Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Friendship Quilt

Being a peripheral but accepted part of our Old Order Mennonite Community here allows for the most amazing things to happen from time to time. Last winter my husband eyed a quilt that some friends were making–a friendship quilt–and commented that he would like to have one some day. Well, my friend Anna picked up on that, told me about it, and we've been scheming ever since.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a crafty person, try as I might. Ten years ago I finally learned to knit, before our youngest son was born. Several finished–and way more unfinished–projects later (and a trunk or two full of yarn), I hope to pick that up again but I'm in no way a Zen Master knitter. Knitting has always seemed like a great wintertime pastime while watching television or visiting friends. Scrapbooks are another thing lost on me–besides, I think of my blog as a public scrapbook of sorts and I'm way more facile with a computer and camera than I am with a pair of scissors. I cook, can fruits and preserves (I fear the pressure cooker so have only ventured into cold-pack canning), bake and garden, too (but my green thumb needs a bit of remedial aid, as do my "domestic goddess" skills).

Once, long ago, I used a sewing machine. I jammed the bobbin and broke a needle. It was my mother's. Before that I owned (and still have somewhere, like the one above–this one care of eBay) a little Singer Touch & Sew Sewing Machine. It came complete with a sewing book, craft ideas and little sewing notions. I got it for Christmas back in the early 1970s along with a little pink woven sewing basket. Adorable. I liked the gadgets and the tiny functionality of it all but again, a seamstress it did not make. Before I moved into my first apartment and once in college I actually borrowed a sewing machine, that I did not break, and made a simple duvet cover out of two sheets, some curtains and some throw pillow cases. In fact, it was so easy, thinking back on everything, that maybe, just maybe, I'll tackle a sewing machine again one day. For now, that would require more time and a lot of patience–and a decent sewing space that isn't the dining room table!

But quilters! Oh my. While I've always been an admirer of those who quilt, I have no desire to learn. I am not a quilt maker but a quilt appreciator, a quilt patron, if you will. I've collected old vintage quilts from the 1920s and 30s at bargain prices, turn-of-the-century quilts with a particular provenance or sentiment, beat up quilts for future "projects," Amish-made quilts, and repro-style quilts that we use everyday (in fact, my husband for our anniversary just gave me a lovely quilt/bed cover that we got at the local Bread of Life CafĂ©–it is made in China, as virtually most bedding is today, but imported by a woman in Kentucky, if that counts–it is perfect for every day summertime use).

Last fall, Anna and I went to the Galilean Home's annual benefit quilt auction, held each October at the Galilean School campus in Liberty, Kentucky. I bought a few crib quilts, as I knew the quilter, and some throws and other quilted gift items. I was happy to do so as the proceeds all go to an excellent cause. [I will post some photographs from the 2008 auction in the fall, as promo for their next annual auction in October.]

Norma, Anna's daughter, called this a very "Catherine-ish" fabric. I bought enough to make an apron as I loved the berry theme–there are even gooseberries!

Another vintage style fabric for a future apron–this one is a 1930s feed sack reproduction from Darlene Zimmerman's Clothesline Club by Robert Kaufman (shown here on our new anniversary quilt)

Yummy harvest fabric for a fall apron–with enough fabric cut, also, for an everyday tablecloth.

One reason I love quilts, apart from the extreme skill, care and attention that goes into them, is because I love fabric (and another reason I love and collect aprons is because of the fabrics, old and new). I enjoy what goes into a fabric–the color, pattern, inspirations. Naturally I am drawn to vintage fabrics or reproductions but I also like the whimsical and farm-related and often pick those up specifically for "aprons I want to have made one day" (or make myself–and yes, I have many assembled apron patterns, too, as well as aprons old and new). I'm almost thinking cheap "beginner" sewing machine for Christmas (I saw one for less than $100 at Walmart and maybe it is idiot proof). But then again, I like to support our local economy and there are two Mennonite women I know who sew aprons as a side-line business.

So Anna's offer to coordinate a "Friendship Quilt" for my husband's next birthday in late December brings together so many things: women who enjoy and take pride in their quilting and sewing, my desire to help pick out special fabrics, an amazing gift for my hard-to-get-for husband (that I can also enjoy) and I get to go to my first "quilting bee." A friendship quilt has an interesting history in the Pennsylvania German community and they were, and still are, often made for women about to be married or moving away or to honor a special occasion. There are as many designs for friendship quilts as there are regular quilts, the difference being that everyone embroiders, ideally, their signature onto a panel that is pre-cut and sewn. Then the blocks are joined together and quilted.

This past Monday, a much needed "town day" in which Catherine drove four of my Mennonite friends into Somerset for errands, we went to one of our favorite local stores: Paul's Discount on old Route 27 north of Somerset. This store has it down: hunting stuff, guns, tools and hardware for the men in your life and a seeming acre of fabric and craft supplies for women. They also sell clothes and canning supplies (last month I got several reasonably priced galvanized tubs for misc. yard, garden and farm use and some smaller enamel basins, too, for canning) and old-time hardware stuff. Children also love to explore the place and there's free popcorn.

Much of their great variety of fabric is discounted to $2.25 a yard every month with a vast selection. Another good spot for cotton fabric at a reasonable price is King's Department Store in Liberty, Kentucky where I have often bought fabric for future aprons (lots of vintage feedsack-style fabrics) as well as good old reliable oil cloth for table coverings.

The six color groupings of red/tan, light blue, green, blue/tan, purple and pink that will comprise the star pattern on the quilt blocks. Below are the fabrics atop the quilt backing, border color, and muslins.

At Paul's, we spent over an hour–but a decisive one–selecting fabric for the quilt. I knew if we didn't go there first, my mind would be mush and I wouldn't be able to make decisions later on after so many other errands. Color and pattern is a visceral, immediate thing for me: I either know I like it or I don't. Greens are my hardest colors to get right and my preference is for the vintage 30s greens, the more utilitarian, rather than the earthy greens. We chose six groupings of three colors/patterns for a total of eighteen fabrics that will form, in groups of three, the patches. We chose light, medium and dark in each color tone of red/tan, light blue, green, blue/tan, purple and pink. I had a lot of help and suggestions but we chose quickly, as well as a muslin for the embroidery patch center and a patterned off-white for dividers. Also, we selected a frame color for the border, from a vintage Civil War era fabric, and a backing fabric with a cream background and a reddish floral motif. The total for fabric for a king-sized quilt? $125 (and all but one fabric was from the $2.25 a yard selection tables so we did well!)

The backing fabric, border fabric, and two off-white muslins will frame the colored patches and bring them together.

Most of all, this project will bring together over twenty-five families in the community whom we have befriended and know well or have done business with on a regular basis. Every family will get a patched star with a plain muslin center. They will write and embroider their names and add embellishments. Then Anna will piece the patches together into the quilt, put the filling in, then the backing. Finally, it will be quilted on top by the assembled women, likely at Anna's house this fall after harvest season. [As I don't think they will let me near their quilting area, as I do not know how to actually hand "quilt" either, I have offered to provide and cook a huge noon dinner for all of the women who will gather to do this–while they are quilting.]

When the pieces get patched, before they are distributed for individual embroidering, I will take more photographs and include information on the pattern itself (and certainly at the "bee" of busy hands quilting). Stay tuned.

I am overwhelmed with good feelings and the friendships we have made in our first full year here. When I have knit, I often imagine each stitch in a garment as a prayer or a devotion for the person for whom I am knitting. A quilt is joined together with the same benevolence. Above all a quilt is the stitching together of a community of women–it is both a gift and heirloom keepsake of comfort, color, beauty, warmth, security, blessings. And we are truly blessed.

NOTE: How am I going to keep this from my husband, you're wondering? Well, I'll trust anyone who reads this and knows him to keep it a secret but also, he still doesn't know–or care to know–how to turn on a computer!


Crystal Mudgett-Epley said...

I am so glad you have already made such good friends! We've lived here 4 years and, although I have known or known of this group of ladies, we've only recently become friends. It's good to have similar interests even if they are in complementary things (ie. fabric appreciation vs. actual sewing/quilting ability). Hopefully, I will finally get to meet you on the Ladies Night Out coming up!

Sheryl-lyn said...

I love your blog! I am a quilter and have a new one being pieced about every week or so. Don't always get around to the quilting of them (unless someone asks for one of them). I just cleaned my pantry this week too. That's on my blog!

Catherine said...

Crystal, I'm looking forward to the next ladies' night (I heard something about fondue pots?) and want to host one here in the fall...

I'm enjoying our FB connections and hope to meet you in person soon!

Best, Catherine

Catherine said...


Thanks for the nice words. I admire your quilting skills. It is truly an art form reserved for the patient, organized and gifted.

I will check your blog for those pantry pics, too.

I appreciate your coming by!


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