One of the first encounters I had with quilts as an art form was when I was about 10 or so. I remember in the foggy way of a several-decades-old memory just snippets of the experience. Walking through the pavilion hall with my mother and aunt, we browsed the hanging textiles as though they were in a proper gallery. A quilt hanging from a rod in blues and greens with tricky bits of appliqué creating a Monet-type scene in the soft light is really the only image that comes vividly to mind. I remember feeling so impressed with the intricacies of the little bits of fabric. There were an applique frog and a few butterflies in the bottom corner.
Now I doubt very much that as a 10-year old I even remotely thought of quilts beyond their function for warmth, but this image of this “Monet” quilt has stayed with me throughout the years. In my own home, we didn’t own very many special handmade items outside of my father’s woodworking. And though I was taught to sew at a young age, neither my mother nor I had the patience for me to learn then. I was always artistic and made something crafty on basically a daily basis and was allowed to accumulate a load of supplies, but it mostly didn’t leave my personal space unless it was destined for a school project or gift.
In my younger years, my aunt’s house was where all the crafty things lived. She scrapbooked, stamped, cross-stitched and quilted. Almost every time we visited together little projects were created. Her home was layered with handmade goodies. It was she who took us to the quilt pavilion at the fair browsing for ideas in real life as I now do on Pinterest.
As a teenager, I still loved to make all the things, but sadly, as teenagers do, lacked an appreciation for anything I saw as old-fashioned, quilts included. It wasn’t, unfortunately until my aunt’s funeral in October 2009 where I had another important encounter with a quilt. This time, it was one that she had made all laid out on the reception table in the church where her funeral was held. I stood next to my mother as she grieved her sister and best friend surrounded by family and stared at the quilt. Grief makes me hyper-focused. Perhaps it’s just a method to tune out all of the hurtful things, block the sensory overload in a way, but I looked at each block in the quilt with strict attention. A large throw comprised of twelve blocks each with a little house scene in the center representing the four seasons. My cousin approached and told me that my aunt had just been working on that one, but had grown too ill to quilt it and add the final touches, a little packet of beads and buttons to add to the scenes. Each block was made from just one basic house pattern she had tweaked to create the different homes and seasonally distinct blocks.
My aunt was 54 when she passed away from cancer. My mother was 59. She passed away a little over a year after my aunt on January 27, 2011. They were best friends and sisters and they did everything together, even dying from cancer.
Grief is strange. It is hard, long, and ever-changing. As I write this, it is the 10 year anniversary of my mother’s passing and I am crying right now. But as much as I have grieved, I have grown. I have been busy raising my children, renovating my home, running a business, and becoming a teacher. And, guess what?! I learned to turn those little bits of fabric that long memorized me into my own pieces of art.
This summer I got a call from my cousin. Her and her family were moving to a new city and she had come across a box of her mother’s half-finished quilts. She said she couldn’t throw them away (of course) and couldn’t donate them without knowing if they’d ever be finished, but she couldn’t take them with her either. Would I take them? Could I use them? Would they finally get finished? Of course, I said yes. We met in a Staples parking lot, socially distanced, to exchange the boxes.
On my way home, I thought about all I had written above. Crying down the highway and thinking of what should become of the quilts. Then I had the idea to finish each piece, adding the necessary parts and pieces to make them whole and sell them for women’s cancer charities in the name of my aunt and mother. A celebration of craft and life, this is the beginning of a year long series for me where I will work through the Lana Bates Memorial Quilt Project and all seven of the blocks and half finished quilts she left behind.
The project will be divided into quarters giving me three months to complete one or two of the quilt tops. At the onset of the quarter, I will write about my plans for the project, list what I have to work with and what I need to accomplish, and showcase the block or top I will be working on. With help from my cousin, in the second month, I will give an update on my progress and share what is known about the project’s history or other details and anecdotes about my aunt’s love of the craft. For the final post of the quarter, I will share the completed quilt, where it can be purchased, and what charity will benefit from the sale. I believe I will run each quilt sale for ten days the same way I have run the Quilts for a Cause quilts in the past, selling each through eBay for Charity and having the proceeds donated directly following the sale.
I spent a little time organizing my thoughts and making a spreadsheet to keep track of what I have to work with and when I think would be best to complete each project. Here is the plan:
For the first quarter, since I am easing back into my more fulltime work schedule now that my kids have gone back to school, I want to take on something on the light side. I am still trying to finish my virtual artist residency materials and some home remodeling as well, so a project that I feel already has a clear direction and a lot of pieces already created is perfect. In one box was a quilt as you go project with a lot of the backing and applique already cut and partially pieced. I am calling this the “Spring Florals QAYG,” and it will be my quarter one project. A full intro about the project will follow next week.
For the second quarter of the year, April through June, I anticipate having my schedule worked out and other obligations fulfilled and having more time to create and quilt. In this quarter, I will be working on two spring like projects, incorporating several of the blocks from the box. I will quilt and finish the small pinwheel wall hanging as a stand alone project. I’m not sure if I will add anything too it, or let it speak for itself. The second quilt will use the row of birdhouses and the large expanding four patch block together with a bird quilt block I plan to purchase to finish the quilt to a throw size.
Quarter three is always busy outside of the studio because it falls over the summer when the kids are home. I also am drawn to the garden and vacations if I can get them and don’t have as much time to sew. For this quarter, I will be completing the Four Seasons House Quilt, which just needs finishing, the button details and perhaps an extra border around the outside. I think I may be able to stitch the buttons on while I sit in the garden, which would be a bonus way to complete the project.
Finally, quarter four will be another double project quarter as I believe I will have more time when it turns colder, the garden dies and the kids return to school. I will complete the Snowman Wall hanging which is almost completely finished, hand quilted, and everything. It just needs a border and some hanging pockets and should only take me an hour or two to finish. Yay for the quick wins! The second project will be the bear block as the center of a Christmas color quilt incorporating the green star block as well. Right now I am thinking I will make three additional stars in green and four bear paw blocks in red to help complete the quilt.
As I stated earlier, I plan to receive help from my cousin to tell more of the meaning behind the quilts, why my aunt may have chosen to work on them, and what she was trying to accomplish with each individual piece. We also plan to share some general information and stories about my aunt and her passion for craft, quilting in particular. It is my intention to show not only the meaning behind the work and why so many of us are drawn to create, but also honor her legacy and that of my mother.
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Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. Stay creative friends! Janice
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