The patchwork was colorful and perfect. As a child, it kept me warm and safe, and served as the perfect picnic blanket on my bedroom floor with my toys. Each patch was a reflection of something else, a scrap of a bigger purpose. I studied that quilt with my eyes and my hands, so when I noticed that my Grandma’s pants or my Grampaw’s bathrobe shared the same fabrics, I knew that my Grandma had made those pants and that bathrobe, and that the colorful squares in my quilt were scraps from her other projects. The border and backing fabric matched my curtains, white with colorful polka dots. This quilt that was made for me by my Grandma with such love and care will stay with me forever, and it will be passed down through my family. That’s the thing about quilts; they stay with you.
I learned a great deal about sewing from an amazing crew of women in my life: my Mom, my maternal Grandma (Grandma Race), my paternal Grandma (Grandma G), and my paternal Great-Grandmother (Nannie). By some miracle, when I was born, I had seven grandparents: All four grandparents and three great-grandmothers. This by itself is amazing. Even better, they all lived relatively close-by. Better yet, they are and were all instinctively creative people. These women made things for the people they loved, and they have been an inspiration to me.
My Great Grandma Huwer is one of my grandmas who passed away when I was too young to remember. However, she sure had an influence on me, by way of handing things down through the generations. She crocheted potholders, pillows, and afghans for everyone. I asked my Mom about her, and she said “She crocheted hundreds of afghans for people. And thousands of potholders and pillows. I never saw my Grandma’s hands still… Always in motion, even when she was nearly blind.” Grandma Huwer’s daughter, my Grandma Race, sewed quilts, clothing, curtains, you-name-it, and was a wiz in the kitchen, always sending us home with pies, cookies, fudge, jars of jam, and canned fruits and vegetables from my grandparents’ garden. My Mom paints, sews, makes jewelry, and is a do-it-yourself-er just like her mom.
On my father’s side, Nannie painted pieces of china for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I (along with every other member of my family) have at least ten different pieces of china that she hand-painted for me. Nannie also sewed Halloween costumes, pajamas, dresses, doll clothes, you-name-it. I have the most beautiful china doll whose dress and body were sewn by Nannie and whose face and hands were painted by her. Grandma G sewed dresses, clothes, Halloween costumes, you-name-it, and also had a keen eye for decoration and a knack for gorgeous gift-wrapping. All of these women had green thumbs and a love for music, animals, and cooking, to boot.
Seriously. With roots like these, who wouldn’t get excited about… everything? I could write a book about these women, not to mention all the other amazing men and women in my family. An actual book. And I wasn’t kidding about getting excited about everything. It’s dangerous to let me loose in a craft store. For instance, I know I would love scrap-booking, crocheting and knitting, but I don’t have time for another hobby. For now, it’s me and …all my other stuff. Let’s focus on the sewing machine for now. I love to sew. I learned how at an early age, and one of the first things I sewed was a pillow. Pillows are a great place to start. They’re easy, you can pick whatever fabric you want, and they have a purpose. There’s hard evidence that your gift is well-loved when you see your brother sleeping on the Bugs Bunny pillow you made for him. It’s awesome.
Fast forward to 2008. My oldest brother Nick was getting married to Melissa in April. The wedding was in Hawaii where they had lived for a couple years at that point, and I decided that I would make them a quilt. With both people having strong roots in Michigan, on this new adventure in Hawaii, I had a lot of fun picking out fabrics. There was no particular color scheme, but each fabric was picked for a reason. A tiger lily print would remind Nick of his mom’s garden, a couple of gorgeous batik prints reminded me of Melissa, and I included a white maple leaf print to remind them of snow. A star print would remind them that the same night sky is above us, on nights of homesickness. Flowers and leaves native to each state, something green for Melissa, something orange for Nick. A beautiful pattern of blue waves would remind them of both the waves of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Great Lakes. I used a Quilt in a Day pattern from Eleanor Burns.
When I finished the quilt, I was so proud of it, and so excited to give it to them. And this was just the beginning. I made a quilt for our own bed in 2011, one for Chris’ cousin’s first baby Bella born in 2012, a wedding quilt for my friends Erica and McGuire in July of 2012, and a couple of patchwork lap quilts for my Mom and Chris’ Mom for Christmas in 2012 (not pictured). The most recent one I’ve made is for Nick and Melissa’s baby Maya, due this October. I hope that the people I love use these quilts just like I’ve used the quilt my Grandma made for me. They’re not meant to be hidden in a closet or kept safe from harm. They’re meant to keep you warm, and to remind you of the strong bond of family and friendship.
To many people’s standards, my quilts are elementary, at best. Yet, I am proud of my work, and I know I’ll keep getting better. Four of the quilts I’ve made were from recycled fabric samples I got from the furniture store I work at. When these furniture companies discontinue fabrics, the samples are often discarded, and I don’t have the heart to see them go to waste like that. The product of a product of a product of the Great Depression, I’m a life-long member of the Clean Plate Club, and we don’t let anything go to waste. Whether quilts are made from scraps or from a pile of fabrics bought for that purpose, it’s a beautiful thing. The history of quilting, the evolution of necessity and function to tradition and artwork, is really something to be a part of.