Although I don’t have a comforter, I own 2 store-bought blankets, one of which is the infamous, 70’s polyester indestructible f***ing pink blanket, reserved for outdoor movies at the Hatch Shell in Boston. The other is a more conventional cotton number that is on my bed, but before you start a gofundme for blankets, know that I am not bereft of warmth, and that I don’t need to depend on my occasional night hot flashes. What have served as my blankets and bedspreads (do people even use that word any more?) and, yes, comforters?
Quilts. Specifically, ones made by my grandmother and my mother. Most of them are at least 30 years old, but there are a few younger ones. At least one, what we used to call a car blanket, is older than me. You put it in the back of the station wagon to pad the four kids rolling around back there unbuckled on long car rides. Then we pulled over on the side of the road to eat bark in caves. Go ahead and laugh, I’m still alive and use it as a picnic and beach blanket.
My Memere passed away in 1994, and my mom is now 88 and has Alzheimer’s and has lost a lot of her sewing ability. But I still have their quilts, and by proxy pieces of their happiest moments. As a kid my Memere made us summer quilts and winter quilts. When I was a teenager, she took requests, and I asked for with one with horses, which I still have. I received a larger one as a wedding present (it’s the one on the far right in the top photo). The marriage dissolved at the 20-year mark, but the quilt is still around — a little worn in places, but it still works and still has the tiny stitches Memere lovingly sewed all those years ago. Then my mom picked up the quilting bug, and so I have a smaller fun quilt she made that folds into a pillow for those trips to see movies at the Hatch Shell. She made it after coming with us a few times when she visited. She was so excited to find the pattern. It’s a perfect annex to the pink blanket, and more recently has started to serve as a warm place to sit in my wood floor for meditation. Then when her grandson came along, she showered him with several baby quilts and then a quilt for his “big boy” bed. As a teen, he got another quilt with colors he picked himself.
My mom found a bunch of quilt tops Memere never finished, so she started on those. Those are amazing twofers because they have the stitches and love of both. My favorite is made up of Memere’s handkerchiefs. Back in the day no respectable lady was without a handkerchief. She had many of all designs — scalloped edges, birds, flowers, and even states. After I divorced, I changed out my wedding quilt for the handkerchief one. When I moved last year, I noticed that some of the delicate handkerchiefs had holes and were worn. I told my mom, and she still had some of Memere’s handkerchiefs and sent them to me in the mail.
My preferred fiber arts activity is crocheting, which Memere also did; despite my rich legacy, sewing for me is a utilitarian skill — buttons and small holes primarily. For a good year, I looked at the quilt and then looked at the replacement handkerchiefs, felt fear in my heart and then picked up a book or the remote and told myself I’d tackle it another day. So many tiny stitches all in perfect straight lines or perfect curves! So many tiny stitches. I liked the idea of adding my stitches, but I also didn’t want poor Memere to roll in her grave when they came out all big and uneven. My mom continued to encourage me and tell me it didn’t have to be perfect, which is easy to say for people who make perfect stitches. I knew she was right, though, so I started asking her about the steps, and what I had to do. Finally, I took a deep breath and dove in. The easier part was removing the damaged handkerchiefs. A seam ripper and several episodes of Modern Family are all you really need and are quite cathartic. A little more challenging was picking new handkerchiefs, placing and pinning them and sewing around the edges. I started that last winter and just recently finished. I bought some time by declaring the summer too hot to work on a big quilt that has to be spread on your lap.
I rested on my laurels a bit, but those darn seasons keep coming and soon it was winter again, and I had to stare down the barrel of the actual quilting — this is the free-form thread that either follows the along with the pattern of the fabric or can just be an outline of an object like a heart. Unlike the stitches around the border of the handkerchief, which are not the focus of the quilt and can hide on the sidelines, the quilting itself is like the front and center cheerleader, at the top of the pyramid, doing a split. Did I mention I favor crocheting? But my mom kept telling me to not worry and just put the stitches anywhere and have fun. I told her I might even use bright, colored thread, just for kicks. She was delighted. On this snowy Presidents Day I took the plunge — making the initial “L” for mom and Memere’s names (Lorette and Lumina), and then I’ll spell out Memere and Mom. Wish me luck (you can already see “Memere” ain’t gonna fit in that space)!
So while the handkerchief quilt is being repaired, I put my old wedding quilt back on the bed, but it too was fraying and in a way that is not as easily repaired — “easy”! Ha! While I have a decent quantity of quilts, only those 2 fit on my queen bed. Just buy one, you might say, and I might say, after all this time, I’ve been spoiled and am a handmade quilt snob. I’m not putting any mass production quilt on my bed — it might give me hives — or heaven help us a “comforter,” which is hot and heavy, and not in a good way. What can I say? I’m a delicate snowflake flower.
Then I thought of my aunt who caught the quilting bug and does beautiful machine quilting. She laughingly declares she doesn’t have the patience for hand quilting, and after quilting the letters “L” and “M” today, I am totally in her camp. In our little quilting world, machine quilting is on the edge of blasphemous, but I’ve seen her work, and it’s stunning. I also love her passion and that she is carrying on the tradition in her own way. I thought I might commission a quilt from her.
Before I could though, my sister said she had a quilt that mom made that never really fit on her bed, and that it was actually making her sad because of mom’s decline. Was I interested? She sent me a picture.
It was perfect. It’s my mother’s Quilting Opus — made of 56 squares that feature a different quilt pattern, with fabulous names like log cabin, bear’s paw, crazy house, and windmill. So the quilt made its way to me — no hives, just gorgeous, artistic comfort.
And the trading doesn’t stop there. My brother has a few decorative quilts my mom made to hang on the wall, and when I moved to my current apartment, he gave me one that he didn’t have room for. I’m still deciding on the perfect spot. I’m sure as we reconfigure our homes and lives, we’ll continue to trade, swap, and share the quilts.
In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of crazy quilting to do.
Photo: Left to right, my sister’s weding quilt, the handkerchief quilt, and my wedding quilt.