Monday, April 1, 2013

The Prime Directive of Quilting

Last year, I showed you some pictures of the first quilt my mom ever made:

I knew my parents were in the process of cleaning out the closets where I found this, and I asked mom if I could take it. The quilt has never been out of a closet for its entire existence, and I was desperately afraid that it would end up in a storage facility somewhere and then lost. Considering how important quilting has become to me and my sister, and that this comes to us directly from our mother, this quilt is an important piece of family history and I knew my sister would feel the same as me: we want to see it preserved and kept in the family. Mom was reluctant to let it go, being concerned that my sister might want it, since mom had never made a quilt for her and had for me. So I waited until she could talk to Kelly about it. She never did, so when Kelly came by for an afternoon during our visit, I dragged her downstairs and showed her the four quilts that were stored there and asked her what she wanted to do with them. She said she had no room, but wanted, like me, to make sure they were not lost, so she asked me to keep them.

As Kelly and I were looking at Mom's quilt, I noticed this on the back:

D.R.S. are my mother's initials. the "m.l." are the initials of the quilt teacher whose classes started mom on her quilt journey. I have one quilt my mom made me that has a label, but none of the others do. All my sister's quilts that she has made for me and my girls (except one) have labels. I have only labeled the quilts that I have made for others, never my own. But looking at this quilt, I get it now. I get why we should label our quilts.

It is so easy to dismiss our own work as unimportant. I think perhaps my mom did this. To her, this wasn't a masterpiece, but just a sampler produced from a class she took when she was first learning. But for me, this is history. This is memory and legacy and when my mother is gone, things like this will keep her alive for me because it wasn't just a thing she owned but a creation that flowed from her hands. Every single thing we make, we put ourselves into, from the first halting and meandering stitches to the sure-fingered masterpieces. Those who love us, and who will live on after we've gone, will hold these things we've made because they can no longer hold us. And later, someone else who will come along long after and who will never have known us, will know something of who we were. And we have the chance to tell them even more.

When my children talk about me in school, to their friends, they talk about me in terms of my quilts. To them, I am the things I make, and they are me. Quilting and sewing are my essential identity to them, and though I know they will eventually see and appreciate more of me (though not until after college, most likely), for now, this is who I am to them. When I am gone, and they are missing me, holding a quilt that I made just for them when they were little girls will give them a way to touch me once again, and to transport themselves back to a time when love was simple and mama cuddled them in pretty blankets. But their children won't have as close a connection and may not see why they should hang on to this ratty old quilt with all the mistakes. Maybe, if the quilt told them why, they would.

When I was at my parents' house, they wanted me to meet a friend of theirs who had recently lost his wife. She was a quilter, among other things, and they thought she had some unusual things I might like to see. As it turned out, what she had made wasn't anything spectacular or unusual, though it was indeed lovely. But what struck me about my visit was how this man so proudly displayed every single thing his wife had ever made. He had found things tucked away and had them finished and framed. He had a quilt top quilted and hung on the wall, and cross-stitch samplers framed and placed in a tableau with some other items she loved. One cross stitch piece was to be Santa and his reindeer, but she never got to the reindeer. Didn't matter to him - he still had it mounted and framed and put on display. Her stained glass work was all over the house as well, and he was so proud to show it all off and obviously took a great deal of comfort from having it all around him. But I wonder if any of those pieces had her name on them. How many generations will it take before no one knows what they are or where they came from? And how many pieces will be tossed aside when that knowledge is lost for good?

I realize this post has gotten rather serious, and I had other stuff to show you, but this has been on my mind a lot since my trip.

I have a lot of things to do this week, and in the weeks to come, but one thing I need to get started on is making labels for everything I have made. If you are not labeling your quilts, if you think they aren't worth it, I hope you'll reconsider.

I'll go ahead and show you the other things I brought home that were in that closet. This was another quilt my mom made:

I believe this is all hand pieced and quilted as well. When I asked mom about it she said, as though she was telling me a naughty secret, that she "copied" it from the front of a book she saw. Meaning, she didn't actually have a log cabin pattern in front of her—she just figured it out. The hand quilting is all in the ditch on this one, so you have to turn it over to really see it. The binding is just the backing pulled around the front and stitched down, which is not a technique anyone ever seems to admit to using anymore. Why is that? Let's blame Ricky Tims. Just because I like saying "Ricky Tims". RickyTimsRickyTimsRickyTims.

This lovely thing I had never seen before I discovered it in that closet. I have no idea where it was the whole time I was growing up:

In the upper right hand corner, a name is embroidered on the border:

All my mom knows about this is that it was given to her own mother when she was in a nursing home near the end of her life. She believes that Ms. Katt was another resident there who liked to make quilts and happened to give one to her mother. It's hand appliqued and quilted:

It doesn't have a binding, though. On the long sides, the edges are folded under and machine sewed together:

But on the short edges, the backing is brought around the front, in direct defiance of the Ricky Tims Directive:

I love this quilt.

Last is a baby quilt that I can remember seeing around the house when I was little:

The appliqued pieces are all embroidered, using a stem stitch for the details and a blanket stitch around the edges. In many cases, the thread blends in with the material so much you can barely see it, but others show up well:

This was made by a lady in Denver who babysat my brother and sister. They started coming to her shortly after my sister was born, so it is most likely she made this quilt for her. Again, this isn't something to keep because it's a masterpiece, but because it's a personal history piece, a connection to someone my family loved and who loved them.

Okay last one, I promise. I had asked my mom to look out for this as they were cleaning out closets.

My mom wasn't just a quilter, but was into all kinds of needlework, especially needlepoint. This was a sampler she made, and I remember her making it as well as seeing it hanging in our kitchen and other places through the years, until it finally ended up in a closet. It's in my kitchen now. The shop on the far left originally said "Shoes" on the pattern, but Mom changed it to "Smith." Whenever she wasn't looking, I would sneak over and touch all the different textures.

I love all these things so much, I can't even tell you.

Labels, people. Consider it the Megan Dougherty Directive.

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