Heritage

The heartwarming stories behind a family’s quilts

‘Patches on a quilt don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful’

Shauntay Grant in front of her favourite quilt. This quilt shows the burn marks from one of the house fires it survived.
Shauntay Grant in front of her favourite quilt, which shows burn marks from one of the house fires it survived.   Charmaine Millaire

Quilts once used to ward off the winter’s chill have become works of art.

Halifax writer Shauntay Grant launched the exhibit “Stitched Stories: The Family Quilts” at the Dalhousie Art Gallery on Thursday. The collection was made up of seven hand-made quilts by her grandmother and great-grandmother.

Members of her family gathered at the opening to discuss what it was like to live in the community of North Preston in the 1950s during the winter.

Shauntay and her family members discussing the quilt made by Shauntay's great grandmother that survived the house fire.
Grant and family members discussing the quilt made by her great-grandmother that survived a house fire.   Charmaine Millaire

“Quilting was necessary because people weren’t well off,” said Grant’s uncle, Allister Johnson. “Nova Scotia has such a harsh climate.”

With no insulation in homes, quilts were needed to provide families with warmth. “There were at least three quilts in every room of our house,” said Grant’s uncle, Rev. Wayne Desmond.

Winters were so cold, said Grant’s mother, Belinda Grant, that there were days where they were told to put their feet in the wood stove to warm up.

Belinda Grant also said that her mother would use whatever was available to make her quilts.

“She used old dresses, shirts, and pants to make a quilt … anything you could think of.”

Some of the quilts were made up of perfect, cut-out squares of cloth, but others were had uneven shapes and no pattern. The beauty was how these quilts were put together, without the desire to make them look a certain way. They were made solely for warmth.

Shauntay Grant on her favourite quilt:

“It’s like poetry; it doesn’t need to rhyme to be beautiful, just like the patches on a quilt don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful,” said Belinda Grant.

Grant’s family members became nostalgic as they shared personal stories of their childhood .

Three of the seven quilts at the exhibit in the Dalhousie Art Gallery.
Three of the seven quilts at the exhibit in the Dalhousie Art Gallery.   Charmaine Millaire

The stories ranged from the three house fires they endured and survived as children to the “fantastic” cake Grant’s great-grandmother used to make.

Back then, everyone had wood stoves to heat their houses. If a fire broke out, there were few firefighters, so the family had to gather buckets of water to try to put out the fires.

“The quilts, they’re so beautiful,” said Karen Nieuwland, one of the guests who attended the exhibit. “And the stories are so personal; you can tell they come straight from the heart.”

Grant also displayed old photos of her mother, her two uncles and her great-grandmother on a projector screen.

“Patchwork of the quilts reflect what it was like back then,” said Grant. “Nothing was wasted.”

The exhibit runs until Nov. 27. On Canada Day 2017, two quilts made by Grant’s grandmother and great-grandmother will be displayed at the Art Gallery of Ontario for Canada’s 150th birthday, as part of an exhibit on Canada’s history.