And being as you’ve gone to rest and there is life within me yet it only seems my duty, though I’m sure you’d disagree to see beyond myself and seize these opportunities just to stand there in the shadow of the way we used to be you and me you and me
–Justin Farren, Another Bluebird Day ℗ 2013 Justin Farren
Sometime between the winter of 1976-77 when we moved into our house in Escanaba, Michigan, and 1981 when we moved out of it, my mom, the queen of interior decorating, decided to redo my little brother’s room. Check this wallpaper! It had coordinating curtains and bedding as well.
Anyway, she must have bought extra sheets in the pattern you see between the edge of the comforter and the wall. (That wall…uff da. Did I mention it was the ‘70s?) Or perhaps once we left that house and got new bedrooms elsewhere, she just used the original sheets, but at some point my mother made a quilt out of the sheet fabric, with little blue yarn ties to hold it all together. That quilt went with me when I moved into Neihardt Hall and kept me warm through Nebraska winter in UNL’s oldest, draftiest dorm. And I kept it thereafter, bringing it with me as I moved into college apartments, and our first married apartment, and cross-country from Nebraska to Minnesota and again from Minnesota to Arizona. It was soft and just the perfect weight for a throw and I used it all winter long.
It must’ve been washed a thousand times over the years (in no small part because my dogs also loved it), and the seams would open a bit, or it would get a weak spot and rip, and I’d sew it up by hand. But one day I noticed that the seam had opened like a foot and a half after a wash, and I went to mend it again, but a flash of yellow hanging out of the opening caught my eye, so I looked inside the quilt.
What was left was mostly disintegrated inside, but still identifiable, and I was shocked at what I found: It was MY BLANKIE! I had this yellow floral quilt as a kid, and while I didn’t drag it everywhere like a woobie, it WAS my favorite blanket. I realized in that moment I hadn’t been aware of when it had gone missing, or what had happened to it. But as it turned out, I’d had it all along, in my favorite homemade quilt my mom made. When I mentioned it to her, she didn’t even remember it was in there.
But the sad truth was that after more than 30 years, that quilt was done. It had been loved to death (twice!), and there was hardly anything left inside the cover to make it worth mending again, so I said a bittersweet goodbye to it at the trashcan.
And in 1994, someone gave us a pretty blue patchwork quilt as a wedding gift, and we used it for many years…along with the dogs, who regularly got it muddy, or peed on it when they were puppies, or puked on it. As dogs do. So it, too, saw the inside of the washing machine a lot, and it held up pretty well, except for one particular color of fabric, which inexplicably wore out much faster than any other. Everywhere that fabric appeared in the quilt, it was worn through or ripped, and for awhile I worked at darning those spots. But it became clear that I’d be at it for the next two years, and it was just too much work, with no guarantee that some other color wouldn’t start failing at any moment. And I decided it was done, which was a bummer, because I loved this one, too. It was the perfect early fall weight for the desert.
I walked it out to the trash, flipped the top of the bin open, and just couldn’t put it in. There was no logical reason; it’s not like I didn’t have other comforters and quilts, or that I couldn’t buy another if I wanted to. But I liked this one. So I turned around and walked it back into the house, announcing that I wasn’t going to toss it, but was going to recover it like my mom had recovered my blankie all those years ago.
Scott was dubious; that quilt had been sitting in mid-repair in the craft room and then my sewing room for at least 2 years already. So I vowed that if I hadn’t bought the material to recover it within a month, I would toss it then. The next day I was off to Big Lots to buy sheets.
I figured, how hard could it be? (Famous last words, to be sure.) All I had to do was sew a rectangle and tie some knots. But it was trickier than that, because it’s such a big piece of fabric to work with at once, and it didn’t fully fit on even the largest work surface we have. Not to mention a problem with cutting the fitted sheet, whose corners I was trying to trim out of the way in a bout of late-night sewing, and managed (how, I still cannot say) to cut right up the middle of the sheet I was trying to cut edges off of. And when I went back to Big Lots to replace it, they no longer had those sheets, so I picked another one, and went from, “I can’t believe I just cut up the middle of that sheet like a moron!” to “It’s reversible! Go me!”
But eventually I got it together, and had only to tie little knots of yarn to hold it all together instead of having the quilt inside floating around or balling up inside the new cover. I was in no way prepared for the putziness of that particular process. It took forever. Though, as often happens when I’m engaged in tedious tasks around the house, like cooking from scratch and having to chop a million things, or tying yarn knots in a rehabbed quilt, I considered that I was just one in a long line of women all over the world who had done this work. And that thought always pleases me…that no matter how much tech we have surrounding us, and how different the world is, some things continue the same as they have for a thousand years or more. I feel like I’m a part of something bigger and older than myself. And frugal as hell, because none of those women would’ve thrown out a quilt that was still 90% good.
And that was truer than I knew, because when I showed my mom my project-in-progress, she told me how her mother had done it this way, and when she was little she would climb inside the new quilt cover and smooth the filler quilt into the edges and corners. I never imagined my grandmother sewing at all; she didn’t when we were kids, but evidently at some point she had, on the Singer treadle machine my mom still has in her house, and that one day will probably end up in mine. She’s been gone 32 years next month, my Grandma Mae, but in this quest to preserve a 23-year-old wedding gift, the thread between her and me, through my mom whose example showed me how to do this, brightens enough to be seen again.