Sunday, March 29, 2009

A patchwork of life

Yesterday, my sister and I went to a quilt show in Portland. Neither of us quilts, although we both do/have done our share of embroidery, crochet, knitting, counted cross-stitch, applique, and plain-vanilla sewing over the years. There were some incredibly beautiful quilts and other sewing examples, as well as kits, fabrics, crafty items, and things such as spinning wheels and "long arm" quilting machines available for sale and for demonstration.

The place was packed with young and old, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, siblings, grandchildren, and just friends. All were oohing and aahing over the incredible display of talent and investment of time and money that filled the room - a smorgasbord of color, shape, texture, and imagination. It boggles my mind to think of the hours invested in the hundreds of quilts that were displayed.

So, you might ask, what were you doing there if you don't quilt? Well, I would say, it involves a story (as so many things do!). Once upon a time, back during the Great Depression, my Granny had a WPA job that involved sewing. And because everything was so precious during those years, any scraps that were left over were given to the workers to take home. I envision scraps measuring in inches, rather than yards, but something that could be put to good use by folks who had grown accustomed to hardscrabble times.

And so the scraps accumulated, and eventually World War II was declared, the Depression ended, my father joined the Navy and brought his pregnant wife home to her mother - and the pile of scraps. Although my mother would eventually go to work for the war effort, her "confinement" was a time for being at home and doing homely things. Like piecing a quilt. At long last, the scraps had a defined purpose, and I can almost see my mom sitting at home in her mother's house, waiting for letters from my dad, waiting for her first child to be born, patiently measuring, cutting, and hand-sewing all of those pieces carefully kept by her own mother.

Eventually, this work measured more than 9' long and 6' wide, and was made up of 10" squares, each consisting of 16 individual pieces - all stitched together by hand. Eventually, too, my brother was born, my mother went to work at the local air base as a mechanic, and the work of her hands was folded up and put away. Over the years I'm sure she must have thought of it, but her life was busy and she had children to raise, work to do, bills to pay.

Last year, my sister pulled down a box from her closet, and together we marveled over the tiny, uniform stitches made by our mother's hand more than sixty-five years ago. I vowed that I would find a way to finish it, especially after my D-I-L Jr. told me that I have a "generational imperative" to do so! (How could I possibly not do it after that statement?!)

So yesterday, when we weren't staring gape-mouthed at the creations of others, we were talking to experts in the field of quilting, garnering information, encouragement, and our own share of those who marveled at this patchwork from so long ago. I'm looking forward to adding my own stitches to those of my mother, handling the fabric so thriftily gathered by my grandmother. And I'm hoping that Peggy will find time as well to sit with me on occasion and stitch her memories into this work of love.

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