Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Butterfly Quilt and How It Came to Be

Mom's butterfly quilt, handed down 2016
"Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that--one stitch at a time taken patiently and the pattern will come out all right like the embroidery." --Oliver Wendell Holmes

A treasured quilt it is, one handed down to me from Mom's collection following her passing last month. I'm sure every quilt has a story--starting with the artist seamstress that stitches it, the choice of fabrics, the reason for choosing the design--but this butterfly quilt made with antique handkerchiefs has special significance for me. And a generational story.

For, you see, three of the handkerchiefs (first row, middle and right; second row, yellow, left) originally came to the family by way of a young American soldier serving in France during the Great War, World War I.

Charles and mother, circa 1917

The young man was Charles, my paternal grandfather. We don't know if he mailed the handkerchiefs ahead or carried them home with him--in jacket pocket perhaps or steamer trunk?--but we do know the intended receiver. He purchased them for his mother. I like to imagine how she must have cherished them, special mementoes not only of a son's love but also of his safe return. How many nights might she have cried into a handkerchief over her worry and concern for him? Went to the mail box to watch for letters?

The handkerchiefs eventually came into my dad's possession, and Mom, the quilter, often talked of using them in a quilt pattern somehow. So strong was her desire to make the quilt, she and I visited a couple of antique stores once trying to find more handkerchiefs to fill in the number needed.

Fast forward to the present, and the finished product. Isn't it beautiful? But I found out something more about this quilt and the hands that stitched it.

We writers have a special relationship, don't we, with our writer friends, critique partners, writers' groups? So, too,  I found, do quilters. I had occasion to talk with one of Mom's quilting friends, Pat, at the funeral and learned that Mom's butterfly quilt was a joint project. Several sets of hands worked on it together, along with my mom.

"Oh, yes," Pat said. "We often met down at the Golden Hobby Shop (German Village/Columbus OH) to quilt. There were seven or eight of us that quilted the butterfly one. You know, we always loved getting together. We all were like sisters. We laughed together, shared our worries and our joys with each other, supported one another through many things." Days later, Pat even mailed me the quilt pattern magazine that the 'girls' drew their inspiration from (June 1990 Stitch 'N Sew Quilts)!

Grandpa could never have imagined the expanded joy his handkerchiefs would bring--not only to his mother, but also to a group of ladies many years later who loved each other and who then made it possible to pass into the hands of another generation those same handkerchiefs in a unique form. No, he was more the 'pick-up-a-wiffle-ball-and-play-with-the-kids' kind of guy. Nor, I'd guess, would he have been aware of the amount of work it takes to create such a quilt. Pat tells me that it can take 300 hours to stitch a regular-sized quilt, 400 hours for a queen-sized spread, 500 hours for a king--and the process can use as much as two football field-lengths of thread. That's a lot of stitches!

Thus, quilters take their needles and work at their pattern, much like writers take their words and work their patterns, too.

Do you agree with Mr. Holmes when he says, "Life is like that--one stitch at a time taken patiently and the pattern will come out all right like the embroidery"?

With love, support, dedication, and courage...caring for one another and cheering each other on...generation to generation...it will be so. The beauty of a quilt is proof of it.


  1. It is a beautiful quilt and a wonderful story! How blessed you are to have this bit of history to cherish. I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your mother. My thoughts and prayers will be with you.

    Stay warm and safe this weekend!

  2. Thanks, Karen :-) Appreciate your kind words, and glad you stopped by. Hope you don't get too much snow tomorrow!

  3. I'm sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. What a lovely quilt. And I adored the story associated with it.

  4. Your words are much appreciated, Rachna, and I send caring thoughts back to you, knowing you recently lost your father, too. Take care :-)

  5. I love quilts. I have one made by my great grandmother. It's too small for our big beds, but we use it at Christmas beneath the tree. I also have one made by my husband's grandmother, given to us (posthumously) as a wedding gift. We used it for a long time until it became too fragile. I can testify about life being like a quilt because I made one once. So many hours, I sat watching my toddler play while I made a quilt for his bed. Both quilts and writing draw together myriad experiences to create a new pattern. Your mother's quilt will be a source of fond memories for years to come.

  6. So you're a quilter, Peggy! Even if only once :-) I think that is such an amazing craft--all those tiny stitches, the art in the pattern, etc. And quilts are such a metaphor for life in general. I love the symbolism. And yes, I'll treasure Mom's quilt for sure. Thanks for stopping by. Always great to hear from you. Hope this new year brings you many joys!

  7. That is a beautiful story, Kenda. And what a treasure that quilt is. So many hands and spirits involved in its creation...

  8. Amy, thanks so much for coming by! It's so good to hear from you. And of all people, I know you appreciate the family history and 'threads' (pun intended!) that carry through the generations. You are the archivist of our family's history (Mom's side) and we so much appreciate the work you do :-) Sending you love, dear cousin, and wishes for good things ahead.

  9. This was a lovely post. I think all these traditional artistic crafts do have stories behind them. The intertwining of lives, the time-traveling of personal histories to a distant past. This quilt will be one of the great "heirlooms" in your family.

  10. Thank you, Elizabeth, and I love the way you put it, 'time-traveling of personal histories to a distant past.' It is time-traveling, isn't it--by way of imagination! That's one reason writing is such fun. Thanks for stopping by :-)