Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Story Behind the Dahlia--50 Years In The Making

It's time I told the story of how this quilt came to be and what it means to me.

My maternal grandparents raised me from the age of 5 1/2 months. There were six children in their blended family (both had been widowed..Grandpa had two daughters and Grandma had 3 daughters and a son). Grandpa always said I was the child they wished they had had together. There were 23 grandchildren. Grandma, Esther, made a quilt for each of her children and grandchildren, and a few of the great-grands as well, though by the 1960's she was spending most of her time crocheting and very little quilting.

Being the oldest grandchild I was the first of my generation to get a quilt from her and I received it somewhere around Jr. High age....not sure of the exact year. I loved it and as we tended to do with most quilts in those days, I used it.

I was still using it regularly after I was married and had children of my own. One day in about 1972/3 a friend was visiting with her baby and when she was ready to leave it started to pour down rain. I had just washed bedding, including my quilt from Grandma and without thinking just grabbed the quilt and told her to cover the baby and bring it back to me next time she visited.

Some time passed and though we saw each other often she didn't bring the quilt back. Then one day I was at her house and realized my quilt was being used as a pad in the bottom of a play pen and now had some tears and stains. I quickly retrieved it and from then on kept it folded and stored away for safe keeping since I now realized the value (emotionally) of what it represented to me.

The quilt traveled with me and my sons to Arizona in 1975 and back to Iowa at the end of 1976 and continued to be stored away for safe keeping.

In 1984 a gas barbecue grill that I was lighting caught fire (the fuel tank wasn't attached securely and let too much gas out) and I lost my entire house when parts caught fire and the tank actually exploded. Most of what I owned was either lost or severely damaged. One of the things that could not be salvaged was my quilt. It was so smoke stained that the already fragile fabrics couldn't hold up to cleaning.

Most of the "stuff" we accumulate in life is replaceable. Some items are not. And of course human life is by far the most important concern. No one was hurt and that was what mattered most. But I considered that quilt one of the most valuable things I lost.

Following Grandpa's death in 1979 Grandma had come to live with me and so she had been there at the time of the fire. Her room was one of the least damaged and that was a blessing as she had many boxes of fabric, yarn, and projects she had made or was working on in the closet in her room. I didn't even know what all was in them, just that we had been able to salvage most of it.

I had moved to Kansas in late 1986 after meeting Tom and Grandma stayed in Iowa. She died in 1994...15 years ago next week...and I miss her still so very, very much.

I started quilting in 2002 and a couple of my early projects were made using a very small box of scraps that Grandma had given me at some point. I treasured those little pieces as they were left over from clothing she made for herself as well as clothing I made in 4-H and Home Ec.

In 2004 we were in Iowa visiting my son, and my mother, and other relatives. I had taken some of my quilts to show my mom and after looking at them she gave me some 5" squares that she had found in Grandma's belongings after she died. I was thrilled to get them as they were more of the same fabrics that I had the smaller pieces of . I used most of them along with some other vintage fabrics I'd collected from various sources to make this quilt which I call "Roads To My Past". It was made using the Sunny Lanes block from the first Nickle Quilts book and is still one of my favorites.

The next trip we made to Iowa in 2005 I took the quilt to show my mother. The next day she brought a box over to my son's house where we were staying and said she thought I might like to have some more pieces that Grandma had left when she died. I didn't even open the box until I got home. And when I did........................................

..................................... I had to just sit and cry...............................

Inside were many quilt pieces of various shapes, strung together like this.

I can't imagine having the patience to sit and just cut blocks out and string them all together like this. I need gratification quicker. I cut a few pieces and make blocks, then cut a few more pieces, etc. And remember this was long before any rotary cutters or acrylic rulers, etc.

But what really took my breath away was a bag of pieces for a quilt block I immediately recognized, though I had no idea of the name. It was the block she had used for MY quilt..the one I lost in the fire. She had hand pieced 6 1/2 of the blocks..the center flower portion at least. And there were pieces cut out and meticulously pinned together to make 45 more blocks!!!!!! A total of 51 blocks. I couldn't believe it and it almost seemed like Grandma had reached from beyond the grave to give me back my quilt. The bag also contained the cardboard templates she had used to cut the pieces.

I researched the block and discovered it was frequently known as Amish Dahlia. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I realized some other cardboard templates that were in this box were actually stored in a Fairfield Batting bag that contained the pattern for this block, calling it the Missouri Daisy. The pattern and name had been right under my nose all that time and I didn't realize it!

I set to work handpiecing the center portion of the blocks. I'm sure not all of the fabrics are even cotton but that doesn't matter. I recognized the bulk of them as being scraps from her dresses and a couple of my skirts. Precious memories. I worked on the blocks over the next year or so then set them aside for awhile before adding the background pieces by machine.

After the blocks were all made I set them together in a top..49 of them..with the two left over being made into the wall hangings I showed you yesterday.

And then I waited while I decided how it should be quilted. I felt it needed to be hand quilted and so I asked the ladies at our church and they agreed. I marked it last November and they began quilting in January.

Now it is on my bed and we're going to sleep under it tonight. The pieces weren't cut perfectly and therefore it didn't go together perfectly. There are mistakes in it. But every time I look at it or sleep under it I will feel Grandma's love and realize how lucky I am to have been raised by this giving and caring woman and to have a reminder of that love in the form of this quilt.

And now you know the rest of the story................................


quiltmom said...

Mary, What a beautiful story and what a gorgeous quilt...
My grandmother was not a quilter- she was a farm woman who was a great cook and baker. She loved photos and her family was everything to her. I miss her greatly- she passed away in 2003 at the age of 86..
When my gran died my mother found a bedspread that she made with some ladies of a women's club in her community. during the 2nd world war years. Each muslin block has embroidery done by various women of the community. I spent lots of time with my grandparents and knew many of the names on the quilt. It is great to look at it and feel connected with all those women that I knew as a young child. I want to put a backing on the quilt to stablize it. Perhaps this summer I will finally get it done.
Thanks for sharing your treasure's story- it is a beautiful one..

Crispy said...

Oh Mary what a wonderful story!! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. You will be resting in Gramma's love tonight.


I Love Baby Quilts! said...

I enjoyed your story very much! I worry that the quilts I make for kids will not be "treasurable" like my grandma's are.

Sunna Reyr said...

A great story and beautifully told.The quilt get's a whole new and a stunning look after washing and drying. I'm sure if you put it in a show that it's a winner. Thanks for sharing.

Susan said...

What a wonderful makes this quilt even more special!

Sherry said...

What a lovely story. I can't say more for now my eyes are filled with (as my father that past away last year would say) happy tears. I know you will be having a very peaceful,warm sleep tonight with sweet dreams. Goodnight! Thanks for sharing and when I get my book and so my quilt I will always remember your story.

Jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing your story, what lovely quilts you have and what beautiful memories they give you every day!

Cheryl Willis said...

I love your story behind the quilt and I encourage all quilters to have a story to tell. I had to laugh when I saw the pieces on a string (I have been given many old stashes and you won't believe how many old time 'string' quilts I have.) Might have to be a post sometime. beautiful quilt, sleep well. cw

Donna said...

The quilt is so beautiful, and such a treasure, Mary. Thanks for sharing the special story.

Geta Grama said...

Wonderful story, thank you for sharing with us. A beautiful and special quilt, you are so lucky because you can feel the love of your grandmother after so many years !

lindas said...

What a wonderful story! I loved my (paternal) grandmother much like you did yours. I miss her, too, even though she died 24 years ago.

What a beautiful quilt you made -- that has always been one of my favorite blocks. :)

Thanks for sharing!

:) Linda

P. said...

Saw your comment on Colorado Lady today and had to come read about your quilt. It is truly beautiful, and what a story behind it. I love that your grandma left you the tools for recreating this heirloom.

maybeth said...

Hello Mary'm Maybeth and I write from Venezuela valencia very beautiful to blog and tell us the full story of family love. I write because since 2009 I am looking for this pattern and an explanation of how to set it up I'm new in PatchworkProductions
My husband's mother cherishes a quilt like this made ​​by his adoptive mother who passed away in 2008 and gave it to me to rebuild 10 blocks that were damaged decosi and I will remove a pattern there but I would like your help have to sew everything hand? if you could send me a step by step I would greatly appreciate it because for this there are techniques that make work easier. I hope you can help me.
I loved meeting you hugs hereby makes me a follower of your blog
my email is