I remember the first time I picked up a needle and thread. I was at my Great Grandma's in Alabama on vacation with Momo and Papa. I watched my Great Grandma and Momo work on quilting pieces all week and I wanted to try.
My great grandma found me some old square scraps of fabric and showed me how to piece them together. I remember being told to face the pretty parts inside and sew along one side, then you could flip it open and you had a pretty line connecting the two pieces together.
I wasn't able to thread my own needles at the time.
I could only do one standard stitch at a time and the length of the stitches were uneven and nothing close to straight.
I would look at the stitches my Great Grandma did to show me how it was done. They were tiny and completely straight. I couldn't fathom how she did it. I spent the majority of the car ride back to Ohio stiching together blocks of teal, magenta, green, and black in the backseat trying to emulate my Great Grandma's stitches, more than once stitching a block on with the wrong side out. My Momo showed me how to make a 4 piece square because I was stitching the blocks in a singular long line. I was amazed at what I was creating. I was maybe 8 years old.
Momo continued to provide me with fabric, but moved me from sewing blocks together to the art of quilting. She would give me pillow tops to quilt. She showed me how to pin the fabric together to make sure puckers didn't form and how to place a quilting ring. I gave up trying to use the quilting ring though because I needed to feel where my needle was going and I manipulated the fabric more than the needle back in those days. Simple, single stitches, but I loved how the design would raise up from the fabric and I especially loved how the stitches looked on the back on the plain fabric. I was hooked. I quilted everything I could get my hands on and luckily Momo had a cabinet full of fabric that I could use at my disposal.
Quilting is a family tradition. I learned on my last visit to Alabama that my Great Grandma used to quilt for extra money for the family. She showed me where, in the dining room, Great Grandpa had put up a board where she could hang the quilt from and she would stitch that way. She laughed when she told me that she got paid $15 for what would equal a Queen size quilt. She said that was a lot of money back in those days but I don't think she realizes just how much work she put into those quilts. The HOURS.
I remember growing up and watching Momo quilt in her basement with her friends. She had a quilt rack that took up a large portion of the basement, but it held the quilt so that it could be worked on in the best manner. She and her friends would spend hours around the quilt, each person taking an area, and they would gossip and laugh and tell stories as their quick little fingers created a piece of art work. I would be sitting in the corner playing with my dolls, occasionally getting up to see the progress, but being comforted by the talk and laughter of the women quilting.
I was lucky enough to get two handmade quilts made by my Momo. One for my high school graduation, an Americana themed beauty, and one for my marriage, a traditional double wedding ring. I love the fact that not only did Momo work on this, but also her friends that I grew up with, Jeannie Bell, Nonnie, Laura, and Mary had a hand in creating these treasures. I used to be able to identify their stitches. Momo's are very uniform, just like Great Grandmas. The only thing that gives away that it wasn't done by a machine is the slight variance of the line. Jeannie Bell's are sometimes a little long...usually this happened when she was on a roll talking and Momo and I used to laugh about this. I love having something that her hands made.
The love that goes into the making of a quilt is usually overlooked. It is quickly becoming a lost art form due to the convenience of quiet, quick sewing machines...not many people are willing to put in the amount of hours required to finish a hand made quilt. Momo logged her hours on the king size double wedding ring quilt she made me....over 400 hours. That is like working 40 hour work days for 10 weeks. That is a lot of time. I will treasure that quilt forever. It makes the 40 hours I put into a baby quilt look like nothing...or the tie quilts I have been making that I can knock out in 20 hours...one good weekend.
I look down at my own hands and see the signs of my recent quilting...the small nub of hardened, punctured skin on my right middle finger, a similar mark on my thumb. I rub it constantly throughout the day. Everytime I do I think of the tradition that has been passed down to me and how proud I am to be carrying it on. I hope I get to pass it on to someone.
I went over to Momo's last night and mom and I went into the basement to look at the totes of yarn that Momo has that we are going to donate to a local women's group that makes afghans for hospital patients to make them feel more at home. She and I discussed Momo's quilts and what would happen to them when she and Papa were gone. Momo recently finished a quilt that is intended for Joe when he gets married. It is complete except for the bindings...I told her I would finish that for her. Mom and I picked out another double wedding ring quilt to put away for Jake when he gets married. It is important that everyone in the immediate family gets a quilt made by Momo's hands. So very important that they can feel her after she is gone. To be able to wrap yourself in a quilt and feel close to her again. Amazing treasures that don't mean much to most people, but mean the world to me.