Just before my Dad finished packing up to head to his new retirement place, we found the quilts. When we were kids, my sisters, twins, had had little bonnet-girl quilts on their twin beds, made by my grandmother. When I was just out of college, my mother began experimenting with quilting, taking cloth scraps from the hundreds of outfits she made for us and cutting them into identical squares. I remember visiting her with a boyfriend in tow. She sat him down, handed him piles of cloth squares, and put him to work, sorting squares into the order she wanted for her pattern. When she was done with that quilt — all hand made of 2-inch squares — it was big enough to cover a 1970s Cadillac.
The quilts were important to my mom, made with love. She did everything equally — always 4 of everything important. So, she had promised each of us a quilt. I remember her telling me she had a quilt for me, and my sister-in-law remembers that mom had made one for her and my brother when they got married in the 1980s. After mom died, however, my father never felt comfortable letting anyone have a quilt. No one was even sure where most of them were — until we opened the cedar chest.
We always knew where the biggest one mom made was. Hanging in Dad’s bedroom on a quilt hanger, turned inside out to prevent sun damage exactly as my mother left it 24 years ago, was the original quilt she made. That one went with Dad as his bed cover in his new home. Other quilts were surprises. There were two that had been embroidered with flowers and names by mom’s friends when she was young — Edna Mae, Dorothy Joanne , her sisters Josephine and Erma Lee. One was worn — obviously used and loved — and the other in perfect condition, and a SHOCKING shade of bubblegum pink. Another quilt was made of 1 inch hexagons in a ring pattern — a pattern the internet calls Grandma’s Flower Garden Hexagon Ring quilt, hand stitched and quilted. Another looked very old in a red and white pattern — perhaps from the 1800s. And finally, one looked like my mother’s first attempt at quilting, a smaller quilt in a blue and green pattern. In the chest were also some thick yellow and white wool blankets, and a crocheted blanket in blue and rainbow colors.
We each– all four of the adult children — took at least one quilt and blanket home. The crocheted blanket is on my bed, heavy and warm — and a little itchy — in the winter air. The ring quilt is on my daughter’s bed. We wonder who made each one. I wish someone had been able to pin a name on each one to show who spent the hours needed to do this handiwork.
Last night, as I read to my daughter at bedtime, she was looking at the detailed stitching– minute, hand-done — holding the hexagons together. “Look!” she said. “They missed the stitches on this side.” And indeed, on one yellow hexagon amid the hundreds of hexagons with dozens of tiny stitches, two sides were missing stitches.
“Maybe they got tired of making it so perfect,” I said. ”
Who even had time to do this?” she asked. I can picture my grandmother — or perhaps a great-grandmother — working on stitching the pics together while she chatted with friends. “My mom said that Grandmother Bounce would get her house work done in the morning,” I told my daughter “then she could hang out with her friends in the afternoon. Maybe she worked on it while she talked.” My father says Bounce really liked to talk.
This past year, I joined an art group for women. We often work on creating art pieces while e talk and go through exercises in the book The Artists’ Way. One day one of the women brought in an article about how hand-work increases women’s production of Oxytocin, the hormone that promotes closeness and bonding. We expend Oxytocin when we cuddle up with people, and we build it up by working with our hands. I can imagine one of my grandmothers working on a quilt or crocheting a blanket with a group of friends, building up the social bonds, and creating something that still keeps us warm today.