it, a cotton backing, and it was tied. I had that quilt when I was small. I could hardly turn over in bed, it was so heavy! I really loved it. What happened to it, I wonder?

In the "American Quilter" this month, there's an article about a quilt made from clothing and, in particular, the uniform of a German Hussar; called The Reiter Family Album Quilt. It's in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. It tells the story of four generations of women and this quilt. It was made in 1891 or 1892, taken apart, and reassembled in 1976. It was made of cotton and wool.

There's a tiny picture of it here

but the photo in the magazine is much better. One of the things that may have saved the quilt was the fact it was de-constructed and lay in a box in pieces for many years. It was re-constructed and restored by an expert, Julie Silber, of San Rafael, CA. The owner of the quilt, Leba Wine, has written a book about it called Stitches in Time. I would like to read it.

It's late, again, and I suppose all we Sues should be tucked up in bed. Sweet dreams.....  Prairie Stitcher

Friday, September 25, 2009

Here is the third one of the old quilts made by my grandmother, Ruby, in the 1960's. It is a Dresden Plate Diadem Setting. This quilt is in the poorest condition of the three. We plan to have it repaired eventually. You can see some of the damage in the following pictures.

The biggest problem for this old quilt is that the edge stitching around the shapes has come out. Also, some of the pieces seem to have been ripped off completely. Still the quilt is bright and vibrant. I see a couple of the fabrics from dresses my mother made for me as a little girl in this quilt as well as the other two posted yesterday and the day before.

Some stories about my grandmother's life are in the earlier blogs.

The homesteads in Toole County, Montana, where my grandparents, great grandparents and great aunt lived, were miles apart, because families were homesteading whole sections of land (640 acres). One day Ruby rode out on her pony to visit neighbors who had been expected at a gathering in town the day before. She took her little dog, Gip, with her. No one had seen the neighbors for a while. When she arrived, there was no one around the farm at all and the stock had not been fed. All were thirsty for water and hungry for food. She went up on the porch of the house and knocked at the door.

No one answered. She knocked again and again but no one came. She went over to a window and looked in to see what she could. It was hard to see through the dirty glass but what she could make out was a big shock to her. She ran to her pony, jumped up on her and galloped as fast as she could home. It appeared to her that everyone in the house was dead. There were several bodies in the room she had looked into through the glass. When the authorities sorted it out, the father of the house appeared to have shot his wife and five children, then, turned the gun on himself. Ruby had known them all.

There were hard times on the high prairies, always. The wind blew constantly and, at times, fiercely. Ruby said many times, "Everything blew away....." The families, first, built a house on the land and made the required improvements for ownership, gradually. During the first five years, while they were "proving up" on the homesteads, they lived in Shelby during the winter. As soon as the Allens could afford it, they moved to Portland, Oregon, where some of the Steele family lived. Ruby couldn't get her laundry dry, she said, so they moved up to Spokane, where the climate was drier. She liked Spokane very much and it is a beautiful spot, still, today.

Well, I'm going to go stitch another memory or two into a quilt. Happy Stitching!

Ruby's Old Double Wedding Ring Quilt

Ruby Mae (Steele) Allen's "Double Wedding Ring" quilt hanging in the 100 years old St. Matthew's Church in Odessa, Washington, this past weekend. The quilt was hand-pieced and hand-quilted by Ruby (1889-1989) in the 1960's. This is the first time the quilt has ever been shown publicly. Three quilts survive from her work: this one, the "Flower Garden" shown in the previous post and a "Dresden Plate Diadem Setting" which will be shown tomorrow on this blog. Below is a portrait of Ruby as a young woman in War Road, Minnesota, about age 16.

See the history of Ruby's life in the previous post for more information. Ruby was an avid gardener in her years in Spokane. She planted about 40 trees in her yard on East 29th, she said, to make up for the barren prairie years in Montana. She grew flowers in border beds all around the yard, especially for Memorial Day each year. Her iris and lilacs graced the graves of all those who were buried in the city. She gardened until she was about 96 years old. She made her last quilt for her great grand daughter, Erin, in 1982.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grandmother's Old Flower Garden Quilt

This past weekend, at our annual Deutschesfest celebration, my grandmother's Flower Garden quilt was shown for the first time ever. This quilt was hand-sewn, hand-pieced and hand-quilted in the 1960's by my grandmother, Ruby Mae (Steele) Allen. Here is a detail and a photo of the whole quilt.

Historical Information

Ruby (1889-1989) was born in Olmsted County, Minnesota, and died in Spokane. She came west to Montana in 1906, on the train, and took up a homestead, for herself. She brought her little dog, Gip, with her on the train, but the baggage man forgot to put the little dog off with her luggage. She ran after the train, shouting for her little dog. The man threw the poor little dog off the train. It was unhurt, but Ruby was furious. She stormed into the Shelby Depot where George Allen was in charge as the dispatcher, to give him a piece of her mind. He was impressed by Ruby, courted her, and married her in Great Falls in 1910.

During their courtship, Ruby would ride into Shelby from her homestead in the summer months on her Cayuse pony, Babe. There, on Friday nights, she played the piano for the weekly dance. They would dance all night. In the morning, she would step up on the little Indian pony and he would take her slowly and surely home, while she dozed in the saddle.

Ruby's parents (Julius and Elpha
[Whaley] Steele) and her sister, Pearl (Steele) Soderstrom, joined her on the high prairie in Toole County, Montana. Each of them took up a homestead.

In 1917, Ruby and George struck oil on their homestead. In 1918, two of their little boys died in the influenza epidemic and Ruby, herself, almost died, as well. She was too sick to attend the funerals of her little darlings. A year later, she lost a third son, who was stillborn. In 1944, her youngest son, Donald Allen, died in a plane crash while training for the war in Oregon.

Two of her six children survived to raise families of their own. We are ever grateful for the courage and steadfastness of our grand parents and great grandparents, who suffered mightily to make a future for us in the West. Ruby said about Montana, "Everything blew away......"

Pictures: Top - Grandmother's Flower Garden by Ruby Mae (Steele) Allen
Middle - Ruby at about age 5 in 1893, probably taken in Byron, MN
Bottom - Detail of the Flower Garden Quilt.

Happy Stitching!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Christmas Sunbonnet Sue

Here's another of the Sues from the Christmas Sue wall hanging, the pattern for which is at Just follow the link to the Catalog to see the whole piece. There are 4 different Sues in the quilt and wall hanging. Each is an angel like this one but each one holds something different: a heart for love; a wand for Christmas magic; one star to light a single candle; five stars to light up the sky. This block was done by hand: cotton fabric with Wonder-under and a button-hole or blanket stitch to finish the edges. Sweet little Sue. Always trying to do something good for someone else! Happy stitching, everyone.