I was in paradise this past week. At least that’s what the website says:
“Little ol’ Hamilton, Missouri, has become a quilter’s paradise…”
Hamilton, MO mural by muralist Kelly Poling
I’m not actually a quilter. But I was compelled to accompany three women who were planning a trek to said paradise, because…
These quilters were childhood friends! *
It’s fun hanging out with people who knew me when I was a gawky 13-year-old and liked me anyway. And even though I’ve not yet converted, I did get a sneak peek into the world of quilting and the community of its devotees. I even picked up a little jargon along the way: I learned the bakery case isn’t the only place you can find “jellyrolls” and “layer cakes”, heh heh. I had a blast popping in and out of the dozen quilt shops that lined both sides of Hamilton’s main street. Gazing at rows and rows of yard goods and admiring lovely quilts (displayed on virtually every blank wall — even elevators!) got me to thinking about…
The quilts I have inherited.
In 1970, my dad reconnected with a cousin he hadn’t seen in years at his dad’s funeral. In the course of their conversation, the cousin learned my dad didn’t have any keepsakes that had belonged to his mother (a fire had ravaged their family home not many years before my dad left home). His cousin happened to have a few sentimental items that were my grandmother’s and he offered to ship them to my dad, along with three quilt tops.she had pieced and sewn together by hand.
Shortly after I got married, Dad gave me one of them — a twin bed size quilt top. I purchased some batting and some fabric for the backing and began hand-stitching the layers together. The project occupied me for months through the fall and winter. Over the years, that quilt has been alternately placed on top of our bed, hung on the wall, and displayed across a quilt rack. Right now, it’s in the cedar chest along with a pink, blue, and white baby quilt given to my mother-in-law by her mother when my husband was born. It’s twin bed size too. Along with those two quilts, I treasure a third: another one made by my husband’s grandma, this one, double bed size.
“This fabric was from a housedress Mom wore,” Dad pointed out nostalgically as he bequeathed his mother’s quilt top to me. “And this one was from a dress she wore to church.” He lovingly identified the ginghams and calicos, the stripes and florals used in the honeycomb pattern of the quilt.
“Oh, look! Here’s the fabric she made my pajamas from!” he exclaimed. He recognized fabric scraps from garments worn by his entire family.
Quilt top from my grandma (on top) and quilts from my husband’s grandma (middle and bottom)
I noticed that some of the quilt’s pieces had to be patched together just to make a three-inch hexagon. This quilt wasn’t the product of a hobbyist’s whim, fashioned from yard goods bought from color-coordinated bolts of fabric at the mercantile. No, this gem had been pieced together from scraps — snippets of fabric the family couldn’t afford to toss out, set aside to be repurposed as functional household items for the winter.
The second quilt my husband inherited is also fashioned from myriad small pieces of random prints. I love that the lively patterns and bright colors of all its snippets triumphantly defy the starkness of the times. When I look at it I see a hard-strapped farm wife managing meager household resources, capable of producing splashes of happiness and creating touches of beauty that could overlay the gray backdrop of a Great Depression.
As I strolled in and out of the various quilt shops in Hamilton, ooh-ing and aah-ing at endless yards of splendid fabrics (some of them over $20 a yard!), I was struck by the contrast between what quilting was during our grandmothers’ day and what it has become. Circumstances aren’t nearly so demanding nowadays. Necessity doesn’t drive me to harvest small scraps of fabric just so I can piece together blanket tops (as if I even sewed most of my family’s garments!). Instead, at the end of my browsing in those quilt shops the other day, I bought a small stack of brand new pre-cut fabric squares — enough for a coverlet. Even though they’re not salvaged bits of cotton, I do plan to piece them together with a similar randomness to the pattern as in the cherished heirlooms.
And as I do, I will think of our grandmothers — reflecting on their hard-scrabble lives and being grateful for the legacy of these strong, resilient, and resourceful women in our lives.
And who knows, I might get hooked.
My squares of purples and greens
- I frequently visited the homes of these three friends. A couple of years ago, I wrote about how much fun I had during my visits in You Can Take a Girl out of the City.]