For those of you who know me through my job at The History Museum of Hood River County, you know that I am on a passionate mission to spread a deeper understanding of how our cultural heritage affects our past, present and future.
I can see in the mirror of time, how events, people and places from the past shape and define who we are today. But with our rapidly changing society where everything is done in an instant, I fear that we are loosing our connection with the past. We must all take up the challenge of preserving our heritage and shamelessly endeavor to document and share our stories…before they are lost. So, I’ll start. Here is a little story from my family about the quilt that took over twenty years to complete. Enjoy!
When my son, who is now 29 years old, was about five years old, he had to have his tonsils and adenoids removed. The surgery had some complications and we were looking at him being home from school for several weeks. Once he was able to be up and around, he still couldn’t talk much. At that time in our lives, we had made the choice to not have a television, so as you can imagine, Aaron was feeling better but totally bored. He had read all the books and made pages of colored pictures and still he was bored. We decided to start a special activity to help relieve his boredom as he finished his recovery. Aaron loved art, color and design so I selected a quilt project to pass away the hours. We carefully looked through my quilt pattern book and finally decided on the “trip around the world” pattern. We spent hours each day digging through my prolific fabric collection selecting and cutting squares for the quilt. Once we had all the pieces cut, Aaron would sit and put the squares in the pattern and color order and then hand them to me to sew. By the end of his recuperation, he went back to school and I went back to work. The finished quilt top went into a box and was forgotten.
Several years later, I was talking with my mother-in-law about this quilt and how I wanted to get it hand quilted. She offered to help with that. We set up my grandmothers quilt frames in her living room later that fall and she got to work. She would sit for hours and hand quilt while watching Wheel of Fortune. We talked many times about how beautiful the quilt would be when it was done with all its bright and sunny colors. She was about two-thirds of the way finished when she took ill. After several weeks in the hospital critical care unit, she passed away. Sadness fell over the house. The quilt top was taken out of the quilting frames and once again packed away. While I do know how to hand quilt, I was taught by Meg and I just couldn’t bring myself to work on it without her. It just wasn’t the same. Years passed, our kids grew, and we eventually moved to the Columbia Gorge.
One day a group of my friends were admiring one of my quilts. They said they would love to have me teach them how to hand quilt. I thought about this and finally decided to dig out that same quilt top and use it as a teaching quilt for this group of ladies. My mother-in-law had taught so many women how to sew and quilt over the years and I thought what a fitting honor to her legacy to use it to teach and pass on what she so lovingly taught me many years ago. I knew that the beginner’s learning stitches would not be small and perfectly spaced like moms, but it really didn’t matter to me. What mattered was passing on Meg’s love of the craft and the story of the quilt. Over the next few years, many hands touched that quilt top carrying on a tradition that dates back to the beginning of our country and our community pioneers and grandmothers. A few months back, I came across the quilt top again and determined to finally complete it’s transformation into a finished and beautiful quilt. Now, it graces the bed in my guest room awaiting a visit from family or friends to our home. Its story and legacy are now complete.
A quilt to me is such a unique utilitarian household object. You take stacks of fabric – some of which have been cut from old clothes – and you cut them into little pieces – only to then sew them back into a larger piece. Then take a tiny needle and tiny stitches and sew it all together to make something truly beautiful. There are as many different quilts as there are people to make and enjoy them. I have quilts in my house that were made by my grandmother over 100 years ago. I also have a box of quilt blocks that my Meg had pieced, but never included in a finished quilt. In these blocks, I can recognize some of the dresses and shirts that she sewed for herself and her family. She used to tell me she was sewing love when she made a quilt…and that’s a legacy I want to treasure and pass on to my children and my grandchildren.
I hope that this little story has inspired you in your own story telling; stories of our families and our community that deserve to be shared for the next generation. What is your story that needs to be shared and treasured?
Adapted from a blog written by Connie Nice
For The History Museum of Hood River County