There’s Something about a Quilt

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Perhaps you have a beloved quilt that reminds you of a grandmother, an aunt, or a wonderful event in your life?  My friend Linda Anderson says that the best Christmas present she ever received was the hand made quilt her husband gave her.  One of my nicest surprises last year came in the form of an e-letter with photos of three children perched on crib quilts. They had outgrown the quilts, the letter-writer told me, but they still loved them. “They are,” she said, “an important part of their childhood.”

So what makes quilts—and doesn’t the word itself flow mellifluously from the tongue—so special? Perhaps, it is their composition, the way they can offer warmth and comfort.  Perhaps they convey the message that as each piece of fabric finds its place, a quilter sews into her (or his!) work thoughts and hopes; the love for a grandchild, a wish for a sick friend’s recovery, a celebration of weddings and anniversaries and glorious vacations, or a memorial quilt which is made with sorrow for a loved one and a heartfelt appreciation of that beloved life.

Quilts come into being for warmth and also for beauty, and nowadays there are art quilts and crib quilts, prayer quilts and quilts made especially for our wounded soldiers.  There are quilts for special causes—just think of the Aids quilt which now has 48,000 hand-sewn panels within it! Quilts, too, have been created to commemorate loved ones in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease, and these beautiful, heartbreaking works of art convey both love and a great loss.

Quilts are also presented to nursing homes or hospitals and emergency wards for sick children or for premature babies. I vividly remember the young mother who once stood before our guild with her beautiful, healthy child—and a quilt. This quilt, she told us, had been given to her when her daughter was so prematurely born that it was feared she would not survive. The quilt comforted the mother during those dark days, and the thought that strangers cared enough to give her this gift gave her courage and hope.

Isn’t that a wonderful story? But sometimes an event so catastrophic occurs, and the quilter can only express her emotions with fabric. Many such were created to commemorate and mourn 911 and to somehow reach from desolation to hope. For me, personally, there was a journey to Japan shortly after the terrible Kansai earthquake of 1995. Dispossessed by the earthquake as were so many thousands of others, my Aunt Juliette was in her nineties and for many reasons could not come with us to the States. In the pleasant and caring nursing home where she now lived, she was ailing and not expected to live long.

This was the aunt who had taught me to sew, to embroider, to observe with mind and spirit the glory of the natural world. I was here to bid her a final good bye, and to say that I was broken hearted doesn’t even begin to touch what I felt. Afterwards I took a solitary walk through the town, hardly seeing where I was going until I found myself in front of a Quilt Store.

Perhaps it was habit that led me inside. There, the pleasant store owner greeted me, and for want of something to say I admired the huge, dramatic quilt she had hung on the wall. Worked in darkest grays, purples and blacks, it was scored with crimson slashes and appliquéd with silk teardrops. With tears in her eyes she explained that after the great earthquake she had been so disconsolate that she had had to create something… and so this quilt came to be. We spoke quietly together of our own quilts, of sorrow and loss, and I told her some part of the reason why I was in Japan.

When she heard that we were flying home on the morrow, she stopped me.  “You have come such a long, sad way,” she said. “Now I want you to take something home with you, something I have been working on.” She went into the back room and emerged with a bundle of cloth. I offered to pay, but she smiled and shook her head. “No, No,” she said. “It’s something from quilter to quilter. Maybe when you look at it you will smile and remember your Aunty.”

I carried the bundle back to our hotel and, spreading it on the bed, found that it was a cotton kimono in prime condition. Later I found that it very old, dating back at least a hundred years .

It hangs on my sewing room wall now, a reminder that we do not prize quilts  only for their beauty or for their skill or artistry but for that ineffable something that creates a bond of caring and love between those who give and those who receive, between friends and strangers alike.

The hand that stitches

A beloved offering

Gives more than mere cloth.

Partial view of the kimono

 

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About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

10 responses »

  1. Maureen,
    Thanks for including the picture of the kimono. I’ve never seen one quite like this. It is amazingly beautiful. The pattern is such that it makes me want to stay and pause, and contimplate. What a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

    • Hi, Joy–

      I love the poem you sent me! It shows that quilts have a mystique all their own, don’t you think? The kimono is really quite beautiful. Subdued colors, but lined in two shades of red cotton. I’ve been told that people in the ‘country’ wore these some decades ago. Really, a wonderful gift!

  2. Maureen,

    Thanks for another great post. What vivid memories–not all pleasant, but ones that make you appreciate life even more fully.

    Thanks for sharing my quilt comment. Many of us have special quilt stories. I’d love to see a collection of your poems combined with art quilts. What a lovely book that would be.

    I remember seeing my mom sew dresses and mock dress fronts for her three girls because similar dresses in the store were very pricey. I admired my mom for learning the skill to do this.

  3. Thank you, Linda, dear. You knew I would use your lovely story of ‘your special quilt,’ didn’t you? And really, I do believe quilts are special! So are hand-made dresses (like the ones your mom made) and beautiful wool creations. I think, perhaps, it’s the softness of cloth and wool that draw us into their warmth and make us love them….

  4. Thank you Maureen once again for the poignant memories, history, and experiences that work themselves with your hands and heart into those breathtaking quilts you create. We can extrapolate beyond quilts to include many types of handiwork that our relatives and friends have so lovingly made for us over the years to commemorate all types of occasions. The handiwork of my late mother Ruth Zion and my dear departed friend Roberta Netupsky along with that of my living angel artist soul mate Maureen Wartski continues to bestow blessings too numerous to mention. Thank you all whether here or in the great beyond.

  5. And thank you, my dearest friend, for your very kind comments. Your mother’s and your late friend’s handiwork are treasures indeed. I have several tablecloths made by my aunt which are my own personal treasures. Someday, I will pass them along… but not yet!

    • I am so glad that your quilting friend made you some lovely mats! There really IS something fabulous about quilts, isn’t there? The work, the beauty, and all the love. Thank you for reading and for responding to my post, Lisa… that means a great deal to me,

  6. Dear maureen, i am late replying to your story about quilts. it is so poignant and i thank you for writing of this heart felt memory.
    i have been working on that big quilt i brought to Judy’s home..it is hard to wrestle this big piece into my home sewing machine, but i am gamely struggling to do it. i might never finish it by hand quilting. and i want to. to put it in the bed for summer…At 82 years old, i figure machine finishing is better for me to try to complete.

    it will be fun to see all our bee show our quilts to each other. perhaps for the front cover of this next cookbook i hear is in the planning stage.

    You wrote of the history of your own family in Japan. Each generation have their stories.
    now your making history with your own quilts,art works and writings.
    and as i remember the other members of our group and all the beautiful quilts they have made, i am so glad i have the happy realization, i am a part of this history. ,

  7. Oh, indeed you are, Donna, dear. The Jewel Box Bee is mentioned in “Quilt Life” where I had an article printed (February issue). Thank you, as always, for your kind comments! I treasure them and your friendship.

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