my grandmother made quilts – one for everybody in the family.
she’d swap fabric scraps with neighbors, decide on a pattern, then dump the accumulated fabric bits out on the bed, make her selections, and start cutting. she consulted with us about our preferred color for the flannel backing fabric, but she and she alone made the decision on fabric for the quilt tops based mostly – okay, solely – on what fabrics she had in hand.
she used a sewing machine – an old treadle machine – to sew the pieces together into blocks then the blocks together into the top. one the top was assembled, she’d sandwich batting between the quilt top and flannel backing and stitch those together, the machine whirring it’s irregular rhythm. the very last thing she did once the quilting was done and the borders finished off, was embroider our name in a corner of the quilt, and that she did by hand.
honestly, the quilts weren’t all that special to us. we figured quilting was just something grandmother did to keep busy. my mother used our quilts to wrap furniture when she moved it out to redecorate and as beach towels when we went to the ocean and as dog beds on cold winter nights. when they got dirty, she’d throw them in the washing machine then hang them on the line to dry.
a few years ago i decided to catalog grandmother’s quilts and asked my cousins, aunts, and uncles to bring their quilts to be photographed. when we held the first one up to the backdrop of the woods and stepped back to have a look, there was an audible collective inhale followed by the most exquisite silence – the silence of respect and appreciation and love-in-a-new-light.
my quilt is in the velveteen stage of life, loved raw in places, the batting spilling out and making a mess all over the place. i’ve thought about mending it, but, shoot, i’ve never gotten around to it. i ought to, though, because let me tell you one thing: some of the most peaceful moments i’ll ever know are enjoying that deep, peaceful, falling-off-the-edge good sleep that comes only on the nights when grandmother’s quilt is wrapped around me. mmm mmm mmm. all those tiny little pieces. painstakingly cut, arranged, then stitched together into something bigger. something much, much bigger.
the story is mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.