Sunday, March 25, 2007

Generational Connections

I began quilting in 1985. There was a Women's Day magazine article by Eleanor Burns about making a quilt in a day (see But I've always known how to sew. In fact, I took a sewing machine to Milligan with me in 1967. Sewing was a bit second nature because of my mom. In fact, my mom's 1948 Singer Featherweight is all packed and ready to go to my Lawndale workshop tomorrow evening.

I have vague recollections of my grandmother Eloise White quilting. They are similar to the ones I have of my great-grandmother Mary Merganthaler Sheehan crocheting a tablecloth. Perhaps it was 1955 when I accompanied Grandma Eloise to town (North Judson, Indiana) to get some fabric for a quilt she was working on. More tangible is the quilt I have of hers. It's pieced and quilted by hand, and the batting is visibly smaller than the quilt. How could she have put all that time into a quilt and then skimp on the batting? The answer I'm making up is that she simply wanted to get it done and move on to something else, and getting proper-sized batting would have slowed her down.

In January 2007 my parents came from lunch, and my mom had this quilt-top with her. It's a Postage Stamp quilt (all pieces are 1.5" squares), and all hand-pieced. It had been handled so many times that the edges were all lettuce-y. Many of the seams, especially on the outer 3 rounds, had been quickly and carelessly pieced. And every time someone handled it, seams had come undone. My mom and I both concluded that this was an unfinished quilt of my grandmother's.

Earlier this week my aunt Elizabeth White, the widow of my dad's younger brother, my Uncle Leonard, was in town with my cousin Jerry White and his family. My parents were also here for lunch. And of course I had to show Grandma Eloise's quilt. And you know what? My mom and my aunt both agreed it wasn't Eloise's quilt - it was my aunt Jean White Gill's unfinished quilt. Turns out my dad brought it back with him from Everett, Washington, after her death in 1995.

My aunt Jean was my mom's age. She was someone who doted on me and did special things with me when I was a child. We took a motor trip together in 1962, driving through the Smoky Mountains and to Washington, DC. When she and her husband moved to Alaska in the 70's, several of my White cousins - John, Jerry, and Jim - spent their summers there. She was quite the character.

I've always said quilting connects me with an American tradition and an American sisterhood. Quilting now deepens my connection to my grandmother and my aunt. I know why I quilt, and I bet they quilted for some of the same reasons. Quilters talk about their UFO's (unfinished objects). What a pleasure to finish my aunt's quilt.

1 comment:

Donna L. Holt said...


It's no wonder you're so passionate about quilting. You must feel very proud and affirmed. Congratulations!