The most basic definition of a quilt would probably state that it is three layers, usually a fabric front and back along with a filler of some kind, held together with either stitching or tying. Beyond that, we usually expect that at least one side of the quilt is going to have some sort of decorative element, whether it is patchwork or sewn-on shapes (appliques), or maybe even a decorative pattern in the stitches that hold the layers together (the quilting).
Although I became a quilt maker only a few years ago, I have loved quilts as long as I can remember. There is nothing like the comfort of being wrapped up in those layers of cotton, especially if they are old or handmade. As I became older and more introspective, I realized that, besides the comfort, another reason I love quilts are the stories they tell.
I currently have a quilt-in-progress on the quilt frame at my home. This quilt has been in progress for about 5 years now. It started in December of 2004, immediately after my first trip to the Houston International Quilt Festival with my good friend, Earleen Brister. This trip was the official start to my transition from quilt lover to quilter maker. Shortly after this trip, I bought a quilt magazine that was beginning a new "mystery quilt" series. A mystery quilt is a pattern that is revealed in stages, so the makers begin making parts of the quilt without knowing what the finished product will be. I recruited Earleen to make this mystery quilt along with me. We both used the same patterns, but did our own thing in regard to the fabrics we chose and how we chose to interpret the designs.
Earleen and I along with our families have gone through many major life changes and adventures in the years since we started on our mystery quilts. Let me just go ahead and admit that she finished her quilt a couple of years ago and it is now on the bed in her new home. I can blame this on the fact that she was retired when we began and I was working full time, but that would really be just a sorry excuse. In the beginning, I felt competitive with her and wanted to be able to say that I had finished some segment of it first. Later, I realized it was smart to let her stay ahead because she could tell me where the challenges and difficulties were so I could avoid them!! Now I am one year into hand-quilting the patchwork top with the batting and backing layers. And, NO!, it doesn’t really take that long to make a quilt! I probably have only a total of 8 hours in the past year into the quilting. It pays to look at these things as a process, not as a race to a finished product.
Now, when I look at that quilt waiting for me on the frame, I remember what was going on in my life at each stage of its making. I think about the progression of my friendship with Earleen as it paralleled the progression of our quilt projects. I think about all the other projects that were begun and completed while this quilt waited for my attention. I think about all of the things that have happened in the world around me as I have plugged along on this project. When I sit down to work on it, I wonder what else will transpire before it is completed, and I wonder what changes will come during the years we will be sleeping beneath it. To be honest, I wonder how if I will ever finish it, and if I do, how many years I will have to enjoy it.
The reason I am telling you all of this is because I want to make sure you realize that every time you see a handmade quilt, these same elements of a woman’s life were sewn into every stitch. Quilts are among the most personal and telling relics we have of our female ancestors. My husband’s Aunt Marie took a patchwork quilt top made by her grandmother (who lived on the same ranch where my family now lives), had it quilted and finished by a professional machine quilter, and gave the quilt to me. Marie can point to various fabrics in the quilt and tell me who had a shirt or a dress made from that fabric. Many of the fabrics are scraps of floral printed feed sacks and flour sacks that were recycled to make clothing. Another quilt that hangs on my wall was made in the late 1800s in South Dakota. This was obviously a special quilt as it is made from only two fabrics, red and white, not from the scraps that hallmark more utilitarian quilts. It has been hand quilted in the tiniest of stitches. Aside from a couple of water stains, it is in the same perfect condition as it was the day its maker finished it. This quilt hangs right by my bed, so I have spent many hours laying there looking at it wondering what the woman was like, what kind of life she lived, what occasion it was that inspired her to make this quilt, and how long it took her to make it.
So, at the least, I hope you will go get that old quilt out of the dog’s bed and give it another look—maybe clean it up and enjoy it for the history it holds. And if you have a special old quilt up in the closet for safe-keeping—get it out and put it in your home somewhere so it can be enjoyed by you and your family. If you just want to look at it and not use it, hang it on the wall or drape it across the back of a seldom-used chair. Believe me, it will do better on the loose in your home, and the maker would be pleased to know you are using and enjoying it.
: I have received a couple of emails and one Facebook message from other lifesy-artsy folks in the area, one from Cherokee, one from Jerry’s branch, and one from San Saba. The youngest has received a sewing machine from her grandmother and is learning to sew. Another is into nearly everything as I am. Another is a musician and poet—maybe more, but I have to wait for him to tell me what else he is doing. And to answer his question—YES! Membership in the Spring Creek Arts Guild is open to everyone, you don’t have to live in the city limits of Spring Creek!
So let me hear from you at: firstname.lastname@example.org.