Friday, October 25, 2013

To Keep Her Heart from Breaking

Imagine America's prairie before there were automobiles, before there were highways, roads, or dirt paths; before towns or stores.  Imagine back to a time when the prairies were unsettled and unclaimed and horses pulled wagons with all of one's possessions to new homestead land.

Imagine a little sod hut settled on that wide, open land where one could see for miles and miles and not see another person for months and months.

A pioneer woman sat beside her husband on the wagon as he drove to their new home.  When they finally arrived at their land her husband stopped the wagon and, looking at the barren land on which sat a tiny sod hut, he said, “Isn’t that the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen?”

I believe I might have wept.  No matter what one's prior circumstance was, to move to a sod hut would probably be worse. 

Pioneer women had one thing in common:  hardships:  bad weather, threat of Indian attacks, pestilence, disease.  "One hardship that we tend to overlook is isolation.  Picture a pioneer's little cabin, several hundred miles away from any semblance of civilization and the nearest neighbor often many miles away.  The emotional support of a friend was not easily found.  These pioneer women provided emotional sustenance to their families but had no one to whom they could turn.  Their exhausted husbands could not, in many cases, meet their emotional needs....  Perhaps that is why they eagerly turned to quilting.  Very few crafts provide both utilitarian and aesthetic functions like quilting."

The story of the pioneer couple and the description of isolation among pioneer women reminds me of something a very old pioneer woman said about quilting.
I quilted as fast as I could    
to keep my family warm and     
as beautifully as I could    

to keep my heart from breaking.    

Most of us have it easier these days than did the pioneer women of 150 years ago.  We quilters probably all quilt as beautifully as we can, but to sit and sew a quilt without a pressing need for one is a luxury.  It's certainly a luxury I generally take for granted -- at least until I pause and reflect on the blessings in my life.  To have fabric at hand or the means and proximity to a store to buy fabric is a wonderful blessing. 

It snowed here yesterday.  Not much, just a few flakes, just enough to remind me that winter will arrive soon.  I'm grateful I'm not physically isolated from others and that I don't have the pressing need to make quilts to keep my family warm.   I feel grateful for nearby friends to visit; for telephones to visit with friends and family who don't live nearby; and for the internet which connects me to distant blogging friends whom I have never met.  And I'm grateful I don't live in a sod hut!

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
  • The image of the field with bales of straw/hay was taken in Iowa in 2005.
  • The image of the sod hut was photographed by Jason who generously made it available at Flickr for posting with attribution and credit.
  • The story about the homesteaders and the tiny sod hut was told in Lillian Schlissel's book, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey.  (Page number not recorded.)
  • The quotes about pioneer women/isolation and quilting beautifully come from "The Pioneer Spirit," an essay by Mike Hartnett in Kathy Lamancusa's book, Quilts Are Forever.
  • Crossed Ts Quilt:  International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2008.040.0059.



  1. What a nice story! I agree that the isolation would be so very difficult. And to live in such small quarters also....there was less area to keep clean, but it was harder work to do it! I'm not so sure that I would have made a good pioneer.

  2. I simply cannot imagine. But thanks for sharing...sure gives a little perspective. :)

  3. Such a lovely post to remind me of what is important in this season of rush rush and buy buy (I'm coming to this late, but did want to comment). At my age, I also quilt because I feel time is limited to leave my mark in my own little world, and I know my quilts will live on past me.

    I think I would have just fallen over it my husband had asked me to live in that sod house. Some of my husband's relatives lived in underground sod houses, which filled with water when it rained. How those early pioneers made it through--and with beautiful quilts--is a wonder. Thanks for the reminder.


  4. I love this quote, thank you so much for sharing! I have written it down and put it on my board in the office.

    1. I love this quote, too, Safieh. It makes me grateful for a warm home in winter, plenty of fabric to sew, and an electric machine with which to sew it! Take care.


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