Sunday, March 3, 2013

Stitching Hearts

Few things herald the coming of spring to me quite like a quilt show. Especially in early March, when temperatures are still rather brisk, the bright colors of quilts always lift my spirits & remind me that winter's bleak grays & browns will eventually be replaced by the courageous early blooms of crocuses & daffodils. So when I saw an advertisement for a local quilt display in my rural area, I jumped at the chance to go.

This particular "Album" quilt was a showstopper for its extraordinary use of detailed applique with traditional designs using a vibrant rainbow of colors.

And this bold "Star Reel" design was entirely stitched by hand. Although this quilt was completed in modern times, it made me wonder about the women who quilted in the 18th & 19th centuries in America out of necessity to provide warmth for their families.  Even though quilts back then were considered a practical item, the women's artistry still shone through.

Of course, there was no radio or television in those days, so perhaps quilting was a welcome respite during long winter evenings lit by candlelight, if one wasn't already too exhausted by chores. And then there was the social aspect of quilting—quilting bees offered isolated women the opportunity for much-needed female companionship (not to mention a chance to catch up on local gossip : ).

 But there's another aspect of quilting that has always fascinated me as well. I often wonder if, in the long hours spent in the tedious work of hand stitching, women can't help imprinting not only part of their personalities but also their souls into the patterns of their quilts. After all, each quilt acts as a permanent record of the woman who made it, reflecting her personal choices & what was important to her in that particular place & time.

This quilt, for example, is the traditional "Tree of Life" pattern that serves to remind us of the importance of faith & the hereafter. But notice how the quilter embellished it with birds at the top & bottom. Their charm adds a bit of lightness & whimsy to the overall quilt design—could there possibly be a message from the quilter here? Could she be saying, "Yes, prayer & spiritual devotion are always good—but don't forget to sing & make merry while you still can"?

It's impossible to say what each quilter intends, and perhaps it's that very mystery that has always drawn me to quilts, as though each one contains a series of stitched hieroglyphics that sheds light on the spirit of the quilter, if one can somehow decipher their meaning? 

For this reason, I loved using a quilt as a metaphor for the "magic" that is passed down through generations of women in my novel TWIXT. The quilt created by Corvine O'Dannan in the 19th century might look like a "Crazy Quilt" to the casual observer—a haphazard design of herbs & moons & totem animals—but to Corvine's modern descendent Rose, the quilt is actually a sacred heirloom that holds the key to unlocking the special alchemy of the ’twixt women (who are part fairy & part human).

With their unique colors, patterns & textures, quilts preserve the heritage of the women who came before for the women who come after, and each stitch links their hearts in an eternal chain. As we pass these heirlooms along, quilts act as conduits of the love & tradition that went into making them—and the warmth & security they provide remind us of the value of history & hard work, but also of the creativity & whimsy that makes each quilt unique. As a result, quilts are the  colorful "soul records" of creative & enduring women who brightened their own worlds with every stitch & left behind a piece of themselves with each design for posterity to remember & enjoy. 


  1. Diane, the quilts that you took photos of were very beautiful. You have a great eye for color and design and I see what attracted you to each one.

    I love old quilts too, and each one I see brings so many questions to mind about the woman who made it, why she was making it, what attracted her to that particular pattern, etc. I am happy to see the resurgence of interest in quilting, as an art form, and as a rich part of our history and culture.

    Thanks for sharing your quilt show trip-it was almost as good as being there with you :)

  2. Thanks, Marcia—I thought of you the whole time! There were a lot of vendors and you would have loved all the creativity. Miss you, dear Lady! : )

  3. I still have an old quilt that my grandma made when my dad was a baby! And yep, I thought of it when I was reading Twixt, even though it's a star pattern and nothing like Corvine's was described. :)

  4. How wonderful that you've kept this heirloom quilt! Such memories contained in every stitch... : )