Monday, June 23, 2008

I Wish the Quilts Could Talk

I've been working on a little project. I found a quilt top recently when I was looking through some old trunks at our farm. My MIL left three trunks filled with all manner of memorabilia--old greeting cards, scores of crocheted and tatted doilies, embroidered pillowcases, gifts---all sorts of things. I've left them largely untouched for our two married children if they ever wanted to go through them. So far, they haven't. Too little time; too little room for more stuff; too much stuff of their own. Anyway, we've kept it safe for them.

But, when I found that quilt top, I talked to my precious daughter and said, "hey, why don't we enjoy this; I'd like to display it." Of course, she said. Anyway, I've been preparing it for a wall hanging in our farm house. I already have one quilt hung in the dining room, and one quilt top hung over the bed as a canopy; they are just beautiful works of art to me. This much smaller top will be just right for a wall in the front room. I sewed a sleeve on the back of it and purchased a wood dowel to run through the sleeve. I will cap the dowel with finials, and it should be ready to hang without stressing the quilt.

Anyway, while I was sewing that sleeve here at home, I decided to check on a stack of quilts that were safely--I hoped--stored in an adjacent closet. I began pulling them out and inspecting them, and taking pictures. So many memories and so many questions.

If you have quilts, do you think of the hands that sewed those tiny stitches? Do you wonder when they found the time---was it when the babies were napping, or when the peas were all shelled? Was it after the laundry was done, or when the table was cleared of supper? Do you wonder what they talked about? Was it my MIL and her MIL talking quietly about the activity in the fields or at church? Was it a group of friends who gathered for lunch and an afternoon of quilting? Did they tear up all the worn-out clothes and save even the tiny scraps? I wish those quilts could talk.

I photographed about ten quilts, I think. The oldest one that I can document is one my grandmother quilted for my father in 1936. She embroidered his name and the year on it. I think she died the very next year, at age 54. Another old one is the pink and blue appliqued one; still another is the friendship quilt that includes initials of my MILs friends on each square. I believe most of the quilts were made in the forties and fifties. Some quilts are beautifully arranged with like colors and definite patterns. Others are clearly utilitarian. If there weren't enough of one fabric to make the lining or the squares, another was substituted.

Some of those quilts have been used often; they are worn, and there are weak places in the fabrics. Others appear never to have been used; perhaps they were being saved for harder times.

Oh, I wish those quilts could talk. I wish they could tell me how the crops fared that year and whether the rains came in time. I wish they could tell me if there was money left over to buy a couple of lengths of fabric. I wish they could tell me who made the neatest stitches or who was the biggest gossip. I do wish those quilts could talk!

Pieces of My Quilt

If quilts could talk
I'd like to think I'd hear just what they'd say,
"I'll hold you close within my folds and wipe your tears away.
I'll keep you warm and give you strength to face another day."
If quilts could talk...

If quilts could sing
I'd like to think I'd recognize each tune,
The lullaby or funeral dirge or wedding march in June.
Both sweet and haunting melodies I'd listen to them croon.
If quilts could sing...

If quilts could write
I'd like to think I'd read the words they'd pen,
Of life and love and motherhood, of mystery without end.
And, oh, the drama they could share of everywhere they'd been.
If quilts could write...

If quilts could pray
I'd like to think I'd feel each heartfelt prayer
Of thankfulness or great concern for those within their care;
Petitions to a loving God - the One who's always there.
If quilts could pray...

The quilt of my own life
Finds voice to talk, sing, write, and pray,
As it weaves a hundred stories in its own eclectic way.
And with each stitch of grace and hope my legacy is built;
All fragments finally made a whole...
the pieces of my quilt.
~ Lucinda Secrest McDowell, 1998

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