Memorial Day: Sewing Together the Fabric of Our History

May 22, 2020 9:06:45 AM / by Erica Bottger

Memorial Day, first observed in 1868, honors United States' soldiers who lost their lives in war. This year might be a little different as we continue to keep our distance for safety and health, but we can still tell the stories of our past. Today, I'm sharing with you one of my own family stories and want to encourage you to share your own. If you have a story to share, leave a comment here or on our Facebook or Instagram!


Click here for patriotic projects and quilt patterns ideas for Memorial Day.


My husband and I were honored to inherit this quilt from his grandmother, Ruby. There were 3 quilts to choose from, with the other two going to our daughters. 

7-quilt with corner folded on bush


I was immediately attracted to the modern feel of this well-used quilt and the bishop’s fan hand quilting, but I came to appreciate it even more as I learned its history.

6-blue quilt with circular quilting


According to my mother-in-law, Joy, the quilt had been one of several quilts made by the women in her family in the early 1940’s as part of Bundles for Britain.


Quilters' History of Giving Back

As a librarian’s daughter married to a history fan, I naturally started to research this movement. Prior to our country entering World War II, volunteer groups across the US labored to make items for the people of Great Britain. It was launched by Natalie Wales Latham in 1940, gathering her friends to knit socks and caps for British sailors. The initiative spread and soon over 1.5 million volunteers around the country were contributing those items and more for almost two years.


Joy remembers that quilting always took place at her grandmother’s house where there was a quilting frame that could be raised and lowered from the living room ceiling. Here, Grandmother, Mother and aunts would gather around the frame to hand quilt together.


The fabrics found in this quilt are basically the same as all of the Bundles for Britain quilts the family made. Rather than take time for piecing, the quilts were all basically whole cloth quilts, with some piecing used to make the most of their fabric supplies.

1-corner of quilt flipped over turned


How this one quilt was left behind while the others were shipped off remains a mystery. It has been suggested that Ruby, known for her high standards, wasn’t pleased with some aspect of the quilt, and held this one back to “fix it”. She was small but mighty, a spunky and spirited lady under five feet tall.



Over the years, the quilt traveled with Grandma Ruby, Grandpa Meryl and family as they moved to various military bases and munition depots where Meryl was assigned. Upon his retirement, they settled in Colorado. The quilt later moved to Illinois with Ruby after Meryl’s death, and it came to us via Kansas City and is a cherished reminder of a special lady. 


Still Quilting for a Cause

Currently, quilters around the country are sharing their talents by making masks and other protective items to help keep their communities safe. Our quilt, and the story behind it, show that generosity is a legacy shared by quilters, from generation to generation. 


If you're inspired by the work of the sewists, makers and quilters before us and want to give back, take a peek into Quilts of Valor. The organization works with quilters all over the country to create quilts of comfort for those who have served and been touched by war. This year, they're holding a block drive with the goal of 20,000 Blocks in 2020. 



If you have a story to share with us, feel free to leave a comment here or on our Facebook or Instagram


Topics: patriotic, Quilting History

Erica Bottger

Written by Erica Bottger

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