October 27, 2021

Three Quilts, Three Generations - The Story

I recently had the pleasure of repairing three heirloom quilts made by three generations of quilters. Two are heavy, wool and flannel crazy quilts, and the third is a cotton log cabin.  (You can read about the repairs at Three Quilts, Three Generations - The Repairs.)

Here's how the owner describes the quilts:

The “Greta” crazy quilt, with a date of 1948 sewn in white on a pink panel, is so named for the owner’s mother, whose name is stitched in cursive on another panel.  The quilt has many detailed and individualistic flourishes sewn between and on the panels, and was likely a summer project of three generations of women working together at their family farm in Wilkes County, NC the summer of 1948, when Greta was home from college.  Her mother, grandmother, and at least one sister probably worked on the quilt with her.  Grandmother Susan Elizabeth, 73 at the time, would live another 16 years, but she was a poet, keenly aware of the brevity of life, and would have encouraged the family women not to pass up what would be their last opportunity to create a quilt together.



Little is known about the 2nd crazy quilt, which had extensive damage.

This log cabin quilt, with fabrics dating from the 1850s-1870s, has a signature confirming that the grandmother who worked on the “Greta” crazy quilt also worked on this one at some point in her life.  Born in 1855, she either worked on the quilt as a young girl or repaired it later as an adult.

Inked name and initals


Here's the tiny brown on tan print cotton that backs the Log Cabin quilt.


The owner kindly sent two family photos to accompany this post.  I always love seeing the people who made the quilts I've repaired.  I've sort of met them and become a part of their quiltmaking stories.

I’ve also attached a photo of Greta at approximately the age she was working on the “Greta” quilt with her family.

I’ve attached one more, which is of the N.C. farmhouse where the “Greta” quilt would have been created.  Greta’s mother, father and five older sibling are in the photo, but Greta herself would have been hidden in her mom’s belly when this was taken around 1928.

The elderly lady on the right in the photo, holding the hand of the little boy, is “S.E.S.”  Now you have the whole picture. :)

Susan Elizabeth (S. E.) Swaringen was my great grandmother and a matriarch of my mother’s family who lived to be 89.  She passed away in 1944, but she was probably the driving force behind much of the quilt making.

An interesting tidbit is that the three quilts exhibit three different ways of finishing the edges.  In the "Greta" quilt, the plaid back fabric wraps around to the front.  

The other crazy quilt is backed with a heavy wool blanket and has a separate binding strip, a black wool.

And the log cabin has a knife edge, in which the front and back fabrics are turned towards each other and stitched shut.

You can read about the repairwork I completed on these quilts at Three Quilts, Three Generations - The Repairs.

I'm always so grateful to have the opportunity to a part of the history such meaningful objects in this way.     



  1. I just LOVE the Greta quilt. It just has a 'feel' to it. With the story you provided I can just put myself into the room or on the porch of this fantastic NC farmhouse with the women who made it. A unique layout of swatches and blocks, with small, varied and beautiful decorative stitching, I also like the restrained amount of embroidery patches. It speaks to me of women who had many other household duties of farmhouse wives, mothers and girls but who still appreciated the community of 'sisters of the needle and thread'.
    Can you tell I love this one?

    1. Yes, I can tell how you feel about the Greta quilt! I find that crazy quilts - because there is such a wide range of embroidered objects - really do give a glimpse into the personality of the maker. I'll be posting one soon that has lots of creative geometric objects in amongst the more usual flowers and fans. And there's one already posted by a woman who loved her beautiful china set. And one that is full of farm animals and natural bits, as fits a farming family (it's still in its family so the maker's life is known). It's very fun to see.