Sunday, February 21, 2010

Back To Basics

My Mom was a hand quilter. Never once in all of her years of quilting (over 50 years by my best estimation) did she do any part of a quilt on a sewing machine.

She made all of her children clothes on her sewing machine. I clearly remember when all 5 of us kids were at home that she had her sewing machine set up in a corner of the dining room. I would watch in wonder as she cut out a tissue paper pattern, laid the fabric on the dining room table and created outfits we wore proudly. Our family joke is that Mom ALWAYS had rick rack on all the clothes she made us.

But when it came to quilting, she was a purist. She was taught to hand quilt by her mother and she taught us girls to hand quilt.

My first memory of quilting was when my grandmother (Nanny to all of us kids)would come spend the weekend and either bring one of her quilts to quilt or help Mom quilt one of her quilts. The living room would be taken over by the huge quilt frame and everyone would pull up a dining room chair around the frame to quilt a bit. How proud I was at a very young age to be able to quilt with the grown ups. No matter how big our stitches were (and at about 7 years old, they were HUGE)they were always left in and became part of the quilt.

My biggest regret is that I never completed a hand-sewn quilt while my Mom was alive. She would have been so proud.

When my sisters and I started quilting as our main hobby (about two years ago) we went right to machine quilting. It's just so much quicker!

This weekend I went back to basics. I have been sick for a week with an upper respiratory infection and it hurts to breathe. I didn't have the energy to leave the bedroom and venture into my studio. I wanted something to do with my hands while I caught up with my soap opera on DVR, but wasn't in the mood to pick up my current knitting project or embroidery project.

I remembered a plastic tote I had gotten together of some pieces of fabric that my Mom had cut out and never done anything with. It was in the top of my bedroom closet just waiting to be put to use.

Yesterday, I pulled out the tote and started sorting through it. There were hectogons of various sizes for one of my Mom's favorite quilts, Grandma's Flower Garden. Mom probably made about 15-20 of these quilts alone. (Her second favorite was the Wedding Ring, one of which I currently sleep under every night!) There were also about 100 diamonds cut out for a quilt that I will never know about.
I found what I was looking for in the 100 4x4 squares in the box. With very little planning, I began to hand sew the squares together.

I admit to breaking down early yesterday morning as I lay in bed, complaining to J about how horrible I felt. I had a nice long cry as I told him "I want my Mom!"

My Mom was an awesome Mom always, but mostly when I was sick. She was the Mom who when I was sick growing up, I stayed home from school and she made a nest of covers on the couch. I got to watch cartoons all day, no matter how much she wanted to watch Phil Donohue or Mike Douglas. She made a special trip to the grocery store for vanilla pudding and a trip to the neighborhood drug store for coke syrup to settle my tummy. She put cool rags on my head and a paper bag next to the couch in case I couldn't make it all the way to the bathroom when I had to toss my cookies.

Even after I moved out of the house at 19, whenever I got sick, my first call was to my Mom. Many times, she and Dad would hop in the car and drive to my apartment to bring me medicine or just to offer comfort to their "baby girl".

A part of me always misses her most when I'm sick.

Amazingly enough, as I picked up the fabric she had cut before she got sick and began to sew the squares together, I began to feel better. I swear, I really did. Just touching the fabric and thinking of her taking the time to cut out each piece made me feel like she was with me. I cried over some of the pieces of fabric and smiled at others. There were a lot of florals, some brights, some muted and some of the novelty fabrics that she loved so much. (Mom was fussy cutting before fussy cutting was cool!)

I spent hours yesterday and again today sewing those squares together. I didn't finish, not by a long shot, but I got several rows sewn together and started to join the rows today. I am determined to finish this entire mini quilt all by hand. In honor of my Mom and her purist view on quilting.

Anyone who knows me knows how linear I am. Jean constantly teases me about it, Jan joins me in the obsession with perfection. But I am determined with this hand pieced quilt to let that go. I've already made some errors on this one. My squares aren't exactly square. My seam allowance isn't perfect. The colors aren't perfectly coordinated. But I won't be discouraged. This one is for Mom.

Once it's finished it will be my "sick quilt". I will cuddle up with it and imagine getting a hug from my Mom.

These pictures are taken with my cell phone, so they aren't that great, but I will keep updating on my progress with this work of the heart.


PS I am so into hand-piecing now, because of this project, that I also started piecing my very first pinwheel quilt by hand. I'll share pics of that one in a later post.


  1. I hope you are feeling better soon. Those respiratory infections can be nasty. Your stories about your mother always beguile my heart...thank you so much for sharing your memories!

  2. What a great story, sis. You brought all those fond memories back for me, too. I bet Mom was up in heaven crying just watching you hand piece. What a great tribute to her. Your work is beautiful - good for you! Love you!

  3. What a sweet, sweet story.
    I can't wait to see the finished piece; it will be beautiful even if some of the seams are a bit wonky cause of all of the love you are pouring into every hand sewn stitch.

  4. Great story about your mom.Sounds like an incredible lady!

  5. Aw, this was a sweet post. It made me think about how often I look at the quilt grandmom made that you all gave to me at her funeral. I am always seeing new fabrics in it! It's almost like magic. I like thinking about what fabrics she chose and why she might have liked them. What a wonderful legacy she left to all of us that loved her!