Monday, June 15, 2009

Love Sewn Into Every Quilt

Apparently reading this site, Inchmark, has made me rather reminiscent. She has this wonderful post about dress shirt quilts, which blew my mind. In case you didn't know, I enjoy a variety of hobbies, but I've been sewing since my mom helped me make my first skirt for a Spring school recital in 4th grade. I know, despite my tomboyishness, ironically I also enjoy a lot of traditionally domestic activities. It was a very simple skirt - bell shape, elastic waist, but I sewed and helped make all of it myself, and the feeling of creating something you could then wear was amazing! It was followed shortly by a quilting class for kids at the local sewing shop.

Over a number of sessions, we picked out our fabric, what style quilt we wanted to make, and then proceeded to cut, sew the strips/squares together, and cut the backing, backing, and binding - and then sew the whole thing together! The last day of class I was finishing up sewing all the layers together, and had to pull it all out again for some stupid mistake. And of course I never finished it after that. Sad story, really. But what I learned in the class was invaluable.

Since then I've undertaken sewing projects here and there. I bought my own machine when I was unemployed in New Jersey right after Sept. 11th, which was incredibly intimidating after working on my mom's classic Singer my whole life. But then I had a blast wandering the garment district in Manhattan, buying up various fabrics and notions to play with. I ended up making some pillows, the first Hawaiian shirt I ever made for Andrew (which also happened to be my first time making a shirt, so I just made my own pattern off one of his shirts). And I started a quilt, which I had planned on giving to my mom. Circumstances changed a lot in a short amount of time, and I didn't finish that quilt either - but I just came upon it the other day, and I think I'll have to pull it out and get working on it.

I'm picky about quilts. I don't like most of the traditional designs like flying geese and wedding rings and such. I tend to get frustrated with the "rules" of precision and color and repetitiveness. Daytime side of niece's quiltBut when my younger sister came to me wanting to make a baby quilt when my nephew was born, I had to say yes. We had each had quilts made for us as babies, and I remember how much that quilt meant to me as I went to sleep each night. It meant a lot to know that we'd be making him something he'd be lying on or under, to know that the love we put into that quilt would be passed on to him. It wasn't the most sophisticated quilt - block squares of animals and a folded-over backing to make the binding. But we worked hard on it, and put lots of love into it, and even embroidered our names and his into it.

Nighttime side of quilt with baby nieceWhen my niece was born a few years ago, the same sister and I decided we needed to make her a quilt as well. This one we got much more creative with, inspired by one of the pieces of fabric we found. It had a day side and a night side, and we played with texture and color more than we had before. It took days of planning, and then three or four more long days of cutting and sewing, but we got it done. And I loved spending that time with my sister as well. We finished this one off with appliqued butterflies and my niece's name.

As much as there are many traditionalists out there about quilts, what appeals to me most about quilts is the love put into them, and how that translates to the person they're made for. I've always loved Hawaiian quilting (another project I'd love to undertake - maybe starting with a pillow or lap quilt first!), and they have many legends around their quilts. One of my favorites is:
When a person is ill it is said that if they sleep under a quilt all the love from that quilt will help comfort them.
So getting back to Inchmark's post about these dress shirt quilts. At first, I thought I wouldn't be interested in the designs. But these weren't your typical quilts. They were interesting and bold and unique - and had such touching stories. I couldn't help but be impressed. This story captivated me the most about this quilt by Missouri Pettway, 1902-1981 (pictures from Inchmark):
Missouri's daughter explains... "It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, 'I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.' She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up." (quotation from here)
I can't think of a better reason to make a quilt, or a more comforting way to remember someone.

This is the link to the show Inchmark references, and I love how varied and interesting the quilt styles are. Obviously the quilts have warped and worn over time, but it's also apparent that these women weren't worried about the rules, the perfect lines and shapes. These quilts are so inspiring to me.

There's so much history to quilting, and so many people dismiss it as being old-fashioned. But I'd love to have a sewing circle where I could hang out with friends, drinking tea and coffee and having pastries, and sitting around chatting over a quilt we've all contributed to and are finishing together for someone we all care about.

I've promised Andrew a special quilt for a while now. I've been collecting the fabric for years and have it planned out in my head. Maybe it's time I followed through and got working on that labor of love.

1 comment:

vivzan said...

This was beautiful to read. My family history doesn't have any quilts, only one thing has ever been passed down (that bow and walking stick my great-aunt has that I blogged about, that was stolen and then stolen back). So when I read things like this, about tradition, about creating something out of love and for a family member, sewing a quilt out of clothes, makes me long for traditions that don't exist in my family.

That's probably why I'm a nostalgic person, why I like genealogy, why I collect Automat memorabilia, why I used to wear vintage. I like these things because I like to think of people and things who are long gone and their lives.

It's lovely Chelc. I hope you do start working on that quilt for Andrew. What a special thing to have.

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