by Helen DePrima
Hand-made quilts equal love – gifts for a new baby, for a bride, for a daughter, incorporating her favorite dresses from childhood. I suspect most quilters don’t keep much of their own work, scattering their hours of planning, cutting, and stitching among friends and family like wildflower seeds into random gardens. I’ve lost track of how many baby quilts I’ve given away, some started from scratch and others incorporating patches and fabrics from older quilts.
I didn’t grow up with quilts or quilters, although I still have a baby quilt given to my mother before my birth. On winter nights, my family snuggled under old-fashioned feather ticks sheathed in calico or in sateen for special guests. I didn’t come to quilting until I decided to make one for my daughter’s third birthday. I designed it myself, sort of Grandma Moses meets Peter Max. Pretty crude -- my hand quilting looked more like battlefield surgery, far from an expert’s ten stitches per inch, but my daughter liked the animals and her name embroidered on the barn’s roof. Over the years, I’ve replaced most of the stitching and mended the edges worn ragged by love.
I’ve resisted buying quilts, telling myself I can duplicate the design. I did purchase one, both because of its colors and because of its backing, sturdy fabric from hundred-pound bags of chicken feed, complete with the silhouette of a handsome rooster. I like to picture a woman stitching away by lamplight – most farms wouldn’t have had electricity in the late 19th century – choosing patches cut from worn-out shirts and outgrown dresses, making thrifty one-eighth inch seams I’ve had to reinforce. It’s not a presentation quilt or even one to compete at the county fair, but the colors still glow probably a hundred years later.
One of the quilts I completed purely as a labor of love, donated to a fund-raising auction for the Central Virginia Equine Rescue. Someone liked it well enough to bid nearly three hundred dollars; I enjoyed thinking of the sale price converted into bales of good hay or maybe vet bills paid to care for abused and neglected horses and mules.
One project I plan to start soon will go to a cousin in Kentucky to pass down through his family, my grandfather’s blue handkerchiefs bordered by strips my grandmother saved from his work shirts. The old farm has been swallowed up by Interstate expansion, but I can at least pass on part of its legacy.
by Liz Flaherty
I remember the Sunbonnet Sue quilt that was always on my sister's bed. As with many things of hers, I coveted it. I wonder if she still has it somewhere. Maybe she'd like me to have it...no, probably not. We both have quilts that came from our mom and aunts and our grandmother. They're memories with love in every stitch, all 10 of them per inch.
When I retired in 2011, right near the top of my list of things I wanted to do was to make a bed-size quilt for each of my grandkids. That's seven.
Yes, seven. And no, I'd never made a quilt before. It took about four years, and the quilts got progressively better. I've made several since, but none that have meant as much as those seven.
But quilting gets under your skin. And into your books. In A Soft Place to Fall, the heroine owns a quilt shop. In my only historical book ever, Home to Singing Trees, the ladies at Gilead Church (the church I grew up in much later) had a quilting bee. The ladies presented the Wedding Ring quilt to Sarah Mary Williamson, the story's heroine, who'd helped make it. In Back to McGuffey's, Kate receives quilts to replace the bedding she's lost in a fire. In my work-in-progress, a yarn, fabric, and floss shop called In Stitches is front and center in the setting.
When I'm having trouble writing, I turn to the sewing machine and cutting table for...I'm not sure for what. I don't think it's inspiration, but after a while, my voice comes back and I usually know what it's trying to say. And sometimes I have a couple of quilt blocks to show for my muse's down time.