Old Quilts

I went on a closet-cleaning binge a few weeks ago, prompted by my need to find space for five boxes of books. Ever hopeful, I’d ordered a hundred more copies of Shifting Currents. One thing led to another, and I found myself scurrying from one closet to another. Eventually, I was face-to-face with my three family heirloom quilts.

One was a gift from my mother just a few months before she died. It’s a handsome and warm bed cover, sewn entirely by hand. When mom passed it on to me, she said “You’re the one who should have this, since you’re quilting now too. It’s true. I’ve lost my enthusiasm for it now, but for quite a few years, I made quilts for us, for children, for grandchildren. I know how much work and care goes into them.

I didn’t know the great-grandmother who made this, but when I look at the tiny, even stitches on the back, I imagine her cutting the pieces, sewing them together by hand, sitting at a quilting rack in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, perhaps hosting a quilting bee.

 

The other two came to me years ago as quilt tops, discovered in my grandmother’s house long after her death. We don’t know who began these projects and left them unfinished. I chose backing material and had a neighbour hand-quilt them for me.

“I’ve stitched them pretty close,” she said when she’d finished the job. “The cotton’s in bad shape.”

They looked great, though. The pink one became our daughter’s bedspread until she left home. We used the other on our bed until it began showing signs of wear.

At some point, probably twenty years ago now, I folded them up and stored them—at first in plastic and then, thinking perhaps they’d survive better if they could “breathe”, in a wicker chest. Every once in awhile, I took them out to admire them and hang them out to air. Each time, the old cotton had deteriorated more.

A few weeks ago, when I found room for them on a closet shelf, I decided it was time to pass them on to the next generation for safekeeping.  So, a few days ago, when our daughter was visiting, I asked her if she wanted her old quilt back. Her eyes lit up. But when she saw it, she shook her head. “I’d love to have this if I could use it. But it’s beyond repair.” She fingered it nostalgically. “They all are.”

She was right. But still…

“You’ve made quilts, mom. What would you say to your great-great-grandchildren when the quilts you’ve made are falling apart in a hundred years?” I paused. They really are at least that old.

“Ditch ‘em,” I said sadly. “Give ‘em to somebody for their dog.”

Her turn to nod.

That’s what I’ll be doing, I guess. It makes me sad.

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6 Responses to Old Quilts

  1. I think you should at least make a book out of one of them….like a moleskine cover or traveller’s journal perhaps? Maybe we could do it at an art therapy day?

  2. pdunning says:

    Well…there’s a thought. See you tomorrow?

  3. Gail Slavik says:

    Paula, my pre-move purging led me to making this same difficult decision about several quilts my mother had given me decades ago. They were OLD and in tatters, yet nearly impossible to let go. Then one day I could hear her voice, clear as a bell, saying “For heaven’s sake, Gail Ann, get rid of those old things and buy yourself a decent blanket!” Some lucky dogs now sleep on quilts made lovingly by hand and cherished by children and grandchildren for decades. Mom would be happy. ❤️

  4. Lee Gould says:

    Your friend Pauline has a wonderful idea – some momento that you can touch. Beautiful sad story, beautiful quilts.

  5. This is sad. Of course, you’ve preserved them a little longer with your essay.

    Have you seen Julie Neu’s quilts? They are lovely. Maybe some pics on Facebook, more on Instagram.

  6. Marilyn Cooper says:

    Oh! I have two quilts made by my mother and my grandmother (one made just for me by my mother, the other by the two of them). They aren’t so old, dating to 1997 and 1971 respectively, and they aren’t in tatters, but they need a little repair. They are too dear to me for me to give them to Scout (who would chew them up), so I’m planning on making their repair a winter project. They are both appliquéd quilts and the appliqués are falling off in places and one of the materials my mother used disintegrated and will have to be replaced. Green materials appear to be sensitive to sunlight. I am still using both of them at my camp, as well as using in town the patchwork log cabin quilt I pieced (my sole effort) and my mother hand quilted.

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