A story in stitches

Half my life ago, my grandmother gave me something that until this week, I’ve never known what to do with.

My grandfather had passed away, and like so many people in similar situations, Gram needed to downsize. Both her sons lived in Alberta, and Gram was moving within minutes from my family and a Sunday drive to my uncle’s. For most of my life, I’d been within an hour of where they lived. I spent my vacation in  Saskatchewan helping her pack with much anticipation of once again sharing poached-eggs-on-toast whenever the mood struck.

I loved my grandmother. Once when my mom and I were fighting, she said “You’re just like her!”  I don’t remember what the argument was about, but I do remember that it ended as soon as I said “Thanks so much! I was trying to be!”  Mom didn’t dislike Gram, but she seldom won a debate with her either.

The experience of helping my grandmother pack for the move, however,  was one of the most painful in my life. She tired after every.single.box, but she wanted to be involved in every.single.box. The process took forever, and during it, we realized she needed some medical care that ended up with her in the hospital, while I finished packing her apartment in just a couple of hours.

It was stressful for her in a way I couldn’t understand then. I hadn’t matured into the same appreciation for history and memories as now, when I’m old enough to indulge in them myself.

She had so many stories to tell about the things she’d kept. Her perfect penmanship described in a single sentence the importance of each item, such as “My grandmother stitched this before I was born”.  That particular note was attached to pillow covers where frightful red stitches outline heavenly beings and the words “angels shall watch over thee”. But the covers were never hemmed–still haven’t been in fact, their frayed edges reminding me that I am ridiculously inept with anything involving needles and thread.  There was a crocheted cover for a bread tray. And, a quilt that had been made for their wedding in 1933. These are the things she entrusted to me.

The quilt, in a Dresden Plate pattern, is mostly hand-stitched although it may have been machine-hemmed.  Perhaps if I’d ever actually succeeded with anything involving stitches, I’d know for sure. At first I tried to display it on a wall, but it was too big to hang, and I didn’t like the look of it when it was folded. Then I thought I would try to give it to a museum, but no one was interested in my grandmother’s history the way I was. For two decades it stayed packed away in the linen closet.

This week, I decided that leaving it stored away would not have made her happy. Although it’s too small for the guest room bed, the pale purple trim goes well in the darker purple room.  I decided to put it there anyway, at least for summer when it is far too hot to have the feather blanket.

I am often in that room, one of my favourite in our home. There is a small television there that I prefer to watch when I’m alone.  I sleep there when my husband travels because it’s quieter. This morning as I drank my coffee, I wondered at all the stories stitched into the various fabrics. There is a bold red gingham print, and a much subtler green one. There are some crazy patterns I would never wear, nor can I imagine my Gram in them, but in snippets they add depth and interest to the quilt. Who wore that flowered print? Was that one of my great-grandfather’s shirts?

I can’t tell if each plate was hand-sewn or machine-sewn, though I think it was the former. I can tell that there were probably two people who stitched the plates onto the squares, since there is a definite difference in the stitches themselves.  How many hours were spent pulling thread through the fabric, I wonder, and what was discussed while it was done?

I know I would have hated the task, had it been mine. Absolutely hated it. I never understood the appeal of quilting, until a friend of mine created a collage that completely fascinated me—and is now one of my treasures.  I can now appreciate the art form, but I know it’s not a craft I’ll ever be drawn to.

Still, this old quilt charms me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to snuggle under it.  Gram died in 1997, and so often I simply miss her company. I can still hear her voice as I do things in the kitchen, and her matter-of-fact way of speaking comes out my own mouth sometimes.

This morning, I could easily imagine her arthritic old finger-pointing out the various snippets, telling me who it belonged to and what she knew of them. Now that I’m trying to write my own stories, I find myself wishing I’d paid better attention. I miss her.

Do you have anything that you keep close to remind you of someone you loved?  Tell us about it in the comments.

11 thoughts on “A story in stitches

  1. What a precious story. What a wonderful memory. I have quilts my grandmother made as well. Valuable beyond measure to me because she made them. She, to was a storyteller. A weaver of family history and myth. I am so glad you see that in you. Beautifully written. Humble, vulnerable. A quiet voice. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh Rebecca, thank you so much for your comments. This quilt wasn’t made by my grandmother–I think she was as averse to sewing as I am. It was made for their wedding by the people in their community. Isn’t it fun to imagine their delight as they opened such a gift?

  2. Every day I do my quiet time in my father’s old Lazy Boy recliner. I’ve had it recovered but the wooden arms bear the wearing-off from his diabetic hands. My last memory of him in life was him sitting in it. I was fourteen and I suddenly knew he was going to die. He passed away the next day. I loved him so, still do, and I often feel that he has his Daddy arms around me when I sink into his chair.

    1. I love that, Nancy. I used to have my grandfather’s chair, and I kept it until it fell apart, even though I’d had it recovered and rebuilt once. I love that you have that memory of him, and even more delighted that you have given me the honour of sitting in that very chair.

  3. My husband pastored a small church in a town in North Carolina. Many of the ladies of the church quilted and they all belonged to the Ladies Bible Class. One year they seemed to be meeting quite often to go out to dinner, or having a get together in someone’s home. My husband would tease them about how busy they were and how often they seemed to be celebrating something! Imagine his surprise when at Christmas they presented him with a lovely quilt with hearts in red as part of the design. They said, “It’s because we love you and your family so much. That was why we were meeting so often. We were not having parties, we were quilting!”
    If there is ever a fire in our home that, will be one of the treasures I will carry out first.

  4. When I moved to the town I am in, an invitation to a quilting bee allowed me to get to know some of the ladies in town. A lot of our squares were hand sown together but then we quilted the lines. Good memories. Thank you for sharing your connection to your grandmother.

    1. I think I would have loved the camaraderie, and hated the stitching. Seriously, I can’t sew or crochet or knit–I have too much tension in my stitches. Once, my dad sold a box of my attempts at a garage sale. He wrote on the box “sewing nightmares,” and then sold it for half of the original $2 asking price. I’m so glad you had a better experience!

  5. We are in the process of downsizing after 34 years in our present home. It has been a storm of emotions. When cleaning out a box from my own mother I her wedding dress from 1939 along with memorabilia from my Christening. The lady who ‘ staged’ our house for sale mixed crystal & Wedgewood from my mother with modern accents. Seeing my home reflect both my heritage & the present was both healing & emotional. Finding my grandmother’s pincushion & my grandfather’s pipes connected me with the same memories you experienced with the quilt.

    Thanks so much for your story.

    A Prairie Girl Writer

  6. I hold onto a worry stone from Great Grandma. Have had it since I was a little girl. I also hold some special things of Jessi’s too. Not a lot but enough.

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