Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finishing Other Women's Quilts

It's a wonderful thing when you can finish quilts started long ago by other people. Sometimes you're not just the second person to work on an old quilt; there can be more.

This story starts when my best friend Sue and I went to vintage fabric and fashion show, I think in Santa Monica, CA, in the early 2000's, and we came across this stack of blocks:
 The design is often called "Dresden Plate," with petals and a central circle. These appeared to be cut from 1960s -80s fabric, much of it shirting, much of it related to surfing.
 Above, note the word "Bend". It appears a few times in the quilt. What on earth could it have been from?
 Love that rainbow plaid, above, not to mention the leopard skin.

There are palm trees and beaches galore, plus airplanes.
I was dubious. All I could focus on was the godawful black thread zig-zag that held the petals down, around the outer edges of each plate.  What's worse, in the centers, the purple shadowed through the yellow. Technically, it was pretty bad. But Sue, with her amazing eye for good design, astonished me by falling in love. She saw something more. Maybe it was details like this:

Whatever, she was so enthusiastic that I didn't even try to dissuade her. She bought the stack of 18 blocks. We talked a lot about how to set them, but didn't get around to it.

Eight years later, Sue was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had an immediate surgery, and its short-term result was that her formidable math and spatial abilities vanished overnight. We decided to finish the quilt together, and for the first time ever, she needed my help with simple measurements. We set it with purple sashing that matched the purple blocks' interiors. The blocks, of course, weren't all the same size, so we had to do some funky fixing. Don't look too close.
We shopped together for border fabric, and at the time, there was a quilt book (I can't remember the name) that had vintagy blocks with a red-and-white polka dot border. We were both entranced. Plus a couple of the quilt blocks actually red-and-white polka dot leaves.
So we bought a bunch of this fabric to border the quilt:
Sue believed in using good fabric. 

She got sicker and could no longer sew. When she was very sick, and could barely talk, she asked me to finish the quilt for her. Of course I assured her that I would. "No rush," she whispered.

No rush. Sue was all about compassion. She gave generously to every charity that crossed her path.  Her job was as an occupational therapist, working with children. At one point during her long illness, I got sick with something miserable but non-terminal. She called me every day to see how I was doing.

Asking me to finish was the last thing she ever asked me. A few weeks later, she was gone.

I didn't rush. Two years later - which was a couple of weeks ago - I felt ready. I added the borders, and quilted the whole thing. Whenever I worked on it, whenever I had it open on my floor or table, it didn't depress me at all - in fact, it made me laugh. The colors were cheerful, the details wacko, and the juxtapositions priceless - partridges with the word "sun," calicos with groovies.
For the backing, I was planning to use the same red-and-white polka dots, but I didn't have enough. I added some black fabric from Sue's stash  but the polka dot fabric bordered by black looked appalling. 

Sue always cared as much about quilt backs as front. Before I met her, I used to throw anything I had on the back of my quilts, but Sue had taught me to use the good stuff, whatever the price. 

So  I headed for my local quilt shop to see what they had in an extra-wide fabric.The first fabric in the wide pile, right by the store entrance, was this: 
Shortest shopping spree ever. That was it. I knew Sue was smiling. 

So here's the finished quilt, from the front: 
Next week, I'm going to ship it to Sue's older daughter in New York, who is very excited about it. To me, this quilt is of course a little bit messy, and a little bit sad, because Sue couldn't finish it, but it's also so joyful and funny, and crazy. 

On each the two plain purple blocks, I quilted a shadow plate. 
I like to think that each one is for each of my two collaborators - Sue, and the unknown person whose sense of humor way exceeded her technical skills, who cut up the family wardrobe and put these blocks together in the first place. 
I hope Sue's daughter thinks of it as a group hug, from all of us. 
Nov. 9 2014 Update: I put the quilt in the mail today. As I walked outside with it, I spotted a huge monarch butterfly on my patio, not a common sight. It flew off. I'm a believer.


  1. a heartwarming story to this quilt. you are a special type of wonderful caring friend.

  2. Cathy, what a story of deep friendship. I was smiling & crying at the same time. Hugs, Diane

  3. What a moving story. I'm glad you finished the quilt and that it will find a good home.

  4. Beautiful in every possible way. What a precious keepsake for Sue's daughter!! You're an angel, Cathy.

  5. I love the backing fabric you found, so cool. The details on the quilted squares are so whimsical. Good work.

  6. You are such a dear wonderful friend, even with funky fixing

  7. What a lovely story. May the daughter treasure this treasure for many years...until it is her daughter's turn to treasure this labour of love for many years....

  8. Thank you Cheryl. Note that I did not show close-ups of some of the funkier fixes.....

  9. Ok - I'll try again to leave a comment. This is such a moving story, Cathy -- and Sue's daughter will love this funky quilt, which was something her mother loved. Funky makes it special; remember, you can buy perfect in a store.

    1. Excellent point, Rayna. I'm going to quote you!!! Thanks for stopping by.

  10. What a moving, touching story. Tell Sue's daughter to read your blog so she can retell your beautiful story.

  11. Thank you for sharing your heartful story. What a wonderful way to share and work through your love for your friend.

  12. I love this story and its humor and love. I annoys me no end that quilt shows now focus on perfect technique and perfect composition and design etc. There is no life only sterility in "perfect". You should read the book about Dorky quilts. You would love it.

  13. This sort of story is what quilting is all about ... I'm sure Sue's daughter will treasure the quilt, and you'll treasure the memories of making it.


Thank you for commenting!