Friday, May 7, 2010

The Sewing Room is the Gathering Place... Generations of Quilting

I began quilting at around age 8 when I helped my Mom to tie a quilt.  I begged her to teach me to sew, and when I was around 9 or 10 years old, she began letting me use the sewing machine.  She started a 4-H sewing club and became our teacher.  My younger sisters also began sewing as they became old enough to join 4-H. Some of my favorite memories are of spending time in the sewing room getting our 4-H projects ready for the county fair, making Christmas projects, sewing our own clothes, then later prom dresses.

One particular Christmas dance, my date had arrived, and my new dress was still not done!  My date had to sit downstairs with my Dad while we hurried to attach the sleeve and turn up the hem and sew it! My sisters were giggling—I was mortified!  It took me several weeks before I could “look back and laugh” but now I love that memory.  Turned out to be one of the funnest dates ever.

Growing up in the 70’s, most of the quilts we made were tied. I slept in a cold upstairs bedroom in our old Idaho farmhouse, with a hot water bottle under a stack of these quilts, and maybe a little sister or two. Then my grandmother began to hand-quilt whole cloth tricot quilts for wedding gifts, and I remember sitting around grandma’s quilting frames hand-quilting with relatives and neighbors. I also recall visits to my fraternal great-grandmother in Star Valley, Wyoming, where her sewing room on the back porch was always filled with stacks of little squares ready to piece. I later learned that everyone in town would bring their scraps for her to piece tops for charity quilts. She was in charge of church charity quilts for over 50 years.

When I graduated from high school, my Mom gave me an old black Pfaff 130.  I took several sewing courses in college, including a Dress Construction & Design class, which helped to set me on my sewing path.  I designed and made clothing for myself, and eventually for my kids and even made a jacket for my husband.

When my triplet daughters became old enough, I enrolled them in 4-H and became their teacher, just as my mother had done with my sisters and I.  It was a great way to teach sewing skills, keep them busy, and it was something that we could all do together.  A couple of the girls struggled with school, but everyone was on level ground in the sewing room, and each child could achieve success.  Needless to say, we spent a lot of time in the sewing room!

It was shortly after my mother's funeral in 1999 when my sisters and I discovered a bag of unfinished log cabin quilt blocks.  It would have been her first pieced quilt, but it became mine.  She had cut all the strips for the blocks, and a portion of them were started.  I took them home to finish, and cried with every stitch, but it also became a healing process.  I tried to make the blocks using the seam allowance she started with - so skinny!  I'd never sewn with such narrow seam allowances!  Now I consider that it was she who taught me the perfect quarter-inch seam allowance.  I finished the quilt, had it machine quilted, sent it to my sister to put on the binding, then we gave it to my Dad for Christmas the following year.  I was hooked!

When my daughters were 13, we all joined a “block of the month” club at our local quilt shop. Soon we were winning blue ribbons and sweepstakes prizes at the county and state fairs. A quilting demo even took one of the girls to a national 4-H competition. We also enjoy making quilts for charity together. These are usually tied quilts, a warm hug from our family to someone in need.  With all the quilting at our house, it was a logical step for me to get my first longarm machine.

This is a new generation of quilting. I think every woman has the inherent need to create something, and can find great satisfaction in the process of quilting. But the days of setting up a quilt frame and having the neighbors and relatives drop in to hand-quilt is somewhat of a lost tradition. We don’t have the time, the room or the relatives to come help "put a quilt on", so to speak.  Today, it is becoming more common for us to quilt with our checkbooks. (That's right. You can bring your unfinished quilt tops to me, and I will do the finishing for you!)

For me, finishing the quilt that my mother had started was a healing process; a way of reaching out and connecting with her, as well as the other women in my family who have gone before. I often think about them when I am sewing and quilting. These women would have LOVED all the new toys and gadgets that have revolutionized the quilting world today - rotary cutting tools, longarm quilting machines like mine. Some days I can just feel them looking over my shoulder!

I love the fact that my daughters (and occasionally my son) quilt with me. The sewing room is the gathering place in our home, as it was for my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and so on. The legacy continues and the circle rolls on when one of my kids says to me, "Hmm, I think I'll make a quilt..."

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