My grandmother was accomplished in all manner of needlework. She could knit, crochet, tat, embroider and sew beautifully. My mother bragged that her mother would go window-shopping, then come home to draw up a pattern and make one of the outfits that had caught her eye. Growing up, I remember Grandma’s dainty doilies and tea towels scattered around our home. Mom often bemoaned the fact that, unfortunately, she did not pick up any of these talents.
Grandma was born in Wishram, Washington in 1909 and died in Colville, Washington in 1973, leaving behind loving memories, grieving hearts and many of her beautiful creations. Some of these were unfinished, including a quilt-top pieced from scraps of vibrant-colored fabric she had used to make clothes, curtains and other gifts for her family. For this quilt-top, she had chosen the gorgeous Grandmother’s Flower Garden design. My mother placed this, along with other items, on a shelf where, as so often happens, it laid for many years.
Much later, when my daughters were in their teens, they showed an interest in sewing. Mom found the quilt-top and brought it to us, hoping they could finish it. However, it was far too difficult for them. I took it to a friend who quilted but it was beyond her. Next, I took it to a quilting group. They, too, said no. There were two main concerns. Large basting stitches held the many small pieces together, making it necessary to restitch everything, a daunting task for a full-sized quilt. Also, matching fabric was no longer available to finish the pattern, and one side in particular was uneven. Discouraged, I took it home and put it on a shelf where, again, it lay for many more years.
In 2011 my mother turned 78 and we wanted to give her a special Christmas gift, something memorable. The long-forgotten quilt-top came to mind. Could we find someone to finally finish it? My family and I shot ideas back and forth over the telephone. We hit dead-end after dead-end. Then one sister remembered a young lady in Colville who had a quilting machine and was starting a business. I talked with her and she was willing to at least look at the top though she wasn’t convinced she could do it. My dad, who by now was as anxious as we were to see this done, went with me to her house. We pulled it out and after examining it, she said she was sure she could do it and would try to have it done for Christmas. We were less than a month away.
Incredibly, she completed the entire quilt before Christmas. She had stitched over every piece in a lovely pattern, matched fabric closely and found backing that looked very vintage. It was beautiful. After so long, the quilt was finished at last.
Christmas Day was everything Christmas should be. Family came together to my parents’ farm in northeast Washington State, looking forward to the surprise that awaited our mother. The shouts and laughter of grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from outside where they played in the snow, sledding on the back hill, having snowball fights and dodging the dogs who insisted on joining in the fun. Inside the warm house, the marvelous smells of baking turkey and spicy pumpkin pies permeated the air.
At an appointed time, we told Mom we had a present for her from all of us. We steered her to the dining room table, atop which lay a large white box. When she was seated in front of it, everyone gathered around. Looking first around the table, she cut the tape at the sides of the box and lifted the lid. Anticipation hung in the air. Peeling back the tissue paper, she froze as she stared inside, then gently laid her hand on the lovely, colorful quilt. With tears in her eyes she whispered, “This was my mother’s.”
We held on to that moment, so heartwarming to every one of us.
We pulled the quilt from the box and unfolded it to reveal the handsome design. Mom delighted in pointing out pieces of fabric she remembered, and we joined her.
“This yellow one was on the kitchen windows.”
“You had a blouse made from this blue one.”
What a precious time this was indeed, a Christmas to remember.
Today, the quilt is displayed on a specially built, intricately carved wooden rack in my parents’ home for my mother to enjoy every day. So lovingly pieced together by my grandmother those many, many years ago, the quilt has finally come home.
(originally published in The Silverado Express, December 2013)