Feedsack Girl on Swing

The long hours and tedious needlework Grandmother invested in sewing a special quilt for her four-year-old granddaughter are unbelievable. Today, seventy-some years later, I unfolded it carefully and, with a tenuous finger, gently outlined a sunbonneted girl swinging on an embroidered rope, her feet trust gleefully in the air. 

The worn quilt boasts multiple girls sewn onto quilt squares, their dresses splashes of varying colors and designs, but all sporting a cheerful bonnet shielding her face from an imagined summer sun. My Grandmother sewed the seams on her trusty Singer sewing machine, but the girls on the quilt squares were hand appliquéd.

I imagine her concentrating on her sewing project in the thin sunlight of a winter afternoon. After washing the supper dishes and returning them to the cupboard, she would don her thimble, pick up needle and thread, and sew with the light of a kerosene lantern. I envision her smiling, rocking in her chair, thinking of how a beloved granddaughter will delight in the imaginary playmates that will soon cover her bed—a warm comfort at bedtime and a cheerful greeting each morning. 

Granddad also had a role in the design and creation of the quilt, for the fabric had an earlier use in commerce. After the Civil War, tightly woven cotton sacks replaced tin containers, wooden barrels, and boxes for transporting bulk commodities. During the Great Depression, 1929-1939, when "waste not, want not" was the norm, patterned cotton bags marketed to women became enormously popular. Industrious women like Grandmother repurposed those bags, i.e., feedsacks, into dresses, children's clothing, aprons, quilts, or anything that would take a needle and thread. Thrifty women wasted no scrap of precious fabric. They swapped patterns sketched on pieces of paper, shared desired fabrics, and engaged in friendly rivalry.

By all accounts, Grandmother was a force to be reckoned with. She would accompany Granddad to town in their Ford pickup, transporting whatever chickens or cows were to be sold at the livestock market. Eggs gathered the previous week were carefully nestled in boxes lined with straw, ready to barter for coffee or sugar at the General Store.

But when Granddad went to the Feed and Seed Store, she was undoubtedly at his elbow, pointing to the exact bag of livestock feed she wanted. No matter if it was the one on the bottom of a six-foot stack. That is the one I want! Grandmother was meticulous in her designs and creativity, and if she needed a particular fabric pattern to complete her sewing project—well, nothing else would do. 

Granddad may have grunted his displeasure, but he and the store's workers would move the heavy bags of feed, for they were accustomed to the vagaries of hard-headed farm women and knew better than to protest.

And I sense that Grandmother, pleased, would have traced the outline of a sunbonneted girl on a swing with a work-worn finger and smiled with satisfaction.

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About the Author

Jeanean Doherty is a wannabe author who penned short stories and journals for fun but wasn’t sure what to do with them. She dreamed of creating an epic novel “someday”—or, at least, a book a few people would enjoy reading. She recently discovered writers’ groups, conferences, and contests and was encouraged to be a winner in every competition she entered. Finally, she is hard at work writing an extensively researched historical narrative while writing shorter pieces to improve her writing craft.

Jeanean Doherty
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