The Common Thread

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, April 2009 – May 2010]
Quilts have been on my mind a lot lately. I adore them, and I just don’t think that a person can have too many of them. I am really partial to the ones that have been made with scrap materials and old, cut up, tattered clothing. Not that I don’t like the ones that are gussied up with new fabric—I do. I am just more partial to the other.

Recently a gal showed me one that she made that had panels of a new fabric print pieced in by salvaged fabric materials, and I fell in love. It was so gorgeous and meant so much to her, since the salvaged fabric was made from the shirts of her father, who she had recently lost. She shared that the new panels represented that life goes on, but the salvaged pieces reminded her of the importance to hold onto all that was. I think that quilts should tell a story. There is comfort in knowing that you are wrapped up in comforting memories, like having the arms of those loved ones wrapped around you when the storms of life are blowing.
I am not a quilter, at least not yet, but for some odd reason it seems to be beckoning me. I tried my hand at it once and it was by far one of the hardest things I have ever done. It isn’t that I don’t know how, or that I don’t have help…I do. My sister-in-law is a brilliant quilter. Vicki makes quilting look as easy as breathing. And her quilts are masterpieces. I am not sure I could even guess how many she has made. She and her friend Patty have a darling little quilt shop called Hollyhock Heaven. Hollyhock Heaven is nestled in an old carriage house surrounded by hollyhocks, and that is where Vicki, Patty and my mother-in-law all like to hang out and make their beautiful quilt creations.
I know that my love of “scrappy quilts” came from watching my Grandma Doris and Auntie Wanda. In my grandma’s sewing room she had a dresser, and in the dresser she kept scraps of material from old shirts and completed projects, old jeans and broken-down overalls. She and Auntie Wanda would save up scraps until they had enough to make a quilt. Each of them would sew the tops on their own and then get together and bind them, attach them to a loom, and sit and tie each quilt. I don’t believe that there was a baby born in the church’s congregation who didn’t receive one of those quilts, each with the baby’s name perfectly hand-stitched onto one of the quilt squares. When we were young, many of us didn’t realize what a prize possession we had been given. I am glad that I saved mine.
On a recent plane trip to Wisconsin, I was sitting at the window seat and noticed how much the landscaped looked like beloved patchworks. It brought to mind my dear friend Marie. Chuck and Marie were our neighbors, and we adopted them and they us. Marie never had any kids of her own, but the 70-something woman seemed determined to spoil mine, and we were all too willing to let her do so. Chuck, on the other hand, liked folks to think he was rough and tough, but it didn’t really take us too long to see that it was all a cover. He is a teddy bear. Marie and I quickly connected since we loved so many of the same things. And my hubby and Chuck did as well. They found a common love of rebuilding old cars and refurbishing antiques. As I was sitting on the plane and looking out over the patchwork landscape below me, my first instinct was to call Marie. Like me, she had a passion for quilts, and her collection of over 400 proved it. I knew that the scene I was seeing would speak to her, and I wanted to share it with her. But Marie has been gone for almost three years now, and every quilt I see brings her memory flooding back to me.
Last weekend as I was walking around a quilt show with some of my Farmgirls friends, I could sense Marie everywhere. I caught myself so many times saying, “Oh Marie, look at this one!”
I have determined to make at least one more quilt in her honor. Before her surprise passing, we had decided that we would do it together, both of us knowing full well that the laughter alone would be worth the experience. Her memory reminds me of the “scrappy quilts” that Grandma Doris and Auntie Wanda make—the kind where they place together two materials that you wouldn’t put together in any other setting, yet in the quilt they work. My friendship with Marie was to some a scrappy quilt. But I knew it was held together by the common thread of the love of life, and living, and loving, and beautiful quilts.

  1. Sue Cryderman says:

    That was such a beautiful post! It brought tears to my eyes. I am a quilter and love to make the scrappy ones too! I really think you should dig right in and make that quilt in honor of your dear friend!
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. Your words have just truly touched my heart.

  2. Gracie says:

    ok, as soon as I wipe the tears from my eyes I will be able to type,,,
    Thank you for sharing such a sweet & lovely memory of your dear friend, Marie.
    I snuck up stairs to research some info on the State of Ohio, as I am working on a quilt block called the "Ohio Star". I saw your e-blog in my box and, well, you know me, I could not resist peeking in….and here we are on the same ‘quilt’ wave.
    hugz & remember, a quilt doesn’t have to be made perfectly, just made with Love.

    I have missed Marie a lot of late. Maybe it is because of her love of my son Cole who just started his Senior year, I am not sure. I miss our visits over her latest quilt find.

  3. Debbie Hendrix says:

    "Ditto" to the comment above!! 😀
    I SO enjoyed this post.
    And, I agree with Sue… DIG IN! :0)
    Warmly ~

  4. Suzy says:

    What a beautiful article! I can just "see" your friend Marie. You HAVE TO make that quilt for and about her! And when you’re making it, don’t worry if every little stitch is not perfect! Some of my stitches do look perfect, and then there will be one that SHOWS I’m NOT a perfect quilter! That’s so much like life. We go along and things go so well and then poof, like Marie who was suddenly taken from you, things change!

    Make that quilt in her memory and cherish it as well. My quilts are SIMPLE SIMPLE SIMPLE but making them calms me when my soul needs rest….I can sit and hand quilt and my world suddenly seems all right. Best wishes!
    (And I LOVE LOVE LOVE that little quilt shop! Wish I could go there!)

    Thanks for the beautiful encouragement… I will post about the quilt as I progress with it.

  5. Jean says:

    I loved your post! I never thought of using my mother’s old clothes for a quilt. I lost my mother 2 years ago and kept some of her blouses for good memories. My mother was my bestfriend and to have her around me would be a nice feeling again. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Anita Farace says:

    That was a Wonderful story! I loved it. Thanks for sharing with us. I too am a quilter and have a friend who quilts with me. Your story touched my heart. Make a scrappy quilt to wrap around you! I’m sure your friend will be right there with you.

  7. Roxann Bowker says:

    Loved your Quilt story I don’t quilt but like you I have always loved them but your story of your sweet friend reminded me of my friend as a child she was like a grandma to me from Wisconsin that I loved and my wonderful grandma
    that made me a doll quilt that I still have. Thanks for the moment to reflect of my family and friend that I hold dear to my heart.

  8. Becky says:

    I agree, you should just jump in and do it. That is half the fun. I love quilts! I have such a busy life that I have only made miniature quilts or wall hanging size since they are quicker to finish. One day I may just have the time to make a full-size one.

    Good luck and go for it!


  9. Mandie says:

    Sooo very true! I have one that I treasure that my moms friend made for my oldest daughter. It was made out of her husbands jeans. It is the pretties and most cherished of all our quilts. I love the photo of the quilt on the fence and love the quilt shop pic. Great post!

  10. Kim Jorgensen says:

    Lovely sentiment. Just this week I interviewed a 91-year-old World War II veteran (and prisoner of war) who has made between 300 and 400 quilts for the Quilts of Valor Foundation. If that isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is. The Buggy Barn has stack ‘n whack classes periodically; these are my absolute favorite kind of quilt to make!! We should take the class together some time — if I can ever find one that coincides with my days off, that is!

    Let me know when you are going and I will go too.. The quilts sound AMAZING. Quilts of Valor, how awesome.

  11. Kathi says:

    I’ve only subscribed to this site a short time ago, but I relish the notice saying a blog has arrived. I have inherited a set a quilts given to me by my grandmother that were made for her and my grandfather as a wedding present by my grandfather’s grandmother. My grandmother never used them, thinking they were too delicate, but I’ve used them because I think they SHOULD to be used. All those tiny stitches made by a woman who could barely see, but wanted to give a gift of love. Shortly before my grandparents were married, my grandfather’s dearly beloved ‘ganga’ died. Now I feel all these wonderful energies from this woman and my foremothers, and keep them close.

  12. Donna says:

    I love quilts. But mine are different from my grandmothers as I suspect mine will be different from my grandchildern, if I shall be so lucky to have them follow in my footsteps.
    I inherited 3 quilts from a friend. My friend is in her 80’s . They were made by her mother in law. And were not wanted. And I suspect there was a story in the comment. But sometimes it is better not to ask. Her children did not want them. I felt so broken hearted.
    Her was a history and no one cared. So I asked for them. She gladly gave them to me. The 2 are scrappy. You can tell they were from clothes of the past. Susies shorts. Gina’s dress. You get the idea. The other one is yellow , gray and cream. The quilt is sewn inpecable.Seams are perfect. I mean perfect. One scrappy quilt, my grandson claimed. HE is 3. The yellow one, I feel like is meant for someone. I dont know who. I have yet to find the fabric to go on the backing. I have looked. And nothing seems to go. It is an irish chain. I suspect she had the fabric and put them together. I know that someone will want this quilt. It is looking for a home. I just have to honor this woman. And when I finish these quilts, I know her life will be complete. There is so much history in the quilts , so much unspoken. So much unifished …. just wanting to be finished.

    Your friends memories will be safe with you I can tell. How blessed she was to have you and you to have her and her quilts.

  13. Wendy says:

    Thank you for your beautiful post on a subject that is so special to me! I am a quilter. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like (between two kids, homeschooling, and just manning the household). I started quilting when I was 32. I was usually the youngest person in the class. I have not made a scrappy quilt yet because we have so many of them that my husbands grandmother made. These also happen to be my kids favorite quilts. The do seem warmer and softer. Grandma Sara had 14 children and every quilt seemed to have outgrown or wore out pajama fabrics, misc clothing. They didn’t have money for fancy cloth and the quilts were for function. Every grandchild received a quilt on the 13th Christmas. I hope to pass that tradition onto my own grandchildren.

    For me, quilting is my special time to be reflective; it’s calming when alone, but wonderful in a group. So, I wish HAPPY QUILTING to you!

    Thank You~ I admire you for finding the time to do it.. I think I will jump on in and give it a try.. again!

  14. Gary says:

    Brilliantly poignant and straight from the Heart Rene’.
    Family and Friends, whom we Love remain with us always ‘eh… Even after their passing on, they come to us in random thoughts… fragrances in the breeze… a familiar melody… a quilt. They are the building blocks of our very Life, and much more than memories, for a part of them became a part of us along the way… the patchwork quilt of our Life.
    GodSpeed to Y’all…!
    in Tampa

    Well said Gary~ Thanks~

  15. Shirley says:

    That was the most precious story, thank you for sharing. I have made quilts off and on for about 20 years, nothing spectacular, but there is something about quilts that warms peoples hearts when they recieve one, and knowing you are making one for you and Marie I’m sure will warm your heart and inspire you every step of the way, you may even find when it is done that there are things in there that you know you wouldn’t have normally chose to do, but Marie would have, enjoy the experience 🙂

  16. I’ve lived most of my life in Lancaster County Pennsylvania where Quilting is a way of life. Don’t worry about your skill level when making a quilt, it’s not about the size or quality of the stitches, it’s about the love you sew into each stitch and the memories that quilt represents to all who will be warmed by it!

  17. Hi Rene,
    I almost deleted your post without reading it then the picture popped up. Wow, did that get my attention. I LOVE QUILTS, too. But take heart, you are a quilter. To quote myself, from an essay I wrote entitled Quilting Is A State of Mind,(published in the Country Register) "I consider my writing as quilting. Each word, alone, says little. Put together in just the right order, with each word carefully chosen for alliteration as well as definition, I piece together a meaningful story that, hopefully, makes a difference in someone’s life."
    I’ll email you the entire essay. I think you’ll enjoy it.

    Thank You Carol, I look forward to reading your essay.

  18. Debbie says:

    Absolutely beautiful!My Grandma made a crib quilt for my son when he was born. Not realizing the precious gift I had I used it constantly and washed it and so on. It began to fray and fall apart but I kept it. When my son’s first born came I pulled out that quilt to give his wife but it was so tattered. So I made it into a stuffed animal and an Easter egg with ribbon tied around it. My daughter in-law loves them and treasures them. So even if the old quilt does not seem to have life, look again.

  19. Michele aka vintagediva1 says:

    Wow, what a great story. Where did you take the photograph at the top of the post? Is it at Sister’s?
    My sister and I are avid quilters and like to do most of our piecing and quilting by hand. Recently, our mom asked us if we would quilt a top that was pieced by our grandma from Mom’s baby dresses. We are excited to make that our winter project.
    Hope you jump into your project with both feet

    The photo I took at Buggy Barn’s recent quilt show. They are in Reardon WA.

  20. carol branum says:

    Hi Rene,

    I teared up by the wonderful thought,I must do that,My mother died in 2005 of a brain tumor,just days before her death, she finished up her last quilt.her funeral was the most beautiful funeral you ever did see, since we displayed all 50 of her quilts on the walls of the funeral home.Hallies casket was also draped with a quilt,she was born in Texas so we had yellow roses everywhere  for her, since she was a yellow rose from texas.I have not had the heart yet to throw out her clothing,I am going to start on this project tonight after daddy, and I get home from the gospel sing. I am attending this evening with my precious daddy.I want to spend every minute I can with him while I still can. I will diffinately do this when I have to cross that road, thankyou for your idea. Blessed be…,carol branum,lamar mo.

  21. Nita Jo says:

    I’m sitting here with happy tears in my eyes. For the past month, I’ve been sleeping with a special quilt of mine. The pieces were put together by my Great Grandma, The back was added by my Grandma, and she let me help pull yarn through to tie the quilt. It’s an odd assortment of new (1960’s & early 70’s) materials and some much older. It’s precious to me. You have such a way with words! I could "see" ladies bent over their quilts, working away with hands of love. Thank you!
    Nita Jo

  22. Christine says:

    I also love quilts; especially the old ones or those made by hand. I make (and teach) Promise Quilts, which is all by hand and so fulfilling. The women love the woman to woman way of teaching.

  23. Marilyn says:

    Hi, I have two quilts made by my Aunt. One has pieces of a dress I wore as a child. My sister gave me a quilt made by our grandmother. My sister used it and it became frayed around the edges. I took it and made Teddy bears for my daughter, my sister and myself (mines still a work in progress), I also took a piece and used it as backing for a picture of the Grandmother who made it. Also I have her reading glasses and I put those in with the picture, all in an old oval frame with convex glass. I made quilts for each of my children, just simple 9 patch that are tied. Really enjoy your blogs. Take care.

  24. Forrest says:

    I have a quilt made by Mom, who has passed on…she made a quilt from mine and my sisters (who has passed on as well) clothing when we were little girls. It is my greatest treasure. I also have a Sun Bonnet Sue quilt that my Grandmother made from her polyester suits she use to wear. She made one for each of the kids and hand stistched our names and date in the corner. Treasures just treasures

  25. Bonnie says:

    Hi Rene,
    This is my first time responding to your blogs, although I have enjoyed so many of them. The quilt subject just spoke to me. I can identify with treasuring them and enjoying working with someone on them. I belong to a quilting guild and some of my dearest friendships have been born there. I don’t know if you have access to a guild in your area, but if you do, I would encourage you to go to a meeting. Like anything, you will have to decide if it would be a "fit" for you. Some guilds are a little "stuffy" and think everything must be done perfectly. Thank goodness ours is a wonderful encouraging, teaching and nurturing guild. Our motto is "Finished is better than perfect"! As another blogger said, I believe you are already a quilter – a quilter of words. Always wished I could be that! Thanks for your amazing insight into people’s souls.

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