11 November 2009

Things Learned From My Mother: Thrift

When I was a little girl, sleeping in the wrought iron bed with brass finial balls that is now my daughter's, I slept under a quilt that my mother had made. It wasn't anything complicated, just 4" patchwork squares. She quilted a lot, my mother. She made pillows, and clothes, and blanket-like quilts out of old wool suiting backed with fleece. The summer before I went to college, we made a quilt together. Mostly, I made it, with her guidance, but I think of it as something we did together. Again, it was nothing fancy, a rail fence pattern made with 2" x 6" rectangles, shades of blue anchoring each patch. It's not even quilted, but merely tied with white wool - a tie at each four square meeting.


That quilt is now on my daughter's bed, that self-same iron bed I'd slept on when I was her age. Because it was made from fabric scraps of many vintages, including fabric from my childhood, and from my mother's, some of the pieces are failing. Every so often, I cut a handful more patches, iron the edges, and contemplatively appliqué them into place. If I'm feeling fancy, I'll do a little crazy quilt embroidery in a contrasting color, but mostly I'm just trying to fix the holes and keep the decay at bay.


Over the weekend, I realized it was beyond hand-sewing - there were far too many holes, split seams, frayed patches. Someone else might have thrown in the towel and headed for a department store for a cozy new comforter; I headed for the sewing machine. Casting tradition to the winds, I machine-appliquéd new rectangles, and machine-darned some of the seams, sewing all the way through to the backing.

Even as I was doing it, I questioned my sanity. But I have to keep fixing that quilt. My initials are on the corner, and my initials are the same as my child's (though I see some broken stitching in the "M" which I ought to address). It's her quilt and mine, and my mother's too, and it wraps us in memory and thrift.

31 comments:

She She said...

How lovely that you have this remembrance and this gift to pass on. Beautiful.

Harriet said...

Beautiful. I have inherited several quilts. Two -- a heavy, flannel-backed nine-patch made of squares cut from worn out blankets and suit fabric and an intricately patterned gorgeous cotton quilt -- were made by my great grandmother on my father's side. The third, also cotton, also intricately patterned but less delicate than the other, belonged to my grandmother, but I'm not sure who made it. Probably her mother, who was an incredible seamstress. All three date to at least the 1940s, and possibly earlier. Consequently, some of the fabrics are decaying. I'd like to repair them, but I don't know much about quilting. Do you have any suggestions or advice?

heidi said...

Imagine how many sleepovers that thing has been to! And all the dreams it's seen... the gripe-free munchie runs, the rainy afternoon tents...
I would do meatball surgery to keep it alive too. xoh

jo(e) said...

What a lovely piece of writing. I too would do what I could to preserve that quilt.

alejna said...

I was really moved by this, Magpie. Beautiful.

Bee said...

This goes way beyond thrift . . . it's one of your precious things.

I volunteer at Jane Austen's House and we have a quilt that she made with her mother and sister!

ann said...

How wonderful you posted a picture! I remember this quilt! Many memories of fun sleepovers at your house. Now I see firsthand how so few young people know how to do anything with their hands (well, except texting)....creating something is a joyful moment in life.

Cold Spaghetti said...

I love this. Interesting that you labeled it as thrift, which would have never occurred to me. Enjoyment and value of something personally made, and a skill acquired, speaks much more to me than anything else.

Throw it out when thread bare? Never.

Bron said...

Darn - another reminder that I never learned to quilt. I think about it a lot but cannot figure out how to start. I'm overwhelmed when I look online. Any good book suggestions? I collect pieces of fabric in the hopes that I will start one day and then I never start.

There's a hilariously expensive quilting store near me, up the street from a hilariously expensive knitting store. It seems to be for the rich around here. How nice to be reminded that the thrifty do this too - for good reason. :)

flutter said...

this is so so charming

Carol said...

I love quilts. There's something about them that seems to piece together old and new - bringing in the comfort of old, familiar things like dresses long out grown and blankets long loved bare. A quilt is more comfortable to sleep under than any other bed covering. I own several.

When I was a child, my mother began a project of trying to restore an old, old family quilt which had been damaged by fire many decades before. I don't think she ever finished, but I hope she picks it up again. Quilts are meant to be passed down.

ozma said...

This is very cool and inspiring. It makes me a bit sad because I lose EVERYTHING sentimental.

But somehow I end up with t-shirts from 25 years ago. It's kind of tragic and absurd but it hurts alot.

I digress. But this little post has so much meaning I think. One, it makes me think of your mother, making something and how it will be cherished. Like a little moment in time she had, and effort passed down to you. Two, it makes me think of how our actions are so much more powerful than our words. I am a words person, as you probably guess. But this kind of inspires me to be more of an action person, in what I want to convey to my daughter.

mayberry said...

That's beautiful. My son as a pair of quilts originally made for his dad and uncle, and I just love that.

Hip Mom's Guide said...

I love your quilt & everything it stands for. Good work - in lots of ways!

YourFireAnt said...

Maggie, you did it again. You must owe me a giant economy sized box of kleenex by now.

I just nominated ya too.

T.

Furrow said...

Well, good grief! Of course you have to keep repairing it!

I have an old quilt made by my husband's grandmother that needs repair, and I don't know what to do at all.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

She will treasure this even more when she can give it to her daughter.

habanerogal said...

Be sure to keep this safe later on I would suggest hanging it but treasure it. My husband's mom used to quilt and we treasure all of the pieces she made they all included parts of clothes that the kids and she wore further tieing in the memories

kathy a. said...

oh, this was never a fancy quilt to be displayed; it is a beloved quilt, to comfort.

there is one i made for my husband about 25 years ago. my son used it for many years. i always meant it to be used, but pieces are disintegrating now. you have given me such encouragement to just go repair them, applique something over the tired parts. and it need not be fancy or hand sewn, just a repair.

xoxo

Renovation Therapy said...

Love this post! Mend & fix and keep on snuggling.

abby said...

as long as you can find a way to mend it, keep on mending! how could you not?

Gwen said...

I envy you your ability to sew and quilt. I think the quilt is lovely! Also lovely? This post. Your writing always blows me away.

susansmusings said...

Thrift? Hmmm...I'm thinking this wonderful quilt is more about saving memories instead of saving money...

Aidan Donnelley Rowley said...

I love this. That it was your quilt and now, hers. That there is always something to be stitched. That there is always a threadbare corner needing attention. Isn't this life? I have always loved the metaphor of the quilt or tapestry. Existence is but a quilt of experience, of highs and lows, of questions and answers, of mothers and daughters. The blogosphere is but a quilt of voices, serious and silly, profane and profound.

Thank you for your insightful, well-taken comment on my blog. You have inspired a follow up post and then some.

Rima said...

I really like that last sentence. Really like it.

susiej said...

I too have my mother's quilts. I cannot quilt or sew, and many of them are in various stages of "unfinished." I kind of like them to stay this way... for the memory of the sudden way unexpectedly left our lives.

Amanda said...

And sprinkles the rest of us with melancholy and joy. Exquisite.

de said...

I was thinking what Holly said - it doesn't strike me as thrift.

Binding definitely.

XO

painted maypole said...

the quilt on our guest bed was made by my grandmother, and i love to hear my dad talk about it "this was one of dad's work shirts" "Mom wore this dress to so and so's confirmation" love it.

those kind of quilts are treasures. warmth and memory go hand in hand.

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

What a lovely post. I can't think of anything better than being wrapped in memory and thrift!

Angelina said...

That's a great story. Here's what I want to know- what can I do with an old antique quilt to preserve it? I've thought about doing exactly what you're doing with yours but since you originally made it I think it seems appropriate that you are fixing it however you wish. Is it wrong to applique little patches all over a wedding ring quilt? The alternative seems to let it decay until it's unrecognizable as a quilt and then toss it. What do you think?