I started my quilting business 3 years ago and all of my work comes through word of mouth. I have a Facebook page, but that’s the extent of my “advertising.” One person has a quilt made, they tell friends, and eventually I get a call or email from someone who wants their own t-shirt quilt. One of my favorite, unexpected parts of this business is meeting new people and hearing their stories. It all happens out of my home, so often I’m inviting in strangers with bags full of clothes. I wouldn’t call any of them friends when they pick up their quilt, but we are connected in a unique way that I wasn’t expecting.
About a year ago I received a call from Jeff. He wanted to have three quilts made for his granddaughters using his wife’s favorite clothes. He also wanted to include pictures of his wife and granddaughters on the quilts, if possible. I often find myself saying yes to new ideas, even if I don’t know how to do it. I figure I’ll find a way to make it happen if that’s what the customer wants. I don’t remember the connection with Jeff – how he found out about me and my business. I do remember the first time Jeff came over, though. He didn’t bring the clothes with him yet. He wanted to talk through the possibilities and show me the pictures to be included on the quilts.
We sat down at my dining table and he pulled up the pictures on my computer. Right away tears began to fall. I can’t recall if his wife had died months or years ago, but it didn’t matter. It was obvious how much he loved her and how much he missed her presence in his life. We slowly looked at each picture – naming each granddaughter, talking about the time and place of the picture. He apologized for crying, I gave him a tissue. It was a bit surreal – sharing such an intimate, emotional moment in my house with a man I’d never met. After he left I felt like I knew his wife and daughter and grandchildren.
Part of the delay in bringing the clothes over was that he hadn’t gone through her closet yet. So, over the next few weeks, he stepped into her closet and slowly picked out the shirts and blouses that she often wore. He made sure to pick out the clothes that she was wearing in the pictures with her granddaughters. He showed up on my doorstep with 2 huge black garbage bags full of clothes. I knew that these bags represented a huge step in his grieving. From the beginning, I knew this was about much more than quilts.
I sorted through the bags and picked out the ones I knew I could work with – thankfully that included all the shirts that were in the photos. Some fabrics, like sweaters or jackets, don’t always work well – it depends on the fabric. With the pile of clothing I could use in front of me, I began to cut them up and then divided them into three piles. I wanted each child to have as many different shirts in her quilt as possible.
I used a different photo iron-on product than I had tried before. It took a few times to get them to come out right. I used white cotton fabric for the picture squares, so if I messed up, I wasn’t ruining any of the precious clothes I’d be given. I’m glad I went that route! As I ironed the photos on to the fabric, I thought about these three little girls. The oldest will probably have a few memories of her time with her grandmother – the younger two, probably not. I thought about them lying in bed with these big twin size quilts covering their little bodies and their mother telling them stories about her own mother. I thought them running their little hands across the silky blouse and hiding treasures in the zippered pockets. I wondered if looking at those pictures with their grandmother holding them with such love would invite happy dreams with her each night.
These memory quilts hold stories that I will never know. They hold stories the little girls may never have known. But now, because of the love of their grandfather and his desire to make sure they never ever forget their grandmother and how much she loved them, their bedtime stories include touching the shirt and rubbing the soft cotton on their face. They won’t be getting grandma’s hugs anymore, but each night they are wrapped in her clothes that once held them tight, reminding them that her love is always with them.