When the air turns frosty and the night is long, I reach for it.
It not only warms my chilled body, but heart and soul as well. And I sleep peacefully beneath it enveloped by comfort.
It boasts bright, colorful squares hand-stitched together and arrayed in a specific pattern. When turned over, it displays yet another intricate design of the tiniest, near perfectly formed stitches.
It is a quilt, hand-made by my mother and woven together by thread, material, and love, that rests on my bed. When I pull that cover over me, I think of Mom and the endless hours she spent pursuing one of her favorite pastimes – quilting – and I’m reminded not just of her but of life.
Quilts are composed of bits and pieces which by themselves look just like what they are – bits and pieces. But when arranged, they portray a picture and often tell a story reminding us of joys or sorrows, good times and difficult times. Somehow, when those bits and pieces are stitched together with loving hands, they become a beautiful work of art, just like life.
Sometimes, when I pull my quilts out of my Mom’s old cedar chest, the lyrics of a song come to mind – “Silver threads and golden needles can’t patch up this heart of mine.” But unlike the song, remembering the thread and needles that so lovingly formed these quilts actually does patch up my heart when I’m feeling a bit melancholy.
I once read a quote that I stashed away in my tattered quotes notebook that said, “Love is the thread that binds us together.” My treasured quilts truly do form a patchwork of love that binds me to my family history.
I cherish one quilt my maternal grandmother fashioned. Grandma married my grandfather in 1900 and times certainly were different back then. Quilts were made not for displaying on a wall, but for daily household use.
Grandma didn’t purchase special fabrics in matching colors to make this quilt. Instead it’s a jumble of many colors and shapes because the patches were cut from leftover material she saved from old clothing or even flour and feed sacks which consisted of brightly colored cloth.
Patches, irregular in size and color, form a unique design called a crazy quilt. It’s safe to proclaim that my Grandma’s crazy quilt isn’t a beauty. Odd, yes. Beauty, probably not. But it speaks love to me.
Each time I handle it, I reminisce about the grandmother who taught me old hymns and silly songs, rocked me in her rocking chair, and loved me for only nine years before she died. When I lift that old quilt up to my face and inhale the scent of it, I’m transported back in time to my childhood because this cover, well used and hodge-podge in appearance, smells like my grandma. Often that makes me smile and weep at the same time.
I keep two other quilts fashioned by family members I never got to meet or learn to love. One quilt is worn, a bit stained, and slightly tattered, but it’s special to me. The pattern is called fox and geese and it belonged to my paternal grandmother. I assume she made it, but I’m not sure of that.
I try to imagine what she must have been like – that grandmother I only know from a few photographs because she died when I was an infant. Widowed in 1920 with a houseful of children, one of whom was my father then just a baby, I suppose she made this quilt to keep her family warm. I imagine the stories Grandma’s quilt could tell me – stories of family and love and even heartbreak.
The other treasured quilt in my collection belonged to my husband’s paternal grandmother who he doesn’t remember well. Her life is a bit of a mystery to us. We know her name, the names of her husband (my husband’s grandfather) and all her children, the oldest being my father-in-law who was born in 1898. But we know little of this grandmother’s life, her history, her parents, her stories.
It’s been said that a quilt tells a story and that story is our past. If this red and cream-colored intricately patterned quilt could talk, it would tell us about this grandmother and her daily life. It would tell us family stories long forgotten and left untold to the next generation.
Last month, I attended a Mother-Daughter dinner at my church. The theme revolved around quilts and many ladies loaned their quilted treasures for display there. Wooden racks constructed to exhibit them lined the entire length of one wall of the fellowship hall.
I don’t know how many quilts adorned those racks, but I do know that each one of those beautifully handcrafted works of art represented a family story, a fond remembrance, a life well-lived.
Together all of those quilts spoke of love. One stitch at a time.