Preserving Family History in an Artists’ Book

In a box in the bottom of my studio closet was an old, tattered quilt made by my great-grandmother. The quilt is worn through to the backing in places and has stuffing bits showing through here and there. When I found it as a child it was probably in good condition – but I fell in love with it and used it for everything from cuddling on the couch, to wrapping up my cat like a baby, to making a fort over the grand piano.  I didn’t understand that this was an heirloom to be preserved and instead dragged it from adventure to adventure in between stops to the washer and dryer.

Would my great-grandmother have saved it for good? Or felt that it was a useful item that would be wasted if carefully folded in the linen closet? I didn’t know her and I can’t answer that question. But I can see in the thousands of little hand sewn stitches that she took pride in her quilting and spent a lot of her precious time creating this work of art.

[My great-grandmother (center in flowered dress) circa 1946]

I’ve often thought about ways to give the quilt another life but have eventually returned it to the box each time. I found it again during my studio clean out and am finally ready to make the quilt into artists’ books. I like the idea that by creating artists’ books with the quilt it will continue as art – just in a different form.

To start out, I did some research. It turns out this particular kind of quilt is called a Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt. A pattern that was popular 1929-1939 since it could be made out of small scraps of fabric such as feed, flour and sugar sacks and bits of leftover dress material. For a generation of women making do during the depression, this was the perfect quilt pattern.

First, I cut the quilt into manageable pieces and now I’m scanning it 1/2 a piece at a time.


Next, I am merging the two halves in Photoshop. This is one of my favorite bits of magic with this software. In Adobe Photoshop (my version is CS3), File>Automate>Photomerge. A bit more editing to color correct the image and then cropping to remove the green edges and here is one of the raw images from which I am going to begin my artists’ book.


3 responses to “Preserving Family History in an Artists’ Book

  1. love your blog and the quilt. I pick up quilts tossed away at yard sales because they make good furniture covers for my dogs to lay on the couch. Hey they’re older dogs and have earned their rights to snuggle up on something mom-scented.

  2. Pingback: Quilt Book Update – Testing Unconventional Materials for Book Covers | Midnight Musings

  3. Shelley Casey

    Your post about your great-grandmother’s quilt has given me some ideas about what to do with my mother’s fancy formal gowns that I’ve kept in my garage for 7 years. I scanned the bodice of one and used it as the background for a page I made when first learning Photoshop. Think I’ll scan parts of the rest to save for a future project.

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