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Olive's Sunbonnet



"A Bonnet Resurgence" blog (Southern Lady's May/June 2016 issue) caught my attention as I wondered if it might indicate a revival of the Sunbonnet Sue quilt pattern. Although there is a current trend of gender-neutral children's toys, bedding and clothing lines, The Beaufort Bonnet Company has the most adorable fabrics and fashion designs for Little Ladies and Little Gents. There is no reference in the blog to the quilt pattern of the past, but it inspired me to pull out a family quilt and contemplate its history.

In 1932, Olive was 40 years old and had spent much of her early career as a teacher in a one room school house in Northern California. She rode her horse to school about 90-minutes before the students arrived each morning. She chopped firewood and worked on lesson plans then kept the fire going throughout the day while school was in session.

As a young wife working on the family dairy, Olive spent free time tending the large vegetable garden. She worked on crocheting intricate tablecloths and colorful woolen afghans. She also perfected her filet crochet skills on doilies, pillow case edgings, chair backs and arm sets, and framed wallhangings.

The Sunbonnet Sue, hand-pieced quilt (pictured above) is one of two quilts that Olive created in her 97 years. Fabric from her hand-made aprons, which she wore each day, can be seen in the quilt. The next time she quilted was in the 1970s - creating a machine-pieced quilt using bright polyester fabrics.

Many more questions come to mind: Who or what inspired Olive to quilt in 1932? We know that Olive's parents lived with the family - was her mother the quilter, leaving Olive to focus on crocheting? Where did she purchase her fabrics? When did she purchase or acquire a sewing machine?

Here is a list of local and national news items (1932) during the time that Olive pieced together her Sunbonnet Sue quilt:

  • Breakfast Bargains: 1 fresh country egg, 3 strips Hickory Smoked Bacon, 3 slices Buttered Toast . . . all for 14 cents.

  • Comics of the day: Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Harold Teen, Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, and Smitty.

  • June 6 - Eureka Earthquake 5.4 magnitude (Severe).

  • June - "Stocks drift in dullest day since June 1924".

  • The New Nash has EVERYTHING you want in a motor car - Five New Series $777 to $2055.

  • Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles.

  • Summer dresses reduced to $15 (formerly up to $69) . . . white and pastel crepes . . . prints . . . beautiful silk piques . . . canton crepes and light weight woolens.

  • United States Presidential Election between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and incumbent Herbert Hoover.

  • Round The World Travel (Hometown-to-Hometown) excursions advertised: First Class rates of $749 on Dollar Steamship Lines. Sailing every Thursday from New York to California - First Class from $175.

  • November - 5th Academy Awards Best Picture winner was "Grand Hotel".

Do you have a quilt with an unknown history?

Sunbonnet Sue is over 100 years old and one of the most recognized quilt block patterns. Controversial at times, you love her or you don't; but relevant enough to keep the appeal of sunbonnets on the fashion radar to protect little ones from the sun's harmful rays.

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