Friday, October 05, 2012

Today's Photo Journal: A Mother's Love

The most precious gifts we receive convey love, thoughtfulness and meet a need.  One of the earliest such treasures of my life was "blankie," a simple pink quilt made especially for a tiny me by my mother's mother.  

My Mam-maw worked near a factory that made coats and similar garments.  From time to time, she visited to see what scraps the factory threw out and amassed a collection of remnants of soft, short fur used to line coats and robes.  She pieced these remnants together to make the warm underbelly of what we lovingly referred to as a fuzzy quilt.  Blankie was a miniature version of this family staple.  (My oldest niece was the last proud recipient of a fuzzy quilt, because the factory had long since stopped using the fabric and the last of Mam-maw's stockpile was depleted.) 

As a mother, I feel one of the most basic needs we can meet for our children is warmth.  I remember doing an interview with Mam-maw for a sociology project in college in which she described quilting early in her life as a necessity -- one of the few ways to keep her brood of eight children from freezing.  She said she made large quilts later in life because she couldn't stand the idea of being cold.  She also said she wanted to make beautiful quilts because so many of her early quilts were cobbled together from whatever scraps she could find. 

Consistency and comfort do much for children from infancy through adolescence.  For moms, durability and practicality factor dominantly in our choices for our babies.  What gift, then, meets so many of these needs better than a quilt?  What's more resilient, portable and useful?  What better endures the test of time and demonstrates the love and commitment of the maker?  The quilts my Mam-maw made for me and for everyone in our family taught me that few material things in life carry more meaning, and so I set out early on to make quilts for my babies.

Blankie's been through many least two holes 
were burned into her when I warmed her on top of the wood- 
burning stove in our home as a child.

Though I had already begun an heirloom quilt in the form of a masculine-themed kaleidoscope quilt for Bitty, Momma approached me with the idea of an I Spy quilt.  For me, this style of quilt -- one that's used to engage the imagination of a child by focusing their attention on little pictures of characters and objects both familiar and foreign -- was an entirely new concept.

I Spy quilts are perfect for teaching about the individual framed objects as well as planting the seeds of appreciation for quilting as an art form.

Look Bert,'s Thomas!  

Momma and I had long discussed quilting together, and the timing finally seemed right.  I had recently purchased my long arm quilter and was pushing myself to produce more.  She asked me to make an I Spy for Bitty with her.  I immediately (and enthusiastically) agreed.  Our process was bumpy in the beginning:   I'm all about the ease and graphic nature of modern quilts, so I begged to keep it simple.  She prefers traditional quilt blocks and wanted to go with something piecier (and in my mind, more time-consuming).  We both wanted bright, masculine colors.  I latched onto the Churn Dash block, knowing it's fairly simple and thinking it would frame the little squares perfectly, and what could be cooler than a Churn Dash for a little boy nicknamed Dash?  Momma loves stars in all forms and fashions and really wanted to do a star quilt.  In the end, we compromised.

The main body of the quilt top, finished and mounted on the design wall. 

After we completed the main body of the quilt, we selected a beautiful deep sea blue batik for the border and I loaded the quilt on my long arm frame.  I had only quilted three other quilts on my new machine and by then I was beginning to realize something was wrong with it.  This would be the last quilt I quilted on that machine before getting it replaced under warranty.  I picked out SO MANY STITCHES.  It was frustrating at the time, but I'm still proud of it. 

Fireworks detail
I'm surprised when I look back at these pictures and see the drastic difference in my quilting style only a few quilts ago.  (Momma's quilt in this posting -- finished last week -- was only the 8th quilt I've quilted on my long arm.)

Sunrise on the top border

At the top of the quilt, my stitches were huge and my technique so wobbly and rough.  I still didn't have a good sense of the gentle but confident control needed to guide the machine.

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I didn't have a cohesive vision for the quilting motifs, but introduced random bits of whimsy like this hot air balloon.  I enjoyed devising continuous-line drawings for objects and pictures.

By the time I reached the bottom, the stitches had shrunk and my confidence had grown (just a bit).

My quilted hot air balloon gave a little nod to the beautiful fabric Momma bought for the backing. 

However technically flawed this early effort, Bitty Boy loved it just the same.  (Gah, he looks so stinkin' TINY in these pictures.  *sniff*)  He didn't seem to notice the holes my picked stitches left in the batik borders or the total lack of uniformity of the stitches.  He didn't mention the points that were cut off the stars by the sashing (caused by my laughably uneven 1/4 inch seams).

To cap off the entire experience, I have the irreplaceable memory of finally making a quilt with my mother.  We had so much fun...and made such big plans.  Her with her stash and I with my long arm, we planned to make an I Spy for dang near every baby in a six-state radius, but by the time I saw her again, she had already begun to exhibit the first symptoms of her illness.

Though our plans have changed and her energy for quilting depleted, I am incredibly blessed to still have my mother with me.  Even better, we've had the joy of having her in our home, living with us for about half of the last year.  My children have enjoyed spending time with her daily...a rare treat in a military family where extended family is frequently far away. 

What's the most memorable or treasured gift you have from your mother?  What's the most intricate handmade gift you've given?  I'd love to hear your stories!