Helene is the only woman who has actually gotten to see her biography quilt. Her son was selling some of her things at his garage sale, including a big cardboard box of her knitting samples and wooden knitting needles. When I asked, he explained that during World War 2, his mom worked at RCA helping to develop cathode ray tubes. Later, she knit one-of-a-kind sweaters for exclusive shops. Each of the samples in the box had a card with instructions.
I sewed the samples together, using some netting as a backing (you can see the netting at the bottom, where I used the paler samples and spread them farther apart). After this sample-front was finished, I sewed the instruction cards together to make an additional backing, over the netting. The wooden hanger is reinforced by heavy wiring to get the elbows out.
In a nod to her work at RCA, I printed some images on cloth and sewed them on. Then I wrote to her son, and asked if his mother (in her 90's) would like to see it. She would. I brought it to her house, and laid it carefully on the floor. She studied it silently for a long time. I mentioned that I would have liked to include some actual cathode tubes in the piece, but hadn't been able to find any. "Oh, I have some" said Helene, and she gave me some very small ones that I sewed right in. She seemed pleased.
The RCA logo is based on a painting, His Master's Voice, showing a dog listening to a gramophone recording. Here are 3 different versions of the logo: a black-and-white image, the same image used a motif in a mola, and barely visible on a record label. The 2 tubes that Helene gave me are stitched right onto the quilt.
I din't get a great deal of textile material at this sale, but I got a whole life history. The man running the sale was kind enough to send me a letter, telling me all about Minnie.
Minnie Harrison was born in West Virginia in 1879 and lived to be 93. She left the family farm and worked as a cook before returning and getting married. They moved to Detroit, then New York City. She had four children. One boy, Paul, died on a train while they were taking him to a doctor. The conductor asked them not to tell anyone, and they just carried him off the train. Minnie had a dream and envisioned a church. In New York, she saw the church of her dream. It was a Catholic church, and she and her children converted (the family in West Virginia was Baptist). Minnie was one of the first women to work for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In about 1960, Minnie came to live with her daughter in Nutley, NJ and stayed until her death.
The tools in this quilt belonged to Minnie, and she made the crochet. I sewed salvaged fabric into a background that has the same 'flavor' as a quilt made by Minnie (which I saw at the sale but was unable to buy).
In this (admittedly pitiful) photo, you can just barely see 2 photos of Minnie: one of her sitting and sewing a quilt, the other with her on her knees, on the floor with her quilt. I found a baseball at another garage sale, and cut it open to include it in this quilt.