Friday, February 1, 2008

The Saga of the Texas Star Quilts

This was the scene in my living room much of January. The quilt is Lizzy's Texas Star quilt which I started in the summer of 2003 and in my wildest dreams didn't think I'd ever actually finish. I got the crazy idea to make each of my girls a Texas Star quilt from a library book. In the story the mom pieces a quilt (in about a day--obviously fiction) then holds a quilting bee. The book ends with the last quilter leaving while the first snowflakes gently fall and the whole family snuggles under the quilt--made from start to finish in less than a week. I should have known better; but I fell in love with the idea of making my girls Texas Star quilts. (We were living in Texas at the time.) I knew it would take longer than a week--after all I was making two and I wasn't really a quilter. (I had made a baby quilt.) I thought something more like six months. In a flurry of excitement I picked out a pattern (there are actually a lot of quilts called Texas Star--incidentally I chose one of the most difficult) and the fabrics and started cutting.

Many nights were spent cutting with my good friend Lara. Actually, it was over this quilt that Lara and I became good friends. It was on one of our first nights cutting that Lara announced that she was expecting her first child. I was already expecting my third. We ended up some nights talking more than cutting. Sometimes I don't think Lara ever bothered to take the fabric out of her bag. Then we had our babies and there were fewer free nights to get together. And then I moved out of state and I had another baby and the quilts just became one more expensive project I knew I'd never finish.

Enter Linda. Linda was a woman in my ward whom I liked but didn't know well. She has raised nine kids scattered across the west. We had talked about getting together to sew but never found the time until a couple months after Will was born. It had been one rough summer. Bill was never home, all four kids were always home. The house just got messier and messier and it felt like all I did was sit on the couch and nurse and yell at John because I was nursing and I couldn't chase him down and put him in eternal time out where he belonged. To add to all this, or because of all this, I was having strange allergies and my eyes were almost swollen shut and my vision was so bad I couldn't read. And then Linda came by and offered to help with my quilt. I remember when she dropped off the 12 stars sewn and ironed. They seemed miraculous. It was the perfect gift. She had given me hope. Linda moved shortly after that.

Still, the quilt lurked under my bed in a plastic bin for a year. Until Jenn found out about it. Jenn is one of my two wonderful running partners who is willing to run at 5:30 in the morning. During the week of the wildfires in October, she called and mentioned she was quilting and I mentioned that I had some unfinished quilts. She said, "Can I help, what about tonight?" I think I was busy that night but the next night she came over and we sewed and sewed till 1 a.m. and lo and behold we had all the stars finished. That's when I realized maybe I could finish the quilts in time for Christmas. Now we still had a lot of work to get the tops ready to quilt but with Jenn's help and my mom's we were ready to go by the second week of December. Jenn set up the quilt in her garage. I really have no idea how many people helped with that quilt. I helped when I could but I wanted to keep the whole thing as a surprise. And it is hard to get away from four kids. But Jenn makes things happen and the quilt was finished in less than a week. I decided with Christmas right upon us and a few other things to keep everyone busy that I would give Zoey her quilt finished and wrap Lizzy's unfinished and tell her that she could help quilt it.

And that's what we did and since the quilt was at my house and not Jenn's and I'm not quite as driven, it took almost a month to finish it. But while the quilting frames in the family room drove Bill crazy, I almost miss them. I loved having an excuse to invite people over. I loved it when on occasion I would come home and find a friend waiting to quilt with me. Almost no one who helped--including Jenn--had ever hand quilted before. And almost everyone was surprised by how much they liked it. It is nice sometimes to do something slow and steady with your hands. Jenn said that as she quilted she felt connected with her ancestors. I definitely felt more connected with the women I worked with and women in general. Nothing quite compares to the conversation over a quilt. Perhaps it is because you are not looking directly at each other that you open up. Lizzy loved it. She tried quilting for an hour or so and then she decided it was more fun just listening. I was telling a friend this (as we quilted of course) and she said she did the same thing as a kid and it's a shame girls don't have more chances to listen to women talk. It's an important part of growing up. She may be right.

I can't say how satisfying it is to see my girls wrapped up in these quilts. They are literally cloaked in the love of so many women over so many years. This last photo in currently the background on my computer screen. I love to look at it. I can't quite say what the whole experience has meant to. It has definitely given me momentum. I'm dusting off other unfinished projects, it has given me new friends and deepened existing friendships. It has made me want to do more to serve others. Still i don't completely appreciate the significance of these quilts. For one thing the story goes on. One of my neighbors who helped with the quilt came by the day Jenn and I finished it and asked if we could help her finish a quilt her grandma made more than 50 years ago. We've already bought the fabric. The quilting continues. Thank you to all of you of put in a few stitches.

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lettieb said...

First of all, you are such a good writer. Second, how fun to have a quilting bee. For a long time one of my favorite movies was "How to Make an American Quilt" and your experience sort of reminded me of that (it is also a book and I can't remember which I liked better.)
congratulations on finishing though! I have more unfinished projects than I want to even think about!

Gina said...

I wish I could quilt with you! What a great story. Your girls, especially Lizzie, will always remember sewing those quilts.

kim & co. said...

That brought tears to my eyes as I read your quilt story. There really is something so beautiful about a group of people coming together to accomplish something. Wish I could come quilt with you as well.

Mitchell Family said...

Lettie, Thanks for the praise. I actually found this blog hard to write. It was hard to do justice to all the people who helped and say what it meant to me and yet not make the blog too long. But if you have unfinished projects maybe you know what it meant. Maybe you'd let me help you finish one of yours.

Gina and Kim, This will sound funny but I feel like you guys did work on the quilt. As we worked on it, I thought of all my friends scattered across the country and I knew which ones would--if they could--have put in a few stitches. Consider yourselves honorary quilters. Ruth

Linn said...

Ruth, I love how you write! I want so much to invite myself to be a part of what you are doing, but too scared about my quilting abilities to actually do it. You are fabulous! Thanks for sharing and the quilts are just amazing.

Hammy said...

I'm inspired. The quilt I was cutting out while you and Lara were working on your Texas ones is all peiced except the border. I don't know why I stalled on the border. I'm going to get it done before Mother's Day!

Isa said...

I will forever remember the one little patch I did...It was so bad I took it out and did another...during that night you did promise to help me finish a little quilt for my niece...Jenn (of course) just brought me the pattern and now I KNOW it will happen. I am glad to know you Ruth.

Crafty Mom said...

I am so glad I got to be a part of your girls quilts. I loved just being around all the wonderful women who helped and I know your girls will enjoy those quilts for a long time. Maybe I will get ambitious and make a quilt of my own.

SpyderDoc said...

I knew it! Lara always said she was going to scrapbook or quilt or whatever, but I knew she was just going to talk.

I guess I have no excuse, that is what Bill and I really went to Six Flags to do. Did he ever tell you about the protest rally outside the entrance?

Totally understand your attitude about the quilt frame. However, you must admit it makes a pretty good fort! I'm sure John and Will would think so.

LuAnnH said...

Great job! I've been looking for the templates for this Texas Star quilt. Do you know where I could find them?