There’s just something about a quilt. Not the cheap kind you buy that comes from other countries, sewn in a factory. The kind someone makes by hand. Low-loft cotton batting, soft and faded fabric. That kind. The old kind.
I am fortunate to own several such quilts. Just about every woman in my family, at least in my mother’s generation and further back, quilted. Same for my hubby’s family.
Quilting was a necessity way back when. Going to the store to buy ready-made blankets for the beds just wasn’t done. Not in rural areas. They had bedspreads, yes, but most people made their own. There wasn’t room in the budget for ready-made. And in those days, when you were finished with clothes you didn’t take them to Goodwill or a thrift store. You gave them to whoever could wear them or you cut them up and used them for rags and quilts.
I’ve always been protective over my quilts, not using them because I didn’t want to hurt them or wear them out. Which is rather ridiculous if you think about it. The women who made my quilts used them. They would want me to enjoy them, as well. So this spring, my best friend and I went through my quilts and pulled the ones out I wanted to keep–the ones I would use and the ones I couldn’t get rid of. I gave the ones I didn’t want to someone who would use them, who would appreciate the love that had gone into making them, and would see they were cared for and loved. And used.
So what did I keep? The Little Dutch Girl quilt that was the last “real” quilt my grandmother ever made. She made it for me, finished it when I was around ten or so, and though she worked on quilts after that, they weren’t the same. They weren’t complex and difficult. See, she had dementia, and by that time, her fine motor skills and concentration were slipping. So that quilt is both a blessing and a bittersweet reminder. Some of the stitching isn’t that great. And if you look at other quilts she made before that, you can tell something wasn’t right.
I also kept the Log Cabin quilt Glendon’s grandmother had made for us after we were married. It’s a beautiful blend of purples, and if we had a spare room, I’d put it on the bed.
The quilt my mom made – the mom who raised me. That stays. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t my colors. She made it.
And then there are the mystery quilts. Quilts that I can look back through family photos and see but I can’t say for sure who made them. One of those quilts is the one in these pictures. I suspect my grandmother made it, but it could just as easily have been my mother or my sister. They probably at the very least helped her work on it, quilt it. She would hang the tops from the rafters of the roof of the patio and tack it, attaching the batting and the backing fabric before sewing the stitches that bind the layers together.
I wonder about the fabrics in this quilt. They tell a story. Are they my mother’s old clothes? My sister’s? My grandparents’? Why were they chosen? Was it random, or did the person who created the quilt have a particular goal in mind?
What was going through the quilters mind when she sewed the blocks? Was she happy, sad? Watching television, listening to the radio? What songs were playing? Was it winter, summer? Was there a pot of chili simmering on the stove, or were they having sandwiches and wilted lettuce in the middle of summer?
I like to spread this quilt out and get on the floor with the cats. I could take it outside, but I’m having to ration my time spent outdoors right now thanks to the epic pollen bloom we’re having. So the cats–particularly the boys–and I like to have an inside ‘picnic’ on the quilt. We don’t have any food, but we do laze away some time and stretch and just generally decompress. It’s a great time to think. And every time we get down there in the floor, I run my hands over those fabrics, wondering what they meant or if they meant anything at all.
If I had to guess, I’d say this quilt probably dates from the 1960s or early 1970s. I’m pretty darned sure I have a picture that was taken in 1977 with one of my sisters, and we’re in the front yard on this quilt. The sun is shining, and at least in that picture, things seem normal.
Getting an old quilt out and restoring it–making sure the seams are tight, that there are no tears or rips that need mended–and using that quilt is like getting a hug from someone who isn’t here anymore. It’s a hug from the past, a symbol of warmth and love, and it’s a tangible thing I can put my hands on. That’s as close as I’m ever going to come to getting those hugs in this world, and I’m thankful to have the chance. So if you come across an old quilt in a flea market or antique store, take a second look. Maybe take it home with you. And don’t be afraid to use it. That’s what it’s for.