Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Quilt


The fabric in old quilts is different from that in new quilts. I don’t know if the weaving was done differently or if the fibers just get old. Maybe like my own hair they dry out and change texture. It’s sometimes hard to decide whether to combine the two when making a quilt. Should I be true to the quilt, or let impatience rule. Usually my goal was to finish a project quickly I wondered whether to just be picky and go with what I had each time.
I’ve really gotten excited about quilting. It’s something that has passed haphazardly down the generational line in our family. I have a quilt made by my grandparents and aunts, my mother, and several of my own. I have one that’s over a hundred and twenty years old made by my husband’s grandfather. I hope my children continue the love and tradition of making and collecting quilts.

But this quilt venture was different.
I drove into the driveway on 5th west. The old brick house held many memories for me. I wondered how many ghosts still roamed in the apple orchard. Grandma and Grandpa are long gone. Charlie and the sisters mostly, too. Only Lane and her husband live on the other side of town. The house was being torn down, sold to the Medical Center across the street for doctor’s offices.
The key was the old fashioned one I remembered from childhood. People, the cousins and grandchildren, had been through the house looking for treasures and memories from their own childhood. I remembered the little bedroom down stairs, next to the old coal bin. My mother and her three sisters shared it. They had one cupboard with four drawers, one for each of them. It had a place to hang their two dresses each; a winter one and a summer one. It makes my life look so cluttered in comparison.
Upstairs was the tiny bathroom my grandfather built. The girls were so excited when they no longer had to trot out to the back garden in the middle of the night. My grandfather locked the door at ten o’clock and once or twice Mom and her cousin had to sneak into the house through the bathroom window.

In my mind I could see the laundry that Grandma use to hang on the clotheslines between the apple trees, the sheets billowing in the breeze. The lines were also used to hang the rugs on to be beaten clean and the quilts to air on a warm sunny day.

In the kitchen the old range that had replaced my grandmothers black wood-burning cook stove, was cold and lonely looking. It seemed like I could still smell the pot roast with carrots and potatoes, fresh home made bread, and my favorite, chicken soup with hand made noodles.

I found the box in the closet of my grandmother’s dark bedroom. I remember being frightened of going into that room. Now I could see it was the dark wallpaper and furniture that gave it an oppressive air, not my sweet grandmother. How had everyone missed this treasure, I wondered. Inside a cabinet wrapped in an old white cotton sheet were the quilt blocks. There were twelve of them in the pineapple flower design. Grandmother had loved it when Bella, the oldest had taken them all to Hawaii, and wanted to make a quilt to remember the trip. They were white and the colorful fabrics of the 60’s. I stroked the fabric lovingly, sensing the soft powdery feeling of my grandmother’s cheeks in the vintage fabric. How should I finish this quilt, I wondered. I wanted to find vintage fabric to keep the integrity of the quilt this time.

Taking one last fond look around the house, I walked out to the large front porch. My brothers use to sit out on the wall surrounding the porch playing an identification game. “I see a 1952 Ford” said Jay, “There’s a 55 Chevy” jumped in Dale.“ “A 58 Pontiac”! Not wanting to be left out my sister and I chimed in. “I see a red one.”

Off to the right near the irrigation ditch was an old Jonathan apple tree. Many times Ann and I crawled up in that tree and ate the green apples, watching the ants climbing the branches and the bees darting through the leaves. Childhood! Sometimes I miss it.
As I drove home I thought about the quilt blocks I had found. Where would I get Vintage fabric to finish my treasure?

Looking on my computer for vintage fabric I happened on an EBay website. This might work. Surely someone had old fabric to sell. I had to laugh when I saw some of the fabric. This “vintage” fabric looked familiar. I had used some just like that to sew clothing in my college classes. I even still had some in my “fabric stash” (which every quilter collects.) How had I forgotten that? Well for one thing I never thought of myself as Vintage. I was off to the attic to explore.

For the next few days I sorted and chose, washed and cut. I was ready. I laid the blocks on the floor to arrange them. Usually with twelve blocks I would do three rows of four blocks, but this didn’t show the pineapple flower. Eventually I decided on an arrangement of two rows of six blocks, which made a nice table runner. I added a purple border and began to quilt. The ghosts of my grandmother and her children watched over my shoulder as I sewed. I could hear them laughing about the funny things they did on that trip, the good time they had.

I wrapped the finished quilt, carefully folding the ends in and mailed it to my niece Leigh. She would be the holder of my grandmother’s treasure. As I looked slowly around, I wondered if I would complete another circle. Would I return to my roots-- an apple orchard?