Back in the old days fabric was precious. Men’s suits were cut down for their sons, feed and flour sacks were washed and remade into clothing, worn out clothes were repurposed into handmade quilts–
And that’s how Uncle Hugh’s pajamas came to decorate our dining room.
I never knew Uncle Hugh. He died before I married his wife’s niece’s youngest son. But every time we have dinner around our big table, I sit with my back on a cushion made from his old pajamas. That’s a pretty cozy connection in my book.
My first rule of rescuing fabric–never cut up a finished quilt in good condition. Never. But we do sleep under our inherited quilts and coverlets, and I wash them, (gently, of course, in my front loader machine)
Uncle Hugh’s pajama quilt was never finished. It came to me in a stack of pieced blocks. Tucked away in a cedar chest for decades, they were fair game for a rescue.
It was my very first fabric intervention and it pretty much got me hooked.
I liked the understated menswear look of the pajama blocks. The colors blended but didn’t match—another plus for me—I hate it when everything appears too matchy-matchy like it was all bought at once. And I liked the history Uncle Hugh’s pajama pillows brought to our dining room.
They give us some connection to the old family farm—big meals and summer vegetables, my mother in law’s lace tablecloth, the windows open and curtains blowing.
And the pillows give us stories too— Over food and wine with friends we tell about the great sugar bowl incident of 50 years back– when all the boys reached for fried chicken at once—About Uncle Hugh’s love of raisin bran, but hatred of raisins, how his great nephews used to crawl through the ditch in front of the house–like commandos evading capture– so they wouldn’t be called in to finish off the leftover fruit.
Yes, You can buy really cute pillows at Target–But you can’t buy good stories, family connections, history or the soft patina of age. That’s why I rescue old textiles. They have been loved, saved and they have something to say.
If you inherit or stumble across some old quilt blocks, make sure you quilt them (or have them quilted) to batting and backing before turning them into pillows. The old fabrics and threads are fragile. Some good machine quilting will stabilize the block and give you many years of wear and the ability to wash when needed. And I think that anything that’s around food better be washable.
Another bit of advice–these old quilt blocks are little works of art in themselves. In a pillow, they don’t need trims or pipings—just a pillow form and 4 straight seams. If you’re new to sewing, here’s a You tube video that can help with your sewing.