April 5, 2009

Album Quilt

Toni and I lived on the same cul-de-sac in Arlington, Texas and our children--of similar ages--traipsed back and forth between our two houses, as did we. While we only lived near each other for about six months, we corresponded after I moved on to California. That much-used word for exchanging letters is an interesting one, for she was one of those friends to whom much of my life corresponded in terms of depth of understanding, trials and joys.

As young mothers we always seemed to be looking for that place where we felt peace, a place where we felt like ourselves, like the women we were on the inside while grappling with large changes, children, husbands, challenges on the outside. It was continually elusive, this seeking happiness business, but she sent me a lovely letter one day, saying she'd finally found it. She felt at peace with her life, her place in it and her contributions.

About two weeks later, I received a letter in her husband's handwriting. He detailed her accident: a driver swerving across a lane on a curve. Toni and her mother were immediately killed. Her death hit me hard--a cliche if there ever was one--but its spareness is descriptive. Toni was the first friend I had ever lost to death and although my grandmothers had passed away, I chalked that up to old age--years away from where I was at the time. I determined then to somehow "capture" my other friends--people that had meant a lot to me, who had impacted my life. I decided to do an old fashioned album quilt.

I sent out close to 45 letters, in each a small paper-backed piece of fabric and a short letter explaining what I was doing. I also enclosed an envelope. My friends signed their names in pencil, and when the square returned to me I went over that signature in an indelible ink pen. (I wasn't going to embroider them all.) I began work on this quilt shortly after my second marriage and took my bag of squares to family reunions both on his side and mine to gather more signatures. I finished sewing up these squares on Friday, pressed and trimmed them on Saturday.

On the left is my daughter's adolescent scrawl. She's married now, with three children. On the lower right is my Aunt Jean's signature. She passed away last month after a nine-year affliction of Alzheimer's Disease. On the upper right is my mother-in-law's name in neat and even cursive, written before the Parkinson's Disease shrunk that writing, and then her in turn. She's been gone several years now, leaving us in May--the month of flowers and late springtime.

These blocks are a snapshot in time. Some are friends: women I worked with in church jobs, women from the quilt group, a therapist, a friend who had been recently widowed and in whose classroom I found myself most afternoons, helping her put together her centers, building her visual aids for her bulletin boards. I have my relatives: my sisters and sisters-in-law, mother, aunts, and a mother-in-law. A teacher who encouraged me my first year back to school is there, as is the only male signature: a friend who repaired everything that broke and challenged me intellectually and took my boys camping when their absentee father would not. I have added a few since then: daughters-in-law, a favorite professor from the end of my undergrad education.

But generally it will remain with these names, with a few notable exceptions: space for a future daughter-in-law. And the signatures of my granddaughters--just as soon as they're ready to write.


  1. I did a quilt like this many years ago for a big family reunion. And I have a lovely wall quilt with signature blocks from my wonderful quilting friends. These are treasures.

  2. What a beautiful idea and such a poignant post!

    -Carrie F.

  3. This will truly be a treasure! What a neat idea. My great aunt had a fabulous quilt made by her children and grandchildren that had signatures and a picture that each had embroidered on his/her own. There was a lot of love in that quilt. Of course it was on a bed, and of course nobody was allowed to sleep under it! I also enjoyed the fog picture you posted today. Beautiful! Best wishes with the doctors. :(