A quilt is a thing of beauty. A quilt can bring together a family separated by distance and an entire continent. A quilt can have happiness and heartbreak sewn into it with each stitch. A quilt is a thing to treasure.
Some of us have the privilege of having inherited one of these wonderful treasures from a talented ancestor. Some of us are lucky to have found one in an antique store tucked away behind some dusty books. There are still very talented quilt artists all around the world who design and create these beautiful pieces of art every day.
I don’t own one of the quilts that can be ranked among the best, but I have several that mean the world to me. My grandmothers, aunts, and mother all left quilts as part of their legacy and are treasured by me and other members of my family. They lived before and during the Depression and my mother and aunts sewed their quilts during the 1980s and 1990s just for the enjoyment of creating something beautiful.
Being surrounded by the quilts created by these talented women, my family decided we should try to keep the tradition alive. As in so many other families, the women who were still alive were quickly becoming unable to quilt. So we sat down to make plans on how to best accomplish this project.
There are many articles written on how to best organize the project of making a family quilt, but we just barreled ahead and failed to consult a pro! I know there are things we could have done differently that would have made the process easier but hindsight is 20/20, they say.
Several of us “girls” decided on an Album Quilt or one that included different block patterns created by different members of the family. We let anyone participate that wanted to as long as they promised to pick out their fabric and pattern for their block. We asked them to sew the block or at least have it put together by someone before turning it over to those of us responsible for putting the quilt top together. One of the rules was to pick out two or three fabrics that would coordinate with three fabrics that we had selected to appear in each block.
I drafted pattern pieces for the block each participant chose and cut the pieces out of clear plastic found in a local quilt shop. I marked the pieces clearly and printed out directions for assembling the block. Then I placed the plastic pattern pieces, along with the three fabrics that would appear in each block in a zip-lock bag and labeled it with the name of the block and the participant’s name.
After everyone turned their blocks over to me I embroidered their names on the block. On our very first family quilt I put all of the names of their immediate family (husband, wife, children) on the block. On the following ones I only embroidered the family member’s name who turned in the quilt block. After putting the names on the blocks I decided on the layout. I chose one of the three main fabrics for the backing, purchased batting and began the process of putting the quilt top together.
When our first family quilt was done there were still four of the older family members alive who quilted. We were so fortunate to be able to share many days with them at the quilting frame set up in my Aunt’s dining room. We marked the quilt top after securing it in the frame for quilting and enjoyed good times, good food, and much love creating our masterpiece! My Uncle had a habit of counting the stitches put in my Aunt’s quilts and he was there to enjoy this new endeavor, counting the stitches and retelling stories of his youth that we all loved to hear over and over again.
When the quilt was finished we had one of our big family Sunday dinners and raffled off the quilt. To cover costs of the three main fabrics and the batting we charged everyone $1.00 for each chance to win the quilt. We allowed one free chance to everyone who had participated in the quilt. We put all the names in a hat and had one of the children draw the name of the winner. We have done three family quilts in this manner. There are three families in our large family that are the proud owners of these family quilts. All of the old-timers who were there to help with that first quilt are no longer with us but we can look back with fond memories of those great days spent in their presence creating something of beauty and usefulness.