Most of us buy our bedding ready-made these days – great expanses of soft wool or cotton or synthetic fiber, seamless, brightly colored. If we use quilts at all, they are as much for decoration or sentiment as for warmth. Do we remember that back in the day, our grandmothers pieced quilts, not from fat quarters bought by the dozens from fabric stores, but from scraps left over from cutting out home-sewn clothing, or from scraps salvaged from the less-worn parts of old clothing?
With war production taking over the woolen mills of the United States, few new blankets were available from commercial sources throughout World War II. The shortage lingered for several years after the war, as factories were gradually released to civilian production again. Even as late as 1948, when the Relief Society sisters of the Spanish-American Mission – under the direction of Ivie Huish Jones – needed flannel and other woolen cloth for quilting, not only to meet the needs of local members but also to fill their assigned quota of quilts to send to members in Europe, they could not secure enough fabric from merchants, even though they scoured sources in the five states covered by their mission.
Finally, they located a source in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, the Islet Pueblo Indians wove locally produced wool into fabric from which they produced highly popular neckties. Because neckties were cut on the bias – diagonally, rather than with the grain of the weave – each length of fabric produced a triangular remnant, one at each end, that was too short to use for neckties. The Relief Society sisters of the Spanish-American mission arranged to buy all the remnants that the necktie factory could sell.
Neckties played another role in the Mission’s quilt production that year: In San Antonio, members of the local priesthood, together with missionary elders, told Sister Jones that they wanted to help the Relief Society meet its quilt quota. Not only would they do the handwork on a quilt, they would scout up their own material. All they asked from the Relief Society was the use of their quilting frames.
So the elders combed their area looking for suitable used wool clothing from which they could salvage material. Quilting novices, they weren’t quite up to piecing together a lot of tiny pieces, or anything cut on a curve. What they needed was blocks of fabric that could be sewn together in straight lines. That probably meant the backs of coats, or the sides of skirts – anything that wasn’t worn thin (knees, elbows, seats) when a garment was discarded. We can see from the pictures that they also found, somewhere, a rather large piece of plaid fabric that made up much of the quilt top.
Joe Favela, branch president at San Antonio, took charge of scrounging for the used clothing. Missionary Wesley G. Eatchel designed the quilt pattern based on the fabric they had available, and other members of the local priesthood assisted in the cutting and sewing. The men worked together after Mutual and Priesthood activities, using a sewing machine for some of the long seams and for rudimentary quilting, but also doing a lot of hand sewing.
The finished quilt was a blocky, decidedly masculine design. They proudly sewed a label in one corner, printed with ink: “Designed and made by the Priesthood of San Antonio, Texas, Spanish-American Mission.” Then they turned their quilt over to Sister Jones, to add to the Relief Society’s stock of quilts shipped to Europe that year.