The Quilt that Gretchen Made: the beginning

Cousin Gretchen © by The Curious Quilter

Meet my cousin Gretchen!

I would like to introduce you to Gretchen. She is a former geography teacher, a world traveler, a canoeist and camper, and a gardener. She left teaching to attend seminary, and spent many years as a Methodist minister here in Minnesota before retiring. An avid reader and a life-long learner, Gretchen is also the mother of three very interesting kids, and six times a grandmother. I have known her through most of these stages, as she is also my cousin.

And thus, the story of the quilt that Gretchen made begins. I admit that, growing up, my images of Gretchen were more of her taking my older sisters canoeing or of managing church camps than of Gretchen making quilts. I was surprised when she announced she was working on one. Perhaps I should not have been, as a love of sewing and crafting is rooted pretty deeply in our family. Some of you may recall posts about my great-aunt Ebba, Ebba’s pansy quilt, my mother’s only quilt, and the lovely jeweled holiday banners created by Gretchen’s mother, Elsa.

S. Bender_Plain and SimpleBut this quilt started in 1992, when Rev. Gretchen and a friend put on a retreat for fifty women, based on discussions from Sue Bender’s amazing book Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish. While working through the book, reviewing the nine quilt blocks, and discussing the traits and qualities reflected, each participant hand-pieced a nine-patch block. “I loved making that block,” Gretchen recalls, “and wanted to do more.” She found the book Learning to Quilt—A Beginner’s Guide by Lori Smith, and went shopping with a friend who made quilts. Gretchen got the makings of two quilts, and promptly started on the first one: tracing templates, cutting fabric, and hand-piecing the first block of the book’s project.

Soon Gretchen was carrying her little sewing basket everywhere. To work. On trips. To friend’s homes. Quilt segments were hand-pieced while taking road trips with her husband. Some were stitched quietly while sitting through long meetings. “It was relaxing, and also fun to see it grow. Each block was so different from the last one,” she shares. “I really enjoyed the process of stitching it together.” This “relaxing process” went on for over twelve years as the quilt top took shape. Eventually the blocks were sashed, a border was added. With help from her quilting friend, Gretchen’s quilt was pin-basted together. A quilting hoop came into her life, and work on quilting the first section was started.

After all these years of handwork, and now the beginning steps of quilting going on, well . . . life got in the way. The quilt was set aside for a while. The bag got moved around the house, settling in a basement corner. As if to prove she truly was a member of the quilting community, Gretchen had become the proud owner of her first UFO (UnFinished Object.)

Life moved on. Kids got married and scattered across the country. Grand-babies came to the family. Many joys, but loss too when Gretchen’s husband passed away. The grieving time filled with visiting friends and family. The first holidays alone, the first traveling abroad without his company. More grand-babies. Lots to celebrate, lots to remember.

Time had moved on in her basement too. Dust had settled, spiders had woven webs, and pipes had burst. Repair people had shuffled boxes around. Mice had migrated to warm niches. Like quilts.

quilt tiny © by The Curious QuilterAnd so, about four years ago, I found myself in that basement with Gretchen, looking for the quilt. She wanted it finished. She wanted someone, anyone, to finish it. I am totally curious, having only seen little bits of unfinished blocks along the way. I feel there is a way to get it finished if we find the quilt, but we need to come up with a plan.

unexpected gifts © by The Curious QuilterWe did find it—a bit musty, but that was expected. The pieces were so well constructed, I am still impressed. Lovely blocks of patchwork and applique. No surprise that there were ghosts of water damage around the edges, a few spider webs in the package, rusting pins, and some donations from the aforementioned mice. It was a lovely quilt, just begging to be finished. Yes, it needed cleaning, and a bit of repair. But, wow! All that glorious hand-stitching! The years of travel, the hours of relaxing delight creating it, the places it has been. This was a very special quilt.

Holes and mildew in Gretchens quilt © The Curious QuilterThus Gretchen’s quilt came home with me, four years ago, to assess the damage that time, mice, and dampness had inflicted on the basted quilt. First it aired on the clothesline for a long day in bright sun. I know that might have faded the black fabric a bit, but the dampness needed to go, and it was in no condition to wash and dry. Three small holes were chewed out of it, two against seams, which I opened up and tucked the damage inside. One needed a complete replacement of fabric on a three-inch piece. I had friends dig through stashes, and we found a very close match to the black piece. Odd how black can be so hard to match!

thread basting © by The Curious QuilterI spot-cleaned the mildew stains with Biz, and brushed the quilt top and back down. The pins used to baste it were starting to rust, so I removed them all. Holes in the poly batting had to be patched anyway. I thought of simply replacing the entire batt with a cotton one, but four blocks were already hand-quilted with really lovely stitches, and I didn’t have the heart to rip them out. Gretchen and her quilting friend had made a very nice start. When the batting was patched, I thread-basted the quilt using my favorite technique. I had a concern in that one of the quilted blocks was on the edge, not the center, and there was a bit of waver in between the blocks. Seemed like that could be quilted out.

Now it was ready for quilting. But you have to read the next post to learn more about The Quilt that Gretchen Made: the finish.

If you are interested in the two books mentioned, keep following this story—there is a giveaway coming up soon.Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comSignature
© 2012 by The Curious Quilter,, All rights reserved.


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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11 Responses to The Quilt that Gretchen Made: the beginning

  1. Sarah says:

    Oooo, how interesting! I want to see the rest of the quilt!! Hurry up and post it, please….

  2. merrie says:

    yes hurry!!!!!!! (you ought to be a mystery writer!!!!)

  3. J. Johnson says:

    Hi, Gretchen! Lovely to meet you.

  4. Rene says:

    And the mystery continues…….Please don’t make us wait too long 🙂

  5. Darcie says:

    I can’t wait to read more!!

  6. Hmmm, what happens next? Can’t wait for the next episode in your blog serial~

  7. carol says:

    We Are Here Show Us PLEEEESE

  8. Love to see PSQ’s. I work on mine almost every day. I have 16 completed blocks. Maybe 20 will be enough for this one, because there are so many other designs in my head. Thanks for getting me started.

  9. A quilting friend says:

    I hate mice! Good for you for getting their calling cards out of this quilt.

    And I know what’s coming, he he! This really is a lovely quilt, and well pieced. I would never have thought this was a FIRST quilt.

    Thanks for sharing

  10. Mary says:

    Until next time 🙂

  11. Pingback: Gretchen’s Other Quilt: The Betsy-Tacy Quilt | The Curious Quilter

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