Weatherford Democrat

March 16, 2014

NOW HEAR THIS: Rag-pickers and other ‘pore’ folk


Weatherford Democrat

— By LARRY M. JONES

A few years ago, my daughter, Lori, was going through a box containing some of her late mother’s belongings, and she made an interesting discovery. Carefully tucked away in this assortment of items was a bundle of fabric pieces cut out and intended to eventually be part of a quilt top for my son, Doug.

The material came from a bedspread and bedroom curtains that adorned his room as an adolescent and young teenager. The design on the fabric was that of NFL team logos.

Delighted to find this unique “treasure” stored with other goods more likely to discarded, Lori seized upon the opportunity to take on this project that had been in limbo for nearly 25 years. With minimal sewing experience, and zero knowledge of quilt making, this was certainly an ambitious undertaking. Several phrases come to mind that describes this. Shooting your mouth off is most prominent on this list. Thankfully, my wife Helen is quite an adept seamstress and an avid quilter. What a convenient coincidence!

Finding this stash of old fabric scraps from the past brings back many memories of my mother’s “rag bag” where she collected and stored a huge assortment of scraps. This accumulation of sewing material is analogous to a farmer’s “junk pile.”

Hardly a day goes by down on the “pore farm” that I don’t rummage around in my scrap pile of junk iron, pipe, angle iron, and obsolete machinery looking for just the right piece for a project.

My mother, likewise, often went to her rag bag to find a scrap to mend a tear in a feed sack shirt of mine, to make a new sunbonnet, or to begin a new quilt top from scraps. Each time I think of my mother’s rag bag, I think of the beautiful song written and performed by Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors, based on the story of Joseph’s coat told in the book of Genesis. The song tells of her mother making her a coat from quilting scraps because they were too poor to buy one.

In early days, it was standard practice for farm wives to guard dearly any piece of fabric in their possession. During this time, cloth other than homespun was expensive and not readily available. It was a long day’s journey to go to town in a wagon. Fabric scraps have always been regarded as being valuable. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many people made a living as professional rag pickers. They collected material from refuse piles and landfills and sold it to processors who converted it into something more useful.

Instead of being cool, according to today’s environmental standards, this was recycling brought about by economic necessity. Like the gleaners from the past who would recover wasted grain from the harvested fields, the rag pickers continue to serve an equally important role to this very day.

I am pleased to announce that this past weekend, Lori finished the long-delayed quilting project. Despite minimal sewing experience and lack of knowledge of quilting, she, along with Helen’s patient guidance, crafted a beautifully designed and loving tribute to her mother and gift to her brother, Doug. Like the sign says that hangs in Helen’s sewing room, “When life gives you scraps, make a quilt.”

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to nowhearthis@pwhome.com.