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You Did What In the Ditch?

Folklore of the American Quilter

Some of my favorite memories from my youth are watching my mom quilt and then growing old enough to be able to help her. We spent hours at the quilting table talking and stitching. In my teenage years, her grandmother died and she was given a quilt made by her elder. It was one of the most beautiful quilts I’ve seen and when I go home to visit, I can’t help but touch it and take it all in, the colors, textures, and stitching.

Quilting is not new. It’s been around for a very long time. It was a way to recycle old fabric and recreate something new, and like at our house it was a way to socialize. In Folk Historian, Dr. John L. Oldani’s new book, You Did What In the Ditch?: Folklore of the American Quilter, the beauty and history of quilting is renewed.

Dr. Oldani brings to the forefront the beginnings of “team building”. It gave me a new perspective on how looked forward to social engagements can be, especially with friends or neighbors who share a common interest. 

The book is a great collection of quilting from designs, terminology, rhymes and superstitions. I learned there is far more to quilting than just the picking out of fabric.

Example of “in the ditch” stitching

The books title originates from a quilting term “in the ditch“. This term refers to an almost-hidden line of machine, or hand quilting to anchor the key seam lines of a quilt. When “in the ditch” the quilter stitches right next to the seams, between the blocks. There is a whole chapter in thsi book committed to the vocabulary and graffiti of quilting.

One of the things I found most intriguing about You Did What In the Ditch is that it captures the bond between a quilt and its heritage the vocabulary the sayings, rituals, poems and even superstitions. It really made the world of quilting a far more beautiful and historical craft than I had given it credit.

One of the most awesome moments experienced while reading this book came on page 32 while reading about the origins of quilt pattern names. One of my favorite’s is “Jacob’s Ladder”. I had always just viewed it as the Biblical reference, however Dr. Oldani, shares that “Fabric was pieced, inspired by an intuitive spirituality. the quilt was completed. It was placed on a tree or a fence. When noticed by those escaping slavery, it led the way to freedom–a ladder to freedom and to a haven and a heaven. The folk tale comes full circle.” The author is speaking about how the quilt helped those seeking freedom in the Underground Railroad.

You Did What In The Ditch?: Folklore of the American Quilter is a book that shares the history of one of America’s quintessential examples of folk art, but beyond that it is the history of America, her women, culture and traditions! It is a great read.

About the Author
John L. Oldani Ph.D. established a folklore archive for research with a strong emphasis on the American quilt and the lore surrounding its history. Dr. Oldani has produced quilt shows, served as a judge at national shows, and has written and spoken on the meaning of the American quilt as seen through folklore. He is the author of Sweetness Preserved: The Story of the Crown Candy Kitchen and Passing It On: Folklore ofSt. Louis.

You Did What in the Ditch: Folklore of the American Quilter 
by John L. Oldani, Ph.D., ISBN: 9781935806011
, softcover, 5.5 x 8.5, 128 pages, $14.99

I received the featured item in order to facilitate an honest review. No other compensation was received. The opinions, where expressed, are my own and were in no way influenced by the sponsor. Others experiences may vary.

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