wife. mother. teacher. recovering scaredy cat
Recently, while visiting my grandmother, she asked to sit down with my daughter and me. Picture frame in hand, she explained that she wanted to give a gift to each of her five great granddaughters. My daughter sat puzzled as she examined the contents inside of the frame. I, on the other hand, instantly recognized the shapes beneath the glass. They were quilting patterns that belonged to my great grandmother. My grandmother explained that she found them years ago after her mother had passed away. Unsure of what to do with them at the time, she tucked them away for safe-keeping. Over two decades and five great granddaughters later, she decided that dividing fabric up among the girls would be the perfect gift for each of them.
A lump formed in my throat as I admired the shapes and remembered my great grandmother and her love of quilting. Fortunate to have several of her quilts, some of them over a hundred years old, I consider them to be one of my greatest treasures. Sewn together by her own two hands, her quilts are more than a work of art to me. Every piece of fabric and stitch points to a simpler way of life that involved time to sit and create. A time when attention to detail was of the utmost importance, and there was no rushing to finish a task. My great grandmother’s quilts remind me that life was meant to be cherished and enjoyed, and that every seam of it is being woven into a tapestry; a work of art in living color that reflects the sum of its parts.
Happy to see my daughter holding a relic of my great grandmother's reality, I was reminded of the memories I had of her sitting with fabric stretched wide on a rack. A wave of guilt washed over me as I wondered why I had never joined her. And in that moment, I suddenly felt as though the thread that had hemmed generations of women together had somehow been tethered. Despite the fact that I had come from a long line of quilting women, I had never been one of them. I thought of all of those summers I had spent with my grandmother as a child but never took the time to learn. And now all that was left to pass along to my daughter was a swatch with a story to tell. My heart sank with regret as I realized I had let something so special literally slip through my fingers.
My daughter happily handed the frame to me and thanked my grandmother for the gift. I knew that she was appreciative but could not yet understand at her age what a special keepsake she had been given. As I sat there, holding the weight of five generations of women, I told my grandmother that I was sorry that I never took the time to learn from her what she had learned from her mother. And that’s when she hit me with a life changing truth.
“I didn’t learn how to quilt from your great grandmother,” she explained.
In fact, when she was a little girl, her mother all but begged her to learn to quilt but my grandmother would have nothing to do with it. In fact, my grandmother didn't begin quilting until she took an adult ed class at a local high school. "We made a pillow top," she told me. "And I thought, if I can make that, I can make a quilt." I sat there astonished at what I'd been told.
The truth was that my grandmother learned to love quilting in her own time and in her own way. She went on to make at least thirty quilts for friends and family members; praying for them with every seam and reflecting on how much their lives meant to her. A wave of relief washed over me. The circle had not been broken. I was not the weakest link in a pattern of generational patchwork.
While I know that this busy season of working and raising kids will not provide time for quilting, I can look forward to the day that I might have time to learn. And in the meantime, I can still pass on to my children the values that these quilts embody such as the importance of hard work, attention to detail, and the beauty of slow and steady progress in life.
The frame of my great grandmother’s quilting patterns now hangs in my living room. One day, it will be passed, along with the quilts, to my daughter. She in turn will hopefully pass them down to a generation of women to come. And while those descendants will never know the women who fashioned those bedspreads together, they might be inspired to pick up a needle and thread one day and try a few stitches of their own. Either way, my prayer is the same, that they will view the fabric of their lives as an opportunity to create a glorious tapestry in their own time and in their own way. And that they will sew to their hearts content as they watch the beauty unfold.