A quilt with stories

When I was a girl, I read a book called Hitty, First 100 Years — the story of a doll as it passed through the lives of different generations. That came to mind this morning when I was making my bed and pulling up the quilt that I use as a bedspread.

Greek Cross Quilt
This quilt was pieced by Aunt Anna, my grandmother’s generation, back in the 1920’s. She told her niece-in-law later that she pieced quilts when she should have been having a life.

The quilt front went to her niece-in-law, M., when she died. It wasn’t really useful yet, since it hadn’t been quilted. It got put in a box that went into the attic and sat there about 50 years.

The box stayed in the attic until M organized a great clearing out — her children came, including me, her god-daughter. The box was opened and people ooh’d at this and 2 other quilt fronts from Aunt Anna. But then what to do with them? The daughter and daughter-in-law had other quilts from the attic and didn’t want 3 unbacked quilt fronts. They suggested taking them to Good Will where perhaps some avid crafts person would find them.

I asked for them because I know a quilting circle at a church in the country. Most of the members are in the generation after Aunt Anna, in their 80’s now. They get together and quilt from September through May to make money for trips they take together. They told me I’d have to provide the backing, the quilting material, and the quilting thread, but then they’d do the work. One person commented that the quality of their work varied — some were better at it and some saw better than others. But to me, that was part of the draw.

I took the three quilt fronts to a quilting store. I was amazed to find that whole stores exist with fabric, supplies, and advice to help people make quilts. The owner asked if I wanted plain muslin for the backs. I said yes, if that’s what Aunt Anna would have used. But it turns out that her generation used plain muslin mostly because it was cheap, not for any aesthetic reasons. And there were such pretty 1920’s period fabrics in the store.

Red Square QuiltOne of the quilts came back before Thanksgiving. I wrapped it up for my daughter as a Christmas gift from my mother who financed the venture. The next was very far down in the priority list and didn’t get finished until right before the end of the quilting season next spring. By then the quilting circle was getting tired and starting to talk about not taking commissions from outside any more.

Now I have my quilt on my bed. Often I wonder what Aunt Anna would think of it, whether she would consider it ‘having a life’ to have given pleasure two and three generations down.

The moral here is that we don’t know the full impact of our actions. We can say words that people seem to ignore that come back later to shape what they do.

I think of young man who came through high school well in spite of horrible things happening at home. When asked how he did it, he remarked that a 6th grade teacher had expressed great faith in him. I’ll bet she never knew what impact she had.



Filed under Extraordinary people, Meaning, Savoring, Stories

3 responses to “A quilt with stories

  1. I enjoyed this story of quilts that come down through the generations. I read Hitty, too, and had almost forgotten about it. You’ve made me curious to see if our library has it. I agree, we never know who will be influenced by our actions…generations from now.

  2. Delightful. Thanks for the story relating, Kathryn.

  3. Kathryn

    Mary Emma,
    In case it’s helpful, here’s the full information about the book:

    Field, Rachel (1929). Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

    It has an entertaining dedication page:

    This book is dedicated to the state of Maine and Abbie Evans.

    Children’s books go in and out of fashion, so you may not find it on the shelf. I started building my own collection when I realized that. I was in a middle school library when they were weeding out Margot Benary-Isbert’s The Ark and Rowan Farm – books my children both enjoyed, but others apparently didn’t think to check out. What a loss!

    Senia – thanks!


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