I remember Grampy singing an old song called variously “Seeing Nellie Home” or “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party,” in which the singer, a guy, tells of the charms of taking Nellie home from a quilting bee. Apparently he took the occasion to ask for her hand (and the rest of her, I suppose) and they lived happily ever after as his “hopes have lived and grown.” I don’t think Gramp bothered much with greeting cards, but I am sure a good many of his songs were dedicated directly to Grammy, and I think she understood his intention.

That song was a favorite and already very old when I heard him sing it. It was written in the 1850s by J. Fletcher (melody) and F. Kyle (lyrics). I tell you this not because either you or I will remember, but because it’s interesting to find it was composed and not a folk song as I had supposed. It was very popular in its time and eventually ended up in a couple of hymnals as well as other popular singing books. It was also recorded as late as the 1950s by The Sons of the Pioneers and other country groups.

Besides love, which is always a winner in music circles, I am beguiled by the whole quilting party idea. I don’t know if quilting parties and husking bees and barn raisings were still common in the 1850s or whether people were already feeling nostalgic about them. I know a lot of traditional things, but much of that is  flung into that attic called “the olden days,” which covers a lot of territory. My grandparents never had, nor attended, as far as I know, a quilting bee.

I am not sure if they were merely outmoded or just not a thing around here. When we learn about the “olden days,” we think it was the same everywhere, but it wasn’t. There were regional customs all over the country. I have heard of people negating the idea of bees, considering that it was cheaper to hire help than to pony up for a party where more courting than husking or quilting was engaged in anyway. Sometimes people didn’t wait till they were going home to engage in flirting, I guess! So sometimes frugality won out, and if you didn’t want to share your food and cider for a few hours work, that was your choice.

  A goodly share of the old Vermont-made quilts I have come across have been tied, not quilted. Quilting is much more time-consuming than tying, and usually requires a big frame as well– and though the museum has been gifted with a number of artifacts that were useful at one time, including sewing machine, a big old loom, and quilts, so far no one has come up with an antique quilting frame. Perhaps they were all turned into kindling? As for husking, the Nebraska football team and a good hand lotion are named for corn huskers, but Cyrus McCormick tinkered up a combine harvester in his father’s blacksmith shop in the 1830s. The use of this mechanical marvel was akin to employing a robot to take the place of many human workers – all of the steps were done by one machine and teams of horses in one fell swoop. It didn’t become popular in general until after WWI, but it did foretell the decline of husking bees.

Now corn husking is more of a sport, with husking contests popular in season in the Midwest. They maintain the knowledge and provide entertainment (including some flirting, no doubt), but it is not an absolutely necessary accomplishment any more. Quilters are ever intent on making wonderful creations, but they are of art more than practicality.

But quilting party or no quilting party, somehow the art of courting still goes on.