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Heritage Scraps from Heritage Hands

By Laura Casmore

 

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Growing up in an African American community, it was common to see utility quilts in homes made by someone’s grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, or other family members. When I became a quilter, I began to meet people with stories about their old quilts and the people who made them. This inspired me to start documenting these vintage quilts within my community. I am interested in who holds the quilt now, who made the quilt, and a picture of the quilt, if possible. I love to interview the quilt owners and have them tell stories about the quilts or the maker if possible. 

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I have been searching in the Southeast part of Texas for vintage quilts. A lot of African Americans from this region have Louisiana roots. From Port Arthur to Nacogdoches, I have met and talked with many people who have – or once had – vintage quilts from their family.  

African Americans have always been handy with their hands, creating beautiful works of art in quilting for the ladies of the plantations and themselves when they had the time. I have seen some simply made quilts, as well as some beautifully thought-out quilts. There is a big misunderstanding that African American quilting was not pretty, did not match, and did not use patterns as their Euro counterparts. As in anything, the economic status of the quilter determined the quality of the quilting. 

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When the ladies were able to relax, they formed quilting circles and worked together to finish quilts. They would share their knowledge, skills, abilities, as well as fabrics.  As a quilter today, I identify with the quilting practices of that time period.

My friends and I share fabrics, books, and patterns, go on retreats, troubleshoot when needed, and share beautiful quilt stories with each other. 

There have been times in my life when I could only afford a certain level of supplies, where I wished for better fabrics, and when the simple but beautifully made quilt I completed was made with fabrics from a large chain store. 


I desire and hope to one day have a massive database of vintage quilts treasured and cared for by those that hold them, admired by those that get a chance to view them, and valued by collectors. In my work, I have met many quilters- some who were generational quilters, some who fell in love with quilts and have developed their own styles. 

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I met and interviewed De Lois Kendrick, who was raised in Louisiana but grew up in the Houston area. De Lois is a quilter and crafter who has always created things with her hands and remembered quilting with her great-grandmother on a “wooden horse” in the front room.  Other quilters I interviewed included Phyllis Simpson of Just Quilting and Rhonda Masters (www.NAAQG.ORG), who both had fond memories of their grandmothers, aunts and other relatives quilting as a group. These ladies quilt for pleasure as well as business with traditional and modern quilt styles. Many quilts are sold through word of mouth or recommendations, and a lot of their work has been exhibited in various quilt shows in the area.  

In the future, I have plans to hold quilt clinics where I will document quilts, share knowledge of taking care of vintage quilts, interview the owners of these quilts and photograph the quilts and owner if permitted.  Through my website, www.Lauracasmore.com I will collect information and build a database which will eventually be on its own website, TAAFQP (Texas African American Quilt Project). 


About the Author

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Laura M. Casmore was born in Port Arthur, Texas. She holds a B.A in Telecommunication from Texas Tech University and a M.L.S. in Library Science from Texas Woman’s University. Quilting for over 20 years, she has worked her way into being listed as one of the premier quilters in the USA. As a quilt artist she has exhibited in various quilt shows local and across the country. Learn more about Laura’s work at www.Lauracasmore.com.

 

About Texas Folklife's Community Folklife Fellowship

The Texas Folklife Community Folklife Fellowship program is a statewide, NEA-supported pilot program that provides training in oral history, interviewing, audio storytelling, archives, and podcast production for adults. Participants learn to document community traditions in their own cities and towns throughout the state, through workshops and community partnerships. The program supports applicants from diverse regions and communities of the state of Texas.

Learn More About Community Folklife Fellowship