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.
But 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.
And 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.
We 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.
Thus 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!
I 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.
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