- Christine Parlett
I'm Ready, Not Ready
It didn’t take long for my mother to realize that I was the crafty child in the family. From as young as I can remember I was always collecting things around the house and stashing them away any place my mom wouldn’t find. I was like a squirrel storing away necessities for the season. Scissors, glue, SCOTCH TAPE, tweezers, construction paper, dried flowers, fabric, ribbons, twist ties, rubber-bands…seriously the list never ends of what I would stockpile. Still to this day my mother keeps her nail clippers and tweezers hidden, in case I come over 😊. One particular craft always stuck out to me…sewing. I loved the idea of taking something like old clothing or a scrap destined for the waste bin that could find new life as something else (recycling before recycling was cool😉 It didn’t take long to really hone that interest to a specific area, quilts!! I started by making (or trying to) mini quilts to use as pot holders (don’t try this at home as it really didn’t work!!) I gained new appreciation that quilts aren’t just functional, but beautiful, labor filled works of art.
My granny introduced me to her sewing machine when I was 9 years old. It was an old model, like the type you might find in an antique store, inside the cabinet and pretty scary for a kid. I can still hear her voice in my head, echoing every time I get the machine out to work on something. “Chrissy, be careful, go slow, and don’t sew through your finger, your mom will kill me and when you are ready, I have a big project for you.” I begged her to tell me more about the mystery project, but she smiled and said “you’re not ready yet”. It took a few more years before she even let me in on the big secret.
I think I was about 11 and I was visiting my granny during the summer. It was a hot day and can still hear the bugs humming outside as I sat in her house making doll clothes on the sewing machine. She came into the front bedroom to check on me and asked what I was doing. She was shocked to see that I had made a small teddy bear and a dress for it to wear using a few socks and old scraps of material. “Wow, where did you get a pattern for that?” she asked. This time, I just smiled my biggest pride filled smile and said, “I made it up”. I knew I blew her away, she couldn’t believe that I had come so far with my sewing abilities in just a few years. Then it was her turn to smile. She turned to me and said “I have a project I want to show you, but you aren’t allowed to start on it yet. This was it!!!! This was the secret that she teased me with years before!!!! She reached under the spare bed and dug around for a minute. My granny had a way of stashing things EVERYWHERE!!! She finally pulled a white box from under the bed and said, “Yes, this is it, I haven’t even looked at it for years”. I could feel the throbbing in my ears the adrenaline pumping in my body, like I was just about to discover a long-lost piece of art……. indeed, that is what I saw inside the box.
Granny told me a story about a quilt that her mother had started when she was in high school. I never got to meet my great-grandma as she passed away before I was born, but apparently, we had a lot in common. She loved to quilt and had made many quilts over the course of her life, but the treasure I saw inside the box was the last quilt she had worked on, but never finished. It was a beautiful! I am not sure what you would call the pattern but it was the quilt top, all of the patchwork done. Repeating diamonds of 2-inch squares in the prettiest Easter colors you can imagine. She had spent a very long-time planning, cutting, piecing, and hand sewing each little square together to make the perfect pattern. She had gotten sick before she was ever able to finish it and so it sat in a box folded just waiting for someone to finish it. “My mom made this, I can still see her working on it in my mind. Someday, I will find someone to finish it.” She closed the box and slid it back under the bed and that is where it stayed for many years.
Fast forward about a decade. My husband and I were visiting Granny and Grandpa. She told me she had something she wanted me to bring back to Ohio on my way home. I told her I would be happy to, so she went inside and began to dig under the bed. It took her a bit longer to find this time, but after several minutes she pulled out a dust covered white box….and I knew. It was time. She handed me the box and said, “I know that if you don’t want to do it, you will find someone who can.” There was no way in the world I was going to let anyone touch that quilt. No one would ever appreciate it the way I did, and no one would treat it with the care I would. I was honored to touch it and that she trusted me with it. She knew I would honor that quilt. Smiling she hugged me and said, “all I ask is that I get to see it finished, someday.” This was a precious memory of her own mother, and she was trusting it to me. “I will finish it; Granny and I can’t wait for you to see it when it’s done!!”
Fast forward again, nearly two decades this time (present day). Grandpa passed away eight years ago and Granny is in a nursing home. I have four kids, and all that goes with that. So many years have gone by since Granny gave me that quilt top that I promised to finish. I have worked on it over the years during the quiet times. Every time I touch it, memories flood back. I am ashamed to say that it still is not finished, but it is very close.
Granny is pretty sharp most days, but sometimes she calls me by my mother’s name, or has trouble remembering the details. Not this, not the quilt though. I took my kids to visit her and I told her I had a surprise for her. I pulled out the (mostly finished) quilt and laid it on her lap. She knew!!!! She welled up with tears and held it so tight….” the quilt, the quilt, my mother’s quilt!!” She sobbed and cried like I had never seen before. She held it so tight and couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Is it done???” I told her that I was getting close, and I would have it finished soon. I wanted her to visit the memory that I treasure every time I hold it before her mind slipped to a place where it would be forever lost. I have continued to work feverishly on it over the last several weeks to get it completed. I want to show my Granny with pride her mother’s quilt that took four generations to finish.
If you have ever looked at a quilt you will see two different types of stitches. One type holds each piece together, each patch, one by one perfectly aligning with the pattern creating a canvas of art. That is the part that my Great-Grandma started in the 1930’s. She built the foundation, the vision of what this quilt would someday be for her family. Then there are the stitches that hold the layers together, the quilting stitches. They protect and preserve the patchwork stitches. They hold three layers together and give the blanket warmth and stability. These stitches, nearly 90 years old, use a common thread to weave the generations together, these are the stitches I will finish in 2019. Like a photo, this is one of the ways we hold the generations together and bring history to life. This is the connection I have with my great-grandmother that I never got to meet. I am teaching my daughter to sew and quilt. I want her to have appreciation for this beautiful treasure.