Monday, October 26, 2015

Wrapped In Memories

I don't very often wax poetic here on the blog. Most entries are straightforward records of the projects I've worked on, the shopping I've done, or the pretty things being made by my quilting friends. Today's post might have a bit more depth than that. I will try not to be too maudlin, because even though death is involved, the more important part is the way quilts bring joy even in the face of incredible sadness.

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.

Kathy had 27 of her husband's shirts; they filled a trash bag. She had laundered them and cut off buttons.

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.

The second quilt was this rail fence design. It was hard to work with all that striped and plaid fabric and keep things lined up; so I just quit worrying about it. This is a work shirt quilt; it's supposed to look rugged!

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.

Isn't that a pretty stack of shirt fabric? Except for just one or two shirts, most of the fabrics were sturdy cottons and were surprisingly easy to work with.

My stack of 8.5-inch squares for the third quilt. You can imagine how fast this went together.

And here is the third quilt, a simple finish for a double bed. This one is definitely my favorite. I like the large blocks as it is less "busy" and much calmer. Third time's a charm, as the saying goes.

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!


  1. What a wonderful thing to do for a friend and her family! They all are great!

  2. From the absolute depths of my heart, thank you. The quilts are beautiful and each piece holds precious memories. Wrapping up and feeling the warmth....priceless!
    I will be praying for your family this week.
    God bless you, Jayne.

  3. That's a beautiful post. I like your analogy between faming and quilting. You've made three beautiful quilts with the shirts and I particularly like the first one.

  4. What a beautiful post and tribute. The quilts are all wonderful. You did an awesome job.

  5. Thank you so much for the heartfelt story of sewing these quilts. I think of the comfort they will bring! I will be thinking of you and Kathy's family this week. (I lost my brother to cancer at age 50, 6 years ago this week. I know there's a special place in Heaven for hard-working men who worked so hard for their families and left wonderful memories), God bless you and yours, Jayne!

  6. I didn't meet Jeff Holbrook until about 3 years after Dad passed. I learned from our first meeting that he had known and respected Dad as a friend and a good, honest farmer. After relaying this to Mom, she said Dad felt the exact same way about Jeff's dad, LaVerne. LaVerne and Dad sold seed corn from the same company and had bonded as friends, colleagues, and dog gone hard working honest men. LaVerne and his wife Louanne are great people and after every visit I have with them, I am reminded of Dad and I think they are as well. Good memories of a man lost way to soon! Same with Jeff. Way to young to leave us while doing the work he was born to do. Just like Dad.

    I love you!
    Jayne's sister that can't sew a lick! AKA "Get the Ripper!"

  7. My father passed away years and years ago. I wasn't quilting at the time or I know I would have asked my mom for at least a few of his shirts to turn into a quilt. It would have been a treasure, just like these three are.

    Now I quilt with plaid shirts I have to buy at the thrift store! I like your stepping stones and the rail fence (and especially that you left pockets in). Beautiful work.


Feedback on my posts is always welcome!