This article about my great-grandmother was published in the Autumn 1974 issue of Georgia Life magazine (now defunct).
“An 83-year-old Chatsworth woman makes and sells about $1,000’s worth of quilts each year in a home enterprise that began about twelve years ago. At that time Mrs. N. C. Ward injured her back and her doctor recommended quilting as good physical therapy. Though she had been quilting since 1895, after her accident she made a business of it. Currently she has over 100 orders to be filled.
Her quilts are owned by people who live in Germany, Japan, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, West Virginia and Georgia, especially in Murray and Whitfield Counties where she is best known.
The energetic, silver-haired woman who “loves to go barefoot around the house” says she had always been in good health until her accident. Sitting in her comfortable home in Chatsworth, a stack of quilting pieces on a small table in front of her and now and then tucking a wisp of silver hair into place, she said, “I believe in work. Sometimes I get up at four a.m. and start quilting. I haven’t been able to get out of my yard for several years since walking bothers my back. But I can’t stand to lie around and do nothing. And when I miss working on my quilts for even one day I’m unhappy. My work is what keeps me going.”
Her mother and her grandmother were great quilt makers and when she was only three years old her grandmother would place her in a big box with a pair of scissors and paper. When she was four, she was given fabric, needle, and thread. She has been sewing ever since and as a teenager made her own clothes. While she sews her quilts on machines now, she has made many by hand.
Mrs. Ward and her husband are natives of Fannin County. They came to Chatsworth about 35 years ago to visit a daughter and have been living there ever since. “We just like it here,” she says. Mr. Ward worked in the talc mines until his bad health forced his retirement. For the past year he has been in a rest home.
The Wards have been married 66 years and have seven daughters – their only son died. They have 21 grandchildren and so many great-grandchildren that she says she can’t keep up with them.
Mrs. Ward uses no pattern, nor does she baste. She buys sheeting and cotton batting but her daughters and many people in the community keep her supplied with enough colorful scraps of cloth to make the applique designs and patchwork covers for the quilts.
She has two quilting machines, one with a special zig-zag attachment with which the colorful designs are appliqued on squares of sheeting which are then sewed together. The cover, cotton batting and backing are stretched on a quilting frame. Then her daughter, Mrs. Alfred Flowers, who lives next door, helps her roll up the three layers and the final sewing is done on the quilting machine. The finished quilt is placed in a plastic bag to be picked up or shipped to a far-away destination.
Mrs. Ward remembers selling her first quilt for $1.50. Now she gets $10.00 or $15.00 for each one. Being an ardent gospel fan, she enjoys her favorite records while working. Most of all, however, she enjoys talking with those who come by to place orders. “But usually,” she says a bit wistfully, “they can’t stay and talk very long.”
She is a remarkable lady.
Source: Olivene Godfrey, “Mrs. N. C. Ward Makes Quilts,” Georgia Life (Autumn 1974), 12-13.
Twice Told Tuesday is an ongoing series featuring family-related articles republished from old books, magazines, and newspapers. To see all posts in the series, click here.