My grandmothers shared many traits: faith, humor, generosity, determination, kindness. However, when it came to skills and talents they had some distinct differences. Della’s three areas of talent and skill were definitely writing, gardening, and music. And while Bea dabbled in gardening, her primary gifts were cooking, sewing, and crocheting. My own skills fall somewhere in the middle and I can certainly see the influence of both in my life. Oh…but there is one skill I wanted, I tried and I failed at, that still taunts me from time to time.
I never learned to quilt.
I was reminded of that this week when a friend posted a photo of a lovely quilt she just completed for her new grandson. Envy isn’t exactly what I felt when I viewed it, but regret and disappointment undoubtedly crept into my brain. Why didn’t I pay closer attention when Gran tried to teach me to put those little scraps together? I learned to make everything else, from suits to dolls. I even learned upholstery. But there was something elusive about quilting that I never quite mastered.
I vividly remember the first time I “helped” Bea make a quilt. I was just over five and we lived in a tiny house with cement floors. Gran had made a quilt top for us out of large squares of dark cloth. Dad wanted it to be extra warm and I suppose we didn’t have the money to buy a lot of batting, so the top was to be attached to a wool blanket that he had purchased at the Army surplus store. Looking back, I assume that the blanket was too heavy and awkward for standard quilting procedures. As I recall, Gran machine-stitched a few straight lines across the width and length of the two, but in order to keep them tightly joined together, and perhaps to also make the quilt a little brighter, Dad sat on the floor and hand-stitched a piece of yarn in the middle of each square. Then I tied each one. I was so proud that I could tie a sturdy knot! And since the yarn was from Gran’s other projects, each tie was a different color. I loved that heavy old quilt.
This is not one of Gran's quilts, but is a typical old fashioned scrap quilt.
Most of the quilts Gran made were like that one- warm and practical. They might also be attractive, but that was often secondary since they were usually made from scraps. The scraps were from shirts and skits no longer worn, or from Gran’s stash of fabric pieces left over from other projects. It wasn’t until Gran made a quilt for my aunt that I had the privilege of seeing and touching a truly beautiful quilt. In fact, it was gorgeous! The secret was in the scraps. They were satin and velvet. Party dresses cut into squares and triangles. They were so shiny and colorful, and that quilt felt as wonderful as it looked. Gran made many quilts over the years, but I always thought that one was the best. It was also the one that prompted me to even attempt quilting.
No one can say I didn’t try. From time to time I cut up a few scraps and attempted to assemble them into a reasonable pattern, but the finished product wouldn’t lay flat. I bought a pre-cut quilt, but wasn’t satisfied with the resulting top and it was stored away for years. I successfully stitched a printed fabric picture. It looked like a quilt, but I knew it wasn’t the real thing. I finally gave up the idea and went back to dresses and dolls.
Perhaps it was patience that I lacked. Or I just needed more time or motivation. I could make excuses all day long. The fact is that I never applied my patience, time, and motivation to the task long enough to master it. Instead I chose to take up Della’s skill and put together scraps of words and phrases and ideas to quilt my memories. And I’m okay with that.