Thank you for sticking with me. I promise I will answer the question about what really is my first quilt by the end of this post. Perhaps I was procrastinating, because I knew the story was going to take an emotional turn, maudlin, sentimental, and even a bit melancholy. I’ve already had to stop writing a couple times because I couldn’t see through the tears. Don’t say I didn’t warn you to have tissues handy.
Stall tactics aside, now continues the saga of the first quilt.
Sadly, as it turns out, the passé-partout, the master key, to my first completed quilt began with my Mom first and then Grandma (Mom’s mom) both passing in February 2008, in the same week. It wasn’t then, but later, that I regretted not talking to them about quilting in more depth. My teenage years, 20’s, 30’s and part of my 40’s were spent in pursuit of other ventures. I was busy being the typical teenager, raising my children, moving (a lot), crocheting, working, scrapbooking, etc. – anything it seems, but not quilting, not even sewing together one quilt block. I never asked them to teach me how to quilt or talked to them about how they learned or even if they really enjoyed it or why. The few times over those years that I visited them or the quilting group at the church educational building, my interest in learning this art for myself was not piqued. Even as I sat at one funeral, then another that week, it didn’t occur to me to mourn for the void that would now be present in our family – not just for their mere presence, but that with them that week, perhaps died a special family tradition that may never continue in our family again.
Now, Mom was and there’s no gentle say of saying this, a pack rat. Before and when she died, the house would have made a good episode of Hoarders. Shortly after the cold dirt was heaped on my grandmother’s grave, my siblings and I started the process of pitching, sorting, storing, giving away, recycling, and even burning the vast majority of the accumulated, to us, mess. I think we were pushed on by the shock of Mom’s quick and unexpected passing, or maybe it was just a coping mechanism. We’d, each of us, at one point or another since the collecting started in the late 70’s, talked to her about it, tried to help clean some, or even threw something away when she wasn’t looking. Needless to say, we now knew we could do as we wanted for so many years. I knew that in the back of each of our minds was the terrible but true notion that if we could no longer make a difference for her, we could do it for Dad.
It took the entire family, my dad, my four siblings and I, a couple years to get the house cleaned up. We were at least organized enough to box things up in categories, so all of the glassware in many boxes, knick knacks in another, and all of the material and quilting supplies had its own packaging. Particularly, we separated out the quilt tops that were finished. For four years, these boxes sat in a room over Dad’s garage. At that point, I decided I was ready to proceed out of the mourning period and that we were never going to have that yard sale my sister swore would happen after year two or three. Knowing that we’d never sell those quilts anyway, I headed up to the garage and got that box out. I brought it home, went through it, and posted pictures of all the quilts on Facebook for family and friends to choose what they would like to inherit. After that was divvied up, I’m still not sure what possessed me, but I brought all the boxes of quilting, crochet and material home to sort through them.
A few carloads of boxes, bins, and garbage bags later, my garage was half full of these items, and my living room became the sorting room. I had a box for buttons, one for quilt pieces/blocks partially sewn together, one for small scraps, one for old quilts, one for templates and notions, one for crochet thread and doilies, and quite a few more sorting boxes and bins full of material. The room started to look like I was becoming a packrat. My family worried I would become just like Mom, but I assured them, it was temporary. After all, I wasn’t keeping all of this stuff, just sorting through so we could donate or give away what family didn’t want to keep.
This process started in April of 2012 and wasn’t fully completed till late June of that year. Once again, I posted pictures on Facebook, had friends and family stop by to select items they would like, all free of course. I gave away a rotary mat, rotary cutter, doilies, crochet thread, buttons, material, tablecloths, embroidery thread, embroidery pieces, needles, thread, thimbles (lots of thimbles!), even a few started quilt blocks, but still had quite a bit left. I posted on Freecycle to give away even more things no one wanted.
So, now that EVERYTHING was gone through, I felt it was time to get something done. When all was said and done, I had quite a bit left, more than I originally knew what to do with. It was at this point that something clicked inside me. By default, I had inherited all the tools a quilter needs. I now had cutting tools, thread, yardsticks, thimbles, large format graph paper, lots and lots of pins, safety pins, quilting design pattern books, quilt pattern books, marking pencils, and much more. I wondered if it was serendipity, meant to be. I never became a quilter while Mom was alive. It took her death and no one else in the family showing interest in it that spurred me on to tread into waters unknown. What was this burning desire to complete some of Mom’s WIPs? I think somehow, it was a bit of trying to hold on to her presence, touching things that she touched, finishing something she started, giving me the feeling she wasn’t really gone. I didn’t really realize it then, I only think of it now as I attempt to relive this story in writing.
So, I had to get at least three quilts done – my daughter’s t-shirt quilt, my high school embroidered quilt blocks, and a quilt for Dad from embroidered maple leaf blocks (oh, darn, forgot about that one). Dad and I found the 12 blocks while cleaning the house in 2008 or 2009, in a gift box in my old bedroom, gently wrapped in now yellowed tissue paper, embroidery complete. Though no one seemed to remember Mom embroidering them, she had dated them in the seam allowance on the back as being done mostly in 1966. When Dad and I found those blocks, he said he would like a quilt out of them, and I said I would do it. Of course, once again, we rushed off to the local quilt shop to buy the needed materials, so I also had pretty much everything needed for his quilt, and had attempted a few designs on graph paper, also shortly after taking on the project. And, somehow, that got set aside for a few years.
Once I had decided it was time to complete these three projects, my daughter’s quilt had top billing, because her’s was first promised. I was in luck, though, as she now had a queen size bed! Hallelujah!! Not only that, I now owned any possible quilting tool or notion I could think of (at the time) to speed along the process and make it easier. My determination, the new bed size, and these helpful tools allowed me to get the t-shirt quilt design figured out in virtually no time, a couple evenings at most. Cutting the shirts and fusible stabilizer to the specified size and sewing them together took two or three days tops. Then, because I wasn’t fully decided on becoming a machine quilter and because it was a heavy t-shirt quilt, I took it to the local quilt shop to be done on a long arm in July 2012. It took them three weeks, and I had to call and remind them. I was ready to pick it up! Once I got it home, I attempted continuous bias binding, making much too much naturally, and proceeded to sew the binding onto the front and hand stitching to the back. That alone took hours! But, once the final stitch was knotted off, it was finished. And, as if you haven’t seen it already, here it is again.
Yes, this was it, this has to be it, My First Quilt. It wasn’t my quilt, or Dad’s or the lap quilts. Even though I didn’t quilt it, I still feel that most of the hard work, the design and piecing labor, make this “my first”.
Be it middle age or the sentimental journey, though, as I finish the story of “My First Quilt”, I think back to other first quilts in my life. I sit here and recall quilts from my youth sewn and quilted by Grandma. My sister and I adored the one scrappy quilt that we slept under and played the “find the matching fabric square” game when we were supposed to be going to sleep. I recall the heavy tie flannel-backed quilt my Grandmother made that my brother slept under upstairs where it was so cold. I remember the first quilt that I owned, that my Mom and Grandma made for me in 1979 but can’t remember for the life of me where it disappeared to or when. I used the queen size quilt Grandma gave me when I got married in 1981 so much that it became torn up something awful, so much so that it has now been cut up to be included in my old-quilt throws.
But, even as my mind wanders to these quilts, I also recollect an old quilt that came home with me amongst some of the items I brought home to wash for Dad. This quilt had a base color of yellow, a scrappy number, very worn and torn, most likely made by Grandma, that I washed up and slept under for months after Mom and Grandma both died. It gave me some kind of comfort knowing that Grandma’s hands had worked to sew all the pieces together. Many nights, after the funerals, I cried while snuggling under that quilt. After going through all the material and supplies, I finally relegated it to the bin of old quilts to be cut up for throws, so it’s magic and comfort continue.
So, you see, while this story appeared to be about my first quilt, it was really a trip down memory lane. It became, over the course of writing, not only my first quilt story, but the story of how I became a quilter. I’d like to sum up the why’s into one simple sentence; but that ability eludes me at the present moment. What I do know is that I didn’t do it to carry on a family tradition. I did do it to finish some of Mom’s and Grandma’s projects, and for my own and family member’s sentimental reasons. And, I continue because I enjoy it. I don’t have everything they started finished yet, I enjoy making things that will last, and I know that someday, perhaps, my grandkids and their children, and their grandchildren, maybe, will have a piece of me by having a quilt I made. One night, in the distant future, my child, grand-child, or great grand-child, will get the same kind of comfort I have experienced snuggling under an old, worn, torn, soft, and loved quilt that Sue Maxon stitched together on some hot summer day in August of 2012, some snowy day in December 2013,or some starry night in February 2014, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Q-Tip #3 – Whether by machine or hand, quilts are a work of art, skill, and love that bring warmth, comfort, joy and a sense of peace and contentment. No further explanation necessary.