The Quilt of Life

How making quilts reuses fabric and keeps memories sewn in.

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“I’m so sorry, Grandma,” the young man said. “My dog climbed on my bed, and chewed the quilt you made for me. Can you replace the damaged squares?” His grandmother took the quilt in her hands, studied it, and then said, “I’ll repair the damaged squares, but I won’t replace them. Part of what’s special about quilts is their history.” 

Sure enough, 20 years later, long after the dog had passed on, the man said, “Grandma was right. When I see my quilt now, with the repaired squares, I remember my beloved dog.”

This delightful story was told by Linda Wentzler, Manager of Village Quilts, of the small Amish town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania where Larry and I recently visited with my brother David and sister-in-law Jane. We also met Lorraine Zimmerman, quilting by hand, a lovely, exquisitely-designed quilt.

Lorraine charmed us with her thoughts on the meaning of quilts…not just the art and history of them, but the philosophy of re-using vintage fabrics from clothing of our own and from that of the people we love.

The quilt Grandma Holey made for me brings back warm memories of my childhood. There are squares of checkered pink-and-blue cotton—from the only matching dresses my sister Twila and I ever had…sewed by our mother. There are squares from the flared, lavender, princess-style dress I wore for the graduation concert of my high school choir. And there is the blue dotted Swiss I wore on a date with Larry.

The photos show Larry’s heirloom quilt made by Great-grandmother Burns, and my quilt made by my Grandmother Thena Western Holey. On November 21, the Langhorne Council of the Arts, here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is sponsoring a “Gathering of Quilts,” not only to commemorate vintage quilts, like Larry’s and mine, but also exciting, creative, modern-day quilters or the area.

Our grandmothers probably never heard the phrase “Go Green!” but in many ways they were very “green.” In fact, their carbon footprints were so small, by today’s standards, they were microscopic. Our grandmothers bought items sparingly and re-used them whenever and as long as possible. They didn’t use hundreds of plastic bags a year, like most of us, and many probably never heard of Styrofoam.

And fabric? They designed, sewed, used, re-used, and handed-down their own clothing and that of their husbands and children. And when the clothing became ripped or out-dated, they didn’t throw the fabric away. They cut it up, stitched it together, and made quilts from it. Amazing quilts. Soft and comforting quilts. Warm. Practical. Quilts that were works of art (although most people didn’t realize this until decades later).

Hmmmm. I’ve never made a quilt…but I do have some fabric from clothes of my loved ones. Do I have the talent and patience to make a quilt? I’ll admit it. Probably not. But what about a pillow? Yes, I think I could make a pillow. Is there still time before Christmas? 


Feel free to email me your environmental tips and questions!

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