A Quilt is a Memory

Look at some of the beautiful, exquisite quilts made today and you will be awed. Intricate applique, precision shapes and carefully coordinated fabrics make artistic masterpieces.


My grandmother, Eva Becker Schroeder (1894-1996), was a quilter. I would imagine that she made perhaps a hundred quilts, maybe even more. But she never made a quilt like that. She told me once that she had never bought new fabric for a quilt. To go out and buy fabric to cut up and make into a quilt was unknown and might have even seemed strange to her. Quilts were for using up what you had. Her fabric came from scraps left over from clothing projects or from discarded clothing carefully taken apart at the seams. Much of the time I was growing up Grandma lived with us during the winter (spending the summers in Minnesota) and eventually lived in a mobile home parked on our farmstead. Since we sewed many of our own clothes, our fabric scraps and discarded clothes were turned over to Grandma’s capable hands to be put to good use.

She sewed on an old Singer Sewing Machine, often barefoot. It was a simple straight stitch machine with no zigzag or fancy stitches. Most of her quilts were “Crazy Quilts”. She would take a square of fabric, probably from an old sheet that she had cut up and begin adding fabric scraps of random shapes until the square was covered. These squares were sewed together usually with a strip of fabric (sashing) between each square. Sometimes the sashing was all from the same fabric, but not always. She had an artist’s eye for combining colors, but when she ran out of a certain piece of fabric, it was gone and couldn’t be replaced by running to the store. So she used what she had.

Some of the quilts went to her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren and quite a few went to the Mennonite Relief Service warming someone suffering from a catastrophic natural event. I am fortunate to have a few.

Tom received this quilt made from double knit fabric for Christmas one year.
He loved it and slept with that quilt every night, even in the summer and perhaps, still does.

A look at one of her quilts is a trip down memory lane and into my adolescence. Even though it has been many years since I wore the clothes that the scraps came from and they are not anything that I ever think about, I know instantly which fabrics are ones that I once wore and usually which ones belonged to my sister or mother. There are some strange fabrics that hold no memories. They may have been garage sale finds or from another relative. There is a brown paisley and olive green print that were made into dresses I once wore. Plaid seersucker was made into bell bottoms. A yellow flowered dotted swiss that was once a midi (or was it a maxi?) dress. I loved that dress and always felt kind of pretty when I wore it. There is a lemon yellow fabric with orange flowers, lime green leaves with blue accents that I made into the cutest outfit. Dad said it was too short and wouldn’t let me wear it. Rebellion was thick in the air I breathed and it was not a pretty scene. It simply disappeared from my closet. But here it is, thick rows of forgotten contention. Only a few people would be able to see the depth of beauty that I see in this quilt.

I also have made a few quilts. I made one for each of my sons. They were the “go to the store and pick out fabric” kind, nothing fancy but made with love. I’ve made a few baby quilts for my nieces and nephew over the years. But it has been quite a few years since I have done any quilting or sewing. And then one day our son moved out leaving a basement room that needed to be updated into a guest room. It seemed possible to put two double beds in the room, but I would need something to tie them together. And then it hit me! I needed to make two quilts, but these would not be “go to the store and pick out fabric” quilts. I thought of my Grandma and knew I wanted to make something in her style.

In my sewing/craft room is a cabinet with huge, deep drawers stuffed with fabric remnants and scraps of years of projects. There is also a bag of clothes that I just couldn’t give to Goodwill. They have been waiting for just such a project. And so I opened the drawers and began another journey down memory lane, this time into my son’s childhoods and my young adulthood. Each fabric it seemed came with a memory. There were the brightly colored prints that had been made into the long shorts little boys wore in the 80’s. A soft knit with tiny print made into a shirt for my baby brings back memories of dressing little boys with soft, delicate skin and wispy hair. A black fabric with brightly colored hearts was made into a vest that I wore to a First Grade Valentine’s Party before going to the to the clinic to receive devastating medical news. I went to sleep that night thinking that I would soon be a widow and yet, now, after so many years, I am not. Another fabric, another vest. I remember hemming that vest in the hospital when my niece was recovering from emergency surgery.There's the Christmas fabric I made into a stocking for our just born baby all those years ago and a soft red corduroy that was a maternity dress. A blue calico print stops me short. I can’t quite place it, but I know it has something to do with the pale peach dining room of the house we lived in over 25 years ago.
The quilts, I decide, will be nine-patch squares and coordinated by color. I make six of each color, blue, navy, green, olive, red, burgundy, and purple, then arrange them in various ways. Black sashing will separate the squares and tie them together. Not just like Grandma’s quilts, but in the same spirit, I hope.

As I work on this project, my companion is my memories. And they are fine friends.

3 comments:

  1. Great post! I almost felt as if I was right there looking at all of those quilts and the various pieces of cloth, not to mention learning a little more about Grandma Schroeder (who I never knew)...thanks for sharing! :)

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  2. I agree with your grandma so much I just made a quilt for my daughter that now has kids of her own and every piece of fabric was from clothes and pj's I made for her kids while they were growing up , she loves it and rembers all the scraps of fabric I used some was from things I also made for her and her brothers, nieces and nephews. Well now she's a grandma and realizes how much it means.

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    1. Virginia, what a wonderful quilt you've made! I'm sure it will only increase in value to your daughter as the years go by.

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