Sunday, September 19, 2010

AUNTIE GIRLIE AND HER QUILT

Her name was Charlotte, But she had been known as Girlie forever. It is common on Norfolk Island for childhood nicknames to persist into old age. She was Bernie's aunt, one of hs mother's sisters.
This is the only picture I have of Girlie, although I know there is another over at Marie's place, taken with her cousin, also Charlotte.

This picture was taken well before I knew Girlie. By the time I married Bernie, she was somewhat confined to her little cottage, where she lived alone. We visited her regularly, and she "held court" from her tall bed which was placed in her loungeroom, partly tucked behind an old pianola.
Girlie had suffered some major tragedies in her life. Her lovely old home, Ivy House, had burned to the ground. And she had lost her leg in a horseriding accident. But this had done nothing to lessen her good humour and feistiness.
Girlie never came to terms with her artificial leg. My daughter recalls a day when she was a small child, going to Girlie's house with her grandmother, who was Girlie's sister. They were doing a bit of housekeeping and tidying up. They moved the artificial leg from one spot to another, and out jumped a rat!!!
Girlie preferred to sit up on her bed, with all her useful possession tucked around her in plastic carrier bags. When I look into my sewing room, or in corners of our bedroom, I wonder if Bernie isn't a bit afraid that I am growing a bit like his eccentric aunt, with bits and pieces tucked into bags everywhere.
I never saw Girle off that bed, except for a couple of times when she had a short spell in hospital. But my sister went to visit her once, and she climbed down to get a jar of guava jelly for her from under the bed. Actually her cottage was a bit like a "clearing house". It was a family tradition. My mother-in-law was the same! People would bring gifts of produce and preserves, and much of it would leave with the next visitor. Girlie really made you feel special, and would tell you that you were the only visitors she had received in over a week - even though you had passed someone coming out of her door when you arrived!
Now the point of this story is Girlie's quilt.
She was in the process of making it when I first knew her. You see, many of those plastic bags around her contained scraps of fabric. Girlie would while away those long and lonely hours when she was alone piecing them together. The stitches were rather large and rough, but her eyesight was failing, and her bed was in a rather dark corner of the room.

I was fascinated by this quilt as it "grew", although I was not really into patchwork in a big way myself at that time. The last time I saw it, it was draped over the settee next to her bed.

Then there was a period of time when Girlie went to live with a niece. She stayed there for about six months, and although she was well looked after, she longed for her rather eccentric form of independence. But after she returned home, I never saw the quilt again. I presumed that it had gone out with the rubbish at that time - or perhaps after she died. It was not exactly a beautiful thing, but I always felt its simple and humble workmanship would provide a link with this wonderful lady.


Then I recently found that Elaine, one of Girlie's many great-nieces, had rescued the quilt in a sale of Girlie's goods afer she died. Elaine has kept it in beautiful pristine condition, and has lent it to me to run my fingers over and enjoy for a little while.
Now that quilt would probably be a wonderful catalogue of Sixties and `Seventies fabrics. It is not an heirloom in the sense of having beautiful workmanship and a complex design. But I am amazed how "Square" it is, and how Girlie sewed in narrow, unsymmetrical pieces to ensure that it would lay flat. Should we finish it for her, and give it some inner batting and lining, and a binding?
I think not.
The best part of this quilt is the memories it evokes of a proud, independent and spirited lady.

\

I told you Girlie was eccentric. When she died, her will stated that her property and money were to be divided among all her nieces and nephews, her great-nieces and nephews, and any that were to be born in the next 21 years! There were over 80 heirs! And she did not want the land to be sold to facilitate the arrangements. What a legal nightmare! I bet she was having a chuckle in heaven. You see, she loved family, and she also loved her island, and she wanted us all to keep our roots here.
I have enjoyed having the quilt here, and I am so glad that Elaine  found it under a pile of stuff on that auction day, because I did not expect ever to see it again. Those random pieces of fabric, joined with those crude but strong stitches, are a real family treasure, and I am so glad to know that Elaine and her family will value and preserve it.



3 comments:

Carol said...

What a lovely bit of family history! I have an Aunty Girlie, too. She's my Dad's only sister, the only girl in a family of boys. She's 91 now. The walls of her home were always covered with her tapestry work before she moved into a retirement complex. I wonder what has happened to the tapestries?!

bunks said...

This quilt reminds me of a quilt show I went to once. It's funny but the only quilt I remember is one that looked very much like Girlie's quilt. The pieces of fabric were just scraps and it had no sense nor rhyme. The quilting stitches used were huge and I wondered why it was in a juried quilt show.

The only thing I could think of was that whomever made the quilt had made it with love and passion for the art.

I've seen many quilts but of them all that one struck a chord deep within me.

bunks said...

This quilt reminds me of a quilt show I went to once. It's funny but the only quilt I remember is one that looked very much like Girlie's quilt. The pieces of fabric were just scraps and it had no sense nor rhyme. The quilting stitches used were huge and I wondered why it was in a juried quilt show.

The only thing I could think of was that whomever made the quilt had made it with love and passion for the art.

I've seen many quilts but of them all that one struck a chord deep within me.

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