11 March 2010

Quilt Thursday: bees and quilts, or synchronicity strikes again

The Honey Bee quilt block from the Kansas City Star collection, originally published in 1929.

Our family genealogy work, as I mentioned before, started in earnest with my need to document an 1881 quilt. That led to the discovery of our connections to the Honnoll family. And that led to the discovery (thank you again, Bill!) of the unsuspected beekeepers in the family. Which in turn explained some of the older family recipes made with generous amounts of honey instead of sugar. Everything is connected; not for nothing is this blog called Threads and Traces.

So imagine my astonishment and delight to see today's Kansas City Star blog post entitled "Bees and Their Quilts." This is not just about quilting bees...it seems that quilts are actually part of the construction of some beehives. No matter which angle you take, you cannot separate bees and quilts.

Publisher Doug Weaver elaborates:
"A friend...is exploring the world of beekeeping. She recently shared some photos of her and her friends building beehives. And she mentioned that the Warre Hive style of beehive includes a quilt frame that sits toward the top of the hive, under the roof. ...The frame, with fabric attached at the bottom, is eventually filled with insulation – straw, sawdust, peat, wood shavings, etc. The quilt 'absorbs the hive's moisture more easily and communicates to the hive the heat outside,' wrote Emile Warre, the Frenchman who developed the hive design in the early 1900s.

"Warre called the design the 'People’s Hive' because of its simplicity. (All of his thinking is detailed in his book, 'Beekeeping for All.' I like Warre … clearly a man of the people and, like the bee itself, a lover of community, it appears.)

"Granted, this beehive quilt isn’t the kind of quilt you and I know and love. It’s basically a piece of plain cloth, attached to the frame....Still, there’s something comforting in knowing that, as we put honey on a biscuit, quilts might have contributed to that sweet combination."

A Warre hive with the "quilt" layer labelled, from http://thebeespace.net/warre-hive/.  

Weaver goes on to provide a link to an entertaining history of quilting bees and to compare quilting bee and beehive dynamics. There are many points in common; quilting bees were social microcosms of the larger community.

This line especially resonated with me:
"In isolated regions gathering women in the area together helped overcome the loneliness that so many pioneer women experienced. Often these women often didn't have a big house with a parlor for hand quilting."

So true. Every hand-stitched quilt is a collection of memories, often of friends and family coming together on rare and cherished occasions. I wish I knew more of the story of the 1881 quilt, but I can't imagine that it was anything other than a mother and daughter project, and that made the quilt so precious to my great-grandmother that she kept it close by her for her entire life. If you'll excuse me, I need to go touch it now and wonder.

Happy Thursday.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

--Emily Dickinson (1830–86)

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