This week marks two sad anniversaries - my dad's death in 1982 and another death of a man I never knew in 2006. Both men were Highland County, OH, farmers, and both men died in tragic farming accidents while harvesting fall crops. My dad was 49; Jeff was 51. Both too young and taken too soon.
The connection goes deeper. Jeff's wife, Kathy, and I graduated together from Hillsboro HS. We were friendly, but not overly close. We have possibly talked more this summer than we ever did in high school. Through Facebook and our visiting at class reunions, Kathy learned that I quilted and she asked me if I would make quilts for their two children from her husband's work shirts.
And that has been a serendipitous endeavor for me. In the 33 years since Dad's death, I have most certainly missed him, but memories of him come less often as time passes. Working on these quilts has been a pleasant revisiting with Dad. Even though I was working with Jeff's shirts for Kathy and her kids, I felt connected to Dad and enjoyed the process of making something really special of those shirts. It was like the best of the farmer was in those shirts. Strong arms, solid back, aching muscles, and beating vibrant heart. Farmers have a lot of heart, and so do quilts. I could envision Kathy and her family feeling loving arms embracing them when wrapping these quilts around them.
I deconstructed them over the course of a couple of afternoons. This was possibly the hardest part of the process as my hands got cramped from the scissors. I made mental notes of the variety of color options because one of my concerns was that the quilts would all be very dark. Fortunately, variety was wide, and I had plenty of light and even colorful shirts to work with.
I didn't have a firm idea of what design I would use to make these quilts, so I spent lots of time considering various options. I carted the whole pile of shirt parts to quilt camp to try to accomplish some significant sewing through that week.
By the end of quilt camp I had mostly finished the quilt top above. I call it stepping stones, but it is also called brick path, I believe. I made a particular point to keep stains and holes when they were there. Several of the shirts were quite worn - threadbare - and I used them, too. I knew all the stains, the holes and the well-worn fabrics would hold meaning for the family. It makes the man more real, more human.
I delivered these two quilts to Kathy the first week of September. Since I still had a significant amount of shirt fabric left, I suggested she consider having me make one for her. The first two were throw-size quilts and I knew I could make a third one that would cover a bed. She liked the idea, so I went to work.
Last week I met Kathy to deliver this last quilt. We shared some memories of our beloved farmers, and I will admit to blinking away one or two tears. We agreed that we didn't want the anniversaries we both will remember this week to be sad. Instead, we want to celebrate the men we lost. I think Kathy and her children will find extra comfort in their new quilts. Each time they glance at them or use them, I hope they will draw strength from the memory of the man who wore those shirts - sweat and stains and holes - all of it.
This thing we do called quilting isn't just about pretty fabric and fancy designs. While I do love that stuff, I think I love even more the way quilting can be a comfort. I took comfort in making these quilts, and I'm confident that the Holbrook family will take comfort in enjoying them. And remembering.
Happy Quilting, Friends!