Saturday, December 06, 2008

140 Tradition . . .

This week's Sunday Scribblings' prompt asks us to write about tradition.

When I was 15, my grandmother sewed a quilt for each grandchild, hand piecing the tops despite her arthritic hands. Mine was vividly colored, Grandmother’s Flower Garden. I loved that quilt.

I have read of quilts made to mark the way along the Underground Railway, but this may be a combination of memory and myth. Log Cabin, Bear’s Paw, Ocean Waves, to me, these names spoke of our history. I could imagine women quilting in cabins across the plains and in the Pacific Northwest; some quilts evoke the home country left behind (Irish Chain, Dresden Plate), or mark the poignant passing of one generation to the next (Wedding Ring, Grandmother’s Flower Garden), or inspired by the Bible (Jacob’s Ladder, Rose of Sharon).

Everywhere we travel, I look for quilts. They speak to me of similar dreams and love of color, history, and family. In Egypt, elaborate quilts are still made in an open air market that once were traded along the Silk Route. African warriors wore Fulani stars quilted into their cloth armor for protection. From Japan, we see quilt patterns with dragonflies, fans, lanterns, kimonos, and Torii gates. From Alaska, quilt designs highlight the wilderness with bears, eagles, mountains, trout and the forest. And in museums I see quilting and appliqué that women have created for thousands of years to embellish their clothing, blankets, and wall hangings.


I’ve often been asked why I quilt.
Sometimes my hands hurt
from cutting fabric
as the scissors slice through bright colors.
Why would any one dedicate
so many months to make something
that can be so easily bought?

I first began to quilt
in memory of my grandmother;
her stitches held together my family in ways
I couldn’t foresee. And when I left home,
I took her quilt with me.

Now I appliqué the edges,
turn the fabric again and again
into a pattern, inventing as I go,
the curved edges turning
into flowers light and vivid.

I think about the person I love as I stitch,
the person who will one day lie beneath this cover,
sometimes dreaming, sometimes weeping,
perhaps comforted by this quilt
that I have made.

When I am no longer here,
for that day comes,
perhaps who made the quilt
is not so important.
This quilt may comfort a child or two at nap time
or be put on the back seat of a car for the dogs.
My hands are content as I remember
my grandmother.

I’m just finishing the last bit of binding on this flower quilt for my cousin, adapted from patterns in Joyce M. Schlotzhauer, The Curved Two Patch System. You can click on the image to see the quilt more clearly.


  1. This is such a beautiful post. The story, the poem, the picture. I too love quilts, but have no sewing skills.

    You write with such passion.

  2. Beth, your quilt is breathtaking! And the poem is lovely. I still have and treasure a quilt made by my great,great-grandmother.

  3. Anonymous7:55 PM

    Very nice, I started one a couple of years ago, all hand work -- Grandmas Flower Garden - still working on it -- I started writing and now the quilt sits there - you inspire me to go back to it.

  4. Beautiful quilt! And a beautiful story and poem to accompany it -- a lovely treat to find here on a snowy Tuesday afternoon.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful writing and the picture of that gorgeous quilt! I love the colors in it.

  6. My mom quilts, I feel like it's a part of my heritage.
    Wonderful piece. :)