The Quilt that Gretchen Made: the finish

Greatchen's Quilt detail 2 all rights reservedIn my last post, The Quilt that Gretchen Made: the beginning, I shared the saga of a hand-pieced quilt my cousin created. Gretchen, a Methodist minister, was inspired to make her first quilt after she led a retreat based on Sue Bender’s book Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish. This was a learning process, a creative process, and a long process with a few interruptions along the way. After the quilt was delegated to the ranks of UFOs for a few years, it came back out to the daylight, and was ready to be finished. It came home with me to get that finishing underway.

I am not a big-time hand-quilter, in the past I have had very little patience with it. But I decided to try a block and get a feel for how long it would take me to do it myself, if I even had the patience. After all, I had just lost my full-time job and had an exceptional amount of time on my hands. And I had it in my head that, once it was re-started, Gretchen might want to work on it some more, and we could do some together over time. But Gretchen had been clearly ready for it to be finished, she even suggested it might be alright to machine quilt it. That I could not do, machine quilt all that beautiful hand-piecing—no way!

Learning to Quilt by Lori SmithReferring to her pattern book, Learning to Quilt by Lori Smith, I realized that the stitching-in-the-ditch around the sashing and some block elements had been skipped, so I started there. That really made the ornamental quilting that was done already start to pop. True confession. My stitches were not pretty, or even, or well, very good at all. And it took me three months to work my way around just the four center blocks.

Clearly, I needed a different plan. I suppose we could have hired someone to do it. I could have given in to temptation and machine quilted it. But, well, this quilt had a ton of meaning in Gretchen’s life, and it seemed to me that the finishing needed to enhance that meaning.

Gretchen's quilt, detail 1 all rights reservedThat is when it hit me. For many years, Rev. Gretchen had been involved with camps and the annual conference for the Methodist Church in Minnesota. She had lots of people who cared about her, at her home church, at churches where she had served, and among clusters of women. I got my phone book out and started calling local churches to see if they had quilt groups. I did not say anything about it to Gretchen yet. Actually, I had it in my head we could find some people and finish it in a few short months, then collectively present it back to Gretchen.

Back detail 2 Gretchens Quilt all rights reserved

The back of the quilt shows many levels of quilting skills. What a delight!

I avoided churches where her relatives and best friends were (some managed to sneak into the process later though.) One lovely lady at a church about 50 miles away was really excited about it. “Bring it here, let me look at it!” So I drove it to her, now six months after “rescuing” it from the basement. “Oh, you are right, this has to be hand-quilted. I think you better rip out that block at the edge.” I knew that was coming, but it was painful to do it. She had weekend plans to quilt with her sister, they would keep the quilt a couple of weeks and see how far they got, while I would seek out the next quilter.

Some of the quilter's hands © by The Curious Quilter“And you cannot tell anyone we worked on it. It has to be a silent secret, an anonymous gift.” Interesting idea. Intriguing. We struck a deal. It set the tone of the rest of the project.

Thus began the second round of trips for this well-traveled quilt. Through well over a dozen small churches, scattered around Minnesota. To Florida for a couple of winter months with one person. To Texas with the next. I am not going to say that this was a fast process, but people were enjoying the chance to work on it, seeing it as gift. While some people were not as concerned about the anonymity of it all, they respected that aspect and seemed to enjoy it. When I visited a circle group in a town about 100 miles away to pick it up, one member told me that her sister, a Lutheran in Iowa, had taken it to her friends for a week too!

Even I am not sure where all it went. This was truly an act of faith, just handing it over. I heard some great stories about my cousin Gretchen along the way. And many great tales from the quilters. The average age of the women who worked on it seems to be close to 70, with at least one being over 90. A few young people strayed into the process as well. And, when the quilt landing in the living room of one woman, stretched on her quilting frame, her husband decided to try his hand at it too. “After all,” she said, “it sat between the couch and the football game!” Hey, I helped along the way too, and had lots of coaching from these women. My hand-quilting has greatly improved.

This all took time, and I hope that one day Gretchen will forgive me to lying directly to her about where it was and who was working on it. I seemingly left it in the hands of those first two ladies for about two years. By the time the quilt was ready for binding, it was closer to home. The two ladies who had it then were pushing hard to finish it. “Long enough!” they said, and I agreed. As one started to connect the binding to the quilt, black thread on black fabric, she decided her 84-year-old eyes were not up to all that by hand. She took a deep breath and sewed it around on the machine. Then it came back to me. I started the whip-stitching to secure the back of the binding.

BAck Detail 1 Gretchen's Quilt all rights reservedIn July a party was held at Gretchen’s because her kids were all in town for a while. The quilt came to the party. The whip-stitching was not completed, but so it goes. The story had to be told, the quilt had to go home. So the family heard the story. Gretchen and her sister-in-law finished the whip-stitching. Twenty years after the retreat that inspired the project, the quilt was home. Many hands have brought it home.

The back of the quilt tells a great story. Perfect tiny stitches next to garish large crooked rows. Beginners quilting with pros. Arthritic and shaky hands working next to strong, young ones. The back is as much fun to look at as the front.

Now, that quilt needs a really good cleaning from all this traveling! But it looks very nice on the guest room bed at Gretchen’s home. And gradually she has stopped asking me “did so-and-so work on it?” “What about this group?” Heck, some of them I don’t know, but I am not telling even if I did!

Gretchen and her quilt © by The Curious Quilter

Gretchen with her quilt, twenty years in the making. I wonder how many miles it has on it!

For readers who are visiting because they worked on Gretchen’s quilt, and want to leave a message for Gretchen, you can leave an anonymous comment below! Just put your name as Anonymous, or Quilter, or something like that, and use your email address. That address will remain my secret, and will not show online. Comments are welcome from all readers, whether you worked on it, wish you could have, love the books used, or just want to share a quilting story with my cousin Gretchen.

And, while working on this piece with Gretchen’s input, I have learned that she took a break to create another, very different quilt along the way! That is another story for another day (see it here). But she still has fabric at home to make this one again . . . think she will?

If you are interested in the two books mentioned, keep watching the blog this month—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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21 Responses to The Quilt that Gretchen Made: the finish

  1. Brenda says:

    wow! what a great story! congrats to all the quilters who worked on it!

  2. A quilting friend says:

    So nice to know it has gone home, and is being used! When it wandered my way on a cold winter day, I really enjoyed doing a block. Then I moved it along.

    Gretchen, I have heard you preach but we have never really met. So glad to be a part of this.

    Mary, thanks for including us all, and telling the story.

  3. Judy says:

    Hi Gretchen, I remember a big round quilting frame that somehow came to me and moved on to you. I cannot even remember how I got it. Something tickles my memory and thinks maybe from Mary’s mom? Who knows? I just remember the big round quilting frame for doing hand quilting and that you were interested in hand quilting. I wonder if that quilting frame got used on your beautiful quilt. I enjoyed the story of it being completed. Judy

  4. Hutchinson UM Lady says:

    I was asked to work on it, but I couldn’t at the time. SO nice to see this piece, thanks for sharing.

    Gretchen – I hope that you make the second quilt! May it keep your hands busy and heart cheerful while you do.

  5. Mary says:

    Enjoyed reading the story of the quilt. It is Lovely! Gretchen,May God continue to keep you close as you serve Him.

  6. Secret Stitcher, northern Minnesota says:

    This was the very first time I sewed anything except a button. I’m sure some of those wobbly stitches are mine. It was great fun to sit with other women doing various projects, as we each spent a few minutes on this one. So happy to hear the full story. And I love the secret society aspect!

  7. Gretchen knows me says:

    Oh my, i didn’t realize my arthritis showed so in my hands! But it was a lovely day in the park, sewing away.

    Gretchen I know you. Watch for my hands! Your quilt is lovely, the project was a hoot.

  8. carol says:

    I wonder how many heart miles it has on it. What a fab thing to do for your cuz. Heavenly Father is s proud of his girls

  9. Tanzie Brown says:

    I love this story! I began this quilt with the Smith book in June 2011 as part of a hand quilting class at Meridian Activity Center in Meridian, MS. I am now finishing the hand quilting on my 3rd block. With this being my first official “class” in quilting, each block has a personality of its own and has memories of when it was put together. This story inspires me to “finish”.. At times I want to move on and do something else because of what I have learned.,, (and think I know)..and it would so easy to make this a UFO. I now feel my 15 months is but a blink in the reality of time, and there is hope for this to be finished. The memories continue,, and I thank you for sharing this wonderful story!

  10. Gretchen says:

    Dear Fellow Quilters – Receiving my “almost completed” quilt from my cousin Mary last July, at a family gathering, will be right up there among the great delights and joys of my life -especially because of the incredible story of how it was finally, actually, quilted. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to those who are out there and reading this and have a stitch or two on the project. I love the anonymity of the project, but am frustrated in not being able to thank each of you in person. Perhaps if I see you at some meeting, you will give me a knowing wink, or a flip of the needle as a sign. I was just as amazed at the effort cousin Mary put into this, finding you, sending the quilt around, keeping it going. Just simply amazing!

  11. What a story! Quilts may be made of fabric, but they are held together with love.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Gretchen, I had to find this article after hearing about it from a friend at church last Sunday. I WOULD have worked on it, but it had already been here when I first heard about it! Glad to hear it is home, finished, and being enjoyed.

  13. Sherry says:

    Your lovely quilt did not make it to Canada, but I wish it had! What a delight, thanks to both Mary and Gretchen for sharing this.

  14. Nameless says:

    Gretchen, You should bring the quilt around with you sometimes, I see a few places that would still take more quilting! My sister told me about this when she worked on it. She has never met you, but I have, so I will remain nameless as well.

    Love the mystery of it all. Congrats on finishing the quilt. Time to start the next one?

  15. Nameless says:

    Oh what fun to see all these notes.

  16. B. in Minnesota says:

    Gretchen, your many talents are impressive! I have made quilts for years, but never hand pieced one. Working on your quilt has motivated me to try making a (small) hand-pieced Apple Core quilt.

  17. lee says:

    What an amazing and heartfelt story. Quilting truly is a community activity that blesses the soul. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Anna says:

    Lovely quilt, I am trying to win either of the books, very nice job Gretchen!

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