My mom grew up in the farmland. The third of four children, her father owned a farm machinery repair shop and gas station. They never had an overly abundant life and her mother, having survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, was very careful to make every dollar stretch as far as possible, and every penny count for something. As such, my mom grew up making many of her own clothes.
When she became a parent, she determined that her children would learn useful and practical skills to get through life, as she had seen first hand how important they were. Changing the oil in your car, replacing a flat tire, balancing a checkbook, cooking a good meal, doing laundry… Important life skills that I took for granted at the time but am eternally thankful for as an adult.
One of those practical and useful skills was sewing. All three of the children, boy and girl alike, would know how to sew. We would know how to mend a garment, hem a skirt or pant leg, put on a button, and be able to operate, even if only at the most basic level, a sewing machine. Little did she know how fundamentally important that basic skill would have turned out to be for us.
The first project she undertook was quilting. I remember that mother of mine dragging the three of us down to the local fabric store where we each got to pick out a series of quilt fabrics, none of which actually went together, but that wasn’t really the point. We were each given a flannel sheet, and we were each taught how to cut out the quilt squares, stitch them together, sandwich a quilt, hand tie knots at each intersection with embroidery floss, and apply a binding.
Thirty years later, each of us still have our quilts, proudly displayed on our own beds. And thus began my sewing career.
Ok, not quite. I never finished my quilt. It sat waiting for a binding for about 15 years, carefully rolled up and tucked away, waiting to finished. When I went off to college, I sent it to my sister to finish, figuring I’d probably never see it again. Meanwhile, I didn’t touch a sewing machine in that whole time. Mom helped me make a cute little skirt and jacket so I would have a suit to wear in 5th grade, but that was it. I was busy being a tomboy, jumping out of tree houses, and throwing dirt clods at the neighbor boys.
Fast forward to my adulthood and I had grown to be a short-statured but somewhat round little woman. I recognized in my 20s that I simply wasn’t the model for which the fashion industry designed clothes. It struck me that I was either going to have to learn to make clothes fit me, or just make my own clothes. In 2006 I asked for a sewing machine for a wedding gift. I was gifted with a top-of-the-line workhorse that I could probably have used to make ship sails. It was overwhelming and intimidating and sat in a box for the first year or two.
During that time of my life I was a programmer. I spent my days doing website development. At some point I began to have something of a life crisis and realized that if all of the computers in the world went silent, I would have nothing to show for myself. My whole life’s work would amount to nothing at all. I needed a skill which would give me something I could hold in my hands and say “I made this.” So I finally took the sewing machine out of the box.
THAT was the beginning of my sewing career.
For the first few years I made myself clothes. I made oodles of clothes. Many of them weren’t especially good, being that making clothes is akin to making origami fit around a blob of jell-o, but I was making things with my hands, I was learning important skills, and I was enjoying it.
I started making quilts as gifts for people in my life. Christmas gifts, anniversary gifts, birthday gifts, baby gifts, wedding gifts, “just because I was thinking of you” gifts… I found joy in the simplicity of the straight lines, creating something so geometrically beautiful, but still hand-crafted with love and purpose. Making clothes for myself was a necessary craft that brought me joy of wearing pretty things but I realized how much greater it felt to go through that process, step by step, with complete focus on someone else. What colors would this person like? What textures? What styles? How would I arrange the pieces for the greatest appeal to them? What shapes would I want to use?
Eventually I stopped making clothes for myself altogether. I still have boxes and boxes of unfinished projects, and some day I need to get around to them, but they are no longer my priority. I am no longer a programmer, and in my life, effectively the computers HAVE all gone silent. My life’s work has all been erased and rewritten many times over. But quilts last.
Quilts are an age-old way to celebrate all stages of life. Made to last for years to come, we use all cotton materials, inside and out (unless requested otherwise). Quilts are a way for me to create an item meant to bring comfort and warmth to another person. Whether made for a new baby, which will be with them as they learn to crawl and walk, or a family memorializing the passing of a loved one, quilts are memories that we can carry with us. Tangible, practical, useful memories.