We are working on a quilt with a history. I suppose that isn’t so surprising. Many quilts have history. Do you remember that beautiful one made by an elderly quilter from Gee’s Bend? It was pieced from her husband’s old work clothes. She said every time she got under that quilt, she felt as though her husband was still with her.
The quilt we are working on now came from Kentucky. The brother of a friend sent it to me. The women at the Historical Village think the fabrics are from the 1940s. When it arrived in the mail, the top pieced with colored fabric and squares of plain muslin was stiff with age. Bev carefully washed it and washed it, finally getting it to a point where it could be quilted. We found a large piece of muslin for the back. But how to quilt this slightly irregular beauty? The pieced blocks are delicate and also aren’t exactly square. At the same time the colors and patterns are special enough we wanted to do more than simply tie it.
So Cathryn in her wisdom pointed out that we could quilt the plain squares and tie the remainder. What a perfect plan for this unique quilt! A pattern with small hearts was selected. It is a bit slow as the fabric tends to hold the needle but we are getting there. It might be finished by late spring. It is one of those quilts that has a lot of character although who is to say how long it might last. Still it will easily grace whatever bed it ends up on. Hopefully the person sleeping under it will feel cared for.
Doing this quilt is a reminder how it is not always necessary to stick with the usual plan. Sometimes a dilemma presents itself that requires creative thinking. The solution doesn’t have to be !00% of this. It could be 81% of this and 12% of that and 7% of something else, still getting the job done well. Somebody might have looked at this particular quilt top and thought it wasn’t worth saving for much of anything. But as we quilt and tie it, the women remark on the fabrics and interesting piecing. We figured out a solution and are making it work. Yes indeed, it’s a beauty.
As the women at the Historical Village hand quilt, we realize we are different from those who do machine quilting. We don’t have an attitude about it. We simply see it as two variations on a theme. There are those who like to sew patterns by hand and there are those who like to create their magic with a sewing machine.
Despite my six years with the hand quilters, I must admit that was the only dstinction I thought about when it came to quilting. Yes, there were quilts with countless small pieces in intricate designs compared to others that are more traditional log cabin or bear paw patterns. As I am fairly new (some of the original quilters in this group began sewing in the old school house back in the1970s), I sew where I am told, the design I am given and try my hardest to make small even stitches.
Then a few weeks back someone suggested we each put together three 12 inch blocks which then could be built into a lovely quilt. Sally went through all our boxes of fabric picking out those she thought went well together. These were laid out so each of us could take the amount needed for our individual squares. Then the discussion began. Most of the women examined the fabrics, picked up some of this and some of that, talked about which patterns they would use for their blocks and they were ready A few brave souls declared they were not going to make blocks, they hadn’t signed on for that. Period. And so a few of the block-making talented women said they would each make six blocks to make up the difference.
And then there were two of us who looked like deer caught in the headlights. Make a quilt block? I hand stitched what I was told to do but now I was expected to actually put together a block of pieces and have them lay flat and have their corners match? Dianne and I grumbled about it while quilting that day. But at the end of the day, we both picked up fabric to take home. After all, this was a project for the Historical Village. We were adults who had access to YouTube and books. Surely we would mange.
Dianne’s blocks turned out beautifully. The corners were mitered perfection. She quietly told us the names of the patterns she used. We sighed in delight. I will admit that I did not use a pattern. I did not even look at a book with suggestions. I did make three blocks. I just started sewing hoping for the best. When I got to the old school house, I buried my blocks deep in the pile. But of course when the women went through the pile later to begin laying them out, they found mine which someone kindly called ‘free form’. Mary Louise told me straight lines and neat corners could be boring. I felt a bit like a grade school student bringing home art for the refrigerator.
We currently are stitching a couple other quilts. I suspect it will be spring or even the fall before we get around to quilting this one. I have no doubt it will be lovely though. And special with most of us represented in our own way and yet part of a larger whole.
It is March and yes, the Hawaiian fabric quilt is so close to being finished that we can taste it. When that quilt was rolled in so much it was hard to get more than a few women sewing on it, we set up another one that Cathryn pieced and some of the women worked on that getting it tied. It is lovely with just enough different fabrics to make it interesting and yet those vintage squares are bordered with white so it gives one a sense of light. We just about got that finished when Sally brought in squares for a quilt she is piecing. She wanted our opinions (brave woman!) and to lay it out. So we put a sheet on top of Cathryn’s quilt and began to play with the squares. Lots of laughter and pointing and rearranging and total agreement that it was going to be a beautiful one when finished. I am sure Sally’s skills as an artist help her select colors and fabrics pleasing to every eye.
So here we are in March and moving right along with the quilts. The weather still prevents a few of our regular quilters from joining us. Just too much snow and ice out in the parking lot and on the trail to the old school house. But the snow is slowly turning to mud and the sun coming through the school house windows reassures us spring is on the way. That helps but then with thoughts of spring come thoughts of summer and what that means. One of the old buildings here needs to be re-roofed. The grounds at the Historical Village need to be maintained which requires hiring someone. Lynda starts making lists of all that needs to happen before the summer season starts. Each item requires volunteer efforts or hiring professionals. Our Christmas bazaar went well and we will have another sale over Rendezvous weekend (April 28-29) and then one in May. It requires selling quite a number of used books and lovely handmade potholders to pay for a roof or to have the restrooms serviced. Perhaps one of these lovely quilts will sell.
There are days when it is hard to put this in perspective. Politicians, billionaires, and Congress talking about millions there and more millions over there. Here in the Tobacco Valley I think of families who struggle to pay utility bills, individuals who don’t have gas money to drive to the doctor’s, men sitting home out of work. The Historical Village is in a county that certainly has its share of hardships. But there are these women making quilts to sell, piecing lovely fabric, making lists for summer chores.
It is official. Fall is here. Not perhaps according to the calendar but according to the rhythm of the Historical VIllage. We had a lovely indoor picnic (weather was threatening rain) on Wednesday to celebrate all the volunteers. The museum will close for the season this coming Monday. The blue quilt is finally done! Now we can start to prepare for the rummage sale in a few weeks. After that we will seriously get back into our schedule of quilting every Friday from 10:00 to 3:00. I for one am looking forward to it. I appreciate that time every week to spend in the Village. I appreciate the time with the quilters. I have even decided to cut back on my regular job so that I can have Fridays free. In life we need to make decisions about what is valuable. Yes, of course there are some things that need to be done regardless. I need to take time to wash dishes and pay the bills. I try to get enough sleep and to exercise. But there are those other hours in the day, week, month, year which are more flexible. Do I want to quilt on Friday or sit in front of a computer all day? Am I willing to tighten my budget so I can visit with these women a bit each week around the quilting frame? And the answer – at least for me – is that I do want to spend time in the old school house listening to their stories and advice. I want to learn more about our valley’s history. I want to be able to answer at least some of the questions tourists stop by to ask.
The Historical Village has officially opened for the season. Everyday until Labor Day from 1:00 – 5:00pm a volunteer docent is there to unlock all the buildings and explain a bit about the valley to anyone who happens to stop by. There are handmade items in the museum shop for sale: quilts, embroidered pillow cases, pine needle baskets and cards. Today when I went over there were a few Canadian visitors meandering through the various buildings and a young child on the swing set. The grass was so soft and green it surprised me. The child looked completely happy urging her mom to push her again and again. It felt like summer had officially arrived although it is still only May. The seasons change. There are things to miss about our regular Fridays in the winter when we mostly had the Village to ourselves. But then there is the child so thoroughly enjoying her moment on the swing. The lawn which was treacherous with ice and snow just a few months ago is now this lovely carpet that begs you to sit down for a spell. Some good friends have left the community. Some new babies have been born. The seasons change.
The other day we had the old school house set up for our annual book sale and so had pushed the one quilt frame off to the side. Those of us working that day could then either sell books or sit and quilt. At one point Joan was quilting and explaining the technique to the various folks who stopped to watch her. We actually had three quilts out: the blue one we are currently working on, the one with hearts we are raffling off this year, and the lovely one we just finished that we are selling. The price tag is $1000 and we all agree it has a lot and I mean A LOT of work in it. Its a beauty though and I figure it only takes one person to walk in, see it, really appreciate it and take out a check book. Anyhow so there was Joan explaining how hand quilting is done and how many stitches to the inch. One woman who just moved to the area was interested in learning and said she might join us in the fall when we start up again. She was explaining how she probably wouldn’t be a fast quilter but would try her best. Joan pointed out that yes Fridays are about quilting but they are also about therapy. At that moment I realized once again how smart Joan is. Of course it’s about therapy! Sitting around the quilting frame, relaxed and stitching, talking and listening and laughing. If only we could market this, we wouldn’t have to raffle quilts. But of course I also believe that it’s valuable for people to own these quilts. Each quilt somehow holds all that energy and thoughtfulness that the women give in taking those thousands upon thousands of stitches. And the laughter and the tears and the kindness. All of that gets absorbed into the quilt as we sit around the frame. So yes, even if we could market quilting therapy, we would still want people to buy quilts so they could take this magic home to put on their bed.
The quilt we finished up for Kathy Ingram came off the frame and we began putting on the next one. This is one that Bonnie put together although many of the women helped with piecing the blocks. Its quite large – some discussion if it was a queen or king size but we all agreed it was large. And Cathy had sewn the back and we have a piece of batting to fit it. Then the question came up as to what should be used for the binding. Lynda got out box after box of fabrics but either one piece was too dark or another too busy. We all liked that particular one but there wasn’t enough of it to bind the whole quilt. Bonnie thought maybe she had some fabric at home that would work. When I left the old school house Friday afternoon, there still hadn’t been a decision made but I know there will be.
Some decisions are a real challenge…what kind of pie to enter into the fair? What to name the second baby? Is the dog in enough pain that we should put him down? And some decisions are easy. Or at least easier. Do I want to quilt on Friday afternoon or do paper work at the office? Should I give Deb something sensible for her birthday – or something fun? I know there are individuals who struggle with making decisions. And there are others who seem to decide in the blink of an eye. The women who quilt on Fridays are a mixture but the pleasure for me is watching how they work together to arrive at a decision that everyone is content with. Lynda can hold up a piece of fabric asking, “Does this work?” and someone gives an enthusiastic “Yes!” while someone else shakes her head in disbelief. And this process continues until there is a decision made for a binding or a quilt design or what kind of pizza to order that everyone can smile about. There are no set rules about this, no bylaws stating this particular system has to be used for making decisions. Its what works and what has evolved over the years as countless quilts were made and fabric selected. Its this group of women respecting each other, willing to take advice or appreciate that Cathryn has a good eye for color. Its a marvel the way they do it. I wish more world leaders could do things this way
I surely would give this job of posting to anyone who has more consistency. Where has the fall gone? Last week was the holiday bazaar and we did well raising funds to help cover the costs of the Historical Village. Next Friday we will have pizza to celebrate Christmas and exchange small gifts. I barely made it to any Fridays this fall and the ones that I have managed to show up were too short. Quilts have come and gone. One lovely one that the group worked on – an old top that someone donated covered with squares containing names that women had stitched was finished before I really had a chance to even work on it. This week when I showed up there was a quilt I hadn’t seen before and I still haven’t heard the whole story of where it came from and who it belongs to.
Gary stopped by this week. He shows up often on Fridays to say hello to everyone and check in as he is part of the Board of History. He told us he was having trouble with the kitchen sink in his house and would have to crawl under the house to fix a pipe. We all sympathized with him as of course no one enjoys crawling under a house in winter. Different suggestions were made….had he tried this concoction to get the drain going? Had he tried hot water? Had he tried snaking it out? He had tried most everything as of course he doesn’t want to crawl under his house to fix the pipe if he absolutely doesn’t have to. Finally one of the women shrugged and said, “We are usually pretty good at solving problems, but we aren’t going to manage this one.” We all laughed but I would easily agree that this group is remarkable at problem solving. Between them there is so much wisdom and plain old common sense: the medical knowledge from Cathryn and Bev who worked as nurses, the advice Mary Louise can give from running a ranch, or Bonnie from her years of work and raising a family. Cathy is a wiz at numbers and geography, Diane a stickler for details. Its not that I have any doubts about these women dealing with plumbing problems but in the end they agreed Gary would just need to go home and put on his overalls.
I suppose most of us would be able to list a few things that we consider ourselves personally capable of. Maybe something like getting plants to grow or baking a great pie or remembering to mail off taxes on time or (like Cathryn) making pine needle baskets. But I suspect that there are things which we don’t recognize in ourselves that we are good at as well. It might take other people in our lives – those who know us well or perhaps even strangers – to point out that we have these other skills or talents. I thought of this the other day when Judy brought in a quilted wall hanging that she had made to show off a piece of Lynda’s handwork. Lynda would probably tell you that she is good at keeping things organized (great with paperwork) and knowing the names of birds and caring for her grandchildren. But she is also very good at making things. I remember when I first started quilting with the group and she brought in a lovely fish quilt that she had made for a child in her family. Recently at our annual rummage sale, I saw these sewn pieces on canvas (no idea what to call them) but the designs were amazing. Judy and I haggled over them because we both saw the wonder in them. Judy ended up with the small square one and I took an oblong one. The next week Judy brought in the square one in the middle of a small quilted wall hanging that she had made. I gave her the oblong one and she magically transformed that as well. Now I have them both hanging in my office. Reminders that we are each capable of so much. And even when we don’t see the value in what we do, others might and it can add beauty to their lives. Is the lesson here not to underestimate ourselves? Perhaps – or it might be to put effort in everything we do because you never know when someone will thoroughly appreciate it. It can make a difference.
We started on a new quilt. Its a beauty and different than most we have worked on recently as its asymmetrical. Not the dimensions of the quilt but the pattern on it which seems to be an unusual feature. Its going to be enjoyable to decide where to sew as between the colors we will have to fit in different size designs. Its not often that once we decide on the quilting design that there is any creativity. Mostly we just continue with the set pattern over and over again. But this particular quilt was laid out so there are not standard distances between the colored parts – some are close together, others farther apart. Even though we just began it, I am already looking forward to how it will turn out.
For some reason working on this quilt made me think about habits. Habits seem related to symmetry. They add a set pattern to our lives. We can be on auto-pilot to brush our teeth, get dressed in the morning, make coffee, go to work or the grocery store. And then there are those moments in life when we are forced to actually think about what we are doing, make decisions about how to do something, be creative, find a different pattern or even work without any pattern at all. Sometimes this can be enjoyable for instance when we are on vacation and find ourselves in a new place. Or it might be uncomfortable when some change in our life disrupts an old pattern and we need to find a new one. I suppose there are people who live without any patterns – but I don’t think I’ve met them. Just as there are people whose lives seems to be a continuous pattern, perhaps those who are part of a monastic order. Most of us probably fit somewhere in between. Personally I enjoy occasional bouts of asymmetry, to think about what I am doing and why. To look around, ponder the existing patterns and decide where to add new designs.