By: Grace Thorne

I’m sure we’ve all seen photos of beautiful quilts and wallhangings that earn oft-coveted blue ribbons. I raise my needle to the innovative and industrious makers for their discipline, vision and expertise and for the serious eye candy and inspiration they provide for the “rest” of us, meaning the everyday, ordinary quilter.

Once while having a bit of a pity party trying to measure up, I thought about why I quilt. I quickly realized I quilt because I just plain enjoy doing so. When I quilt, I think not about recognition, rather about ordinary women who sat and sewed by lamplight to provide warmth for families out of necessity, or maybe those whose overburdened lives on dusty plains or in overcrowded tenements caused them to ache for something soothing, comforting and creative.

I like to think when they sat down for a brief moment to piece in silence free from daily drudgery, they felt the rhythm of the needle within the soul, as we all do, and it transported them to that place that nurtures all of us who find delight in this pastime. I hope they found sustenance for the will to continue day after day in spite of overwhelming responsibility.

I think about someone wrapping a crudely-constructed quilt around a sick child who could very well die, giving the only medicine available. I think about the shards of color it might provide in an otherwise drab and monochromatic existence. I think about how someone might have used quilts to say things that could not be verbally uttered, to record family history or calm nagging worries. I think about how one might have used a quilt as a shroud for a loved one, or perhaps about one whose life was mired in poverty and despair but guarded scraps like gold coins for the day when there were enough to construct a favorite pattern.

I think about how we all, their descendants, still use quilts and fabric and color as communication, icons of imperfect lives and the modern struggles we encounter and remarkably survive.

I’m not a purist; yes, if the Pilgrims had sewing machines I believe they would have used them. But whether quilts be used for utilitarian or artistic purposes, in the end I don’t think blue ribbons are the real measure of a quilter, even though I cheer for those who reach peaks of perfection. Plain or fancy, expert or beginner, I think quilts only count if they convey the soul of the quilter, speaking to those who might otherwise never hear, even if it’s only ourselves.

Isn’t this really why we all quilt?

About Me: I first began sewing at age 8 through the local 4-H program. Amish quilts drew me into quilting with their intricate quilted patterns on plain cloth. In 1979, I signed up for my first class to make a sampler. That quilt sustained me through many ups and downs and finally succumbed to constant use. Since then I’ve made countless quilts and smaller items, none of them blue-ribbon quality, but all of them lovingly made for countless occasions or for fun and every day use.

Through the years, my courage has been emboldened and my current projects are a double-wedding ring (my 2nd),

double wedding ring

a full-size Amish quilt

Amish quilt

and a full-size Hawaiian applique.

Hawaiian quilt

Please feel free to view my album on my personal blog,

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Why quilt?

One thought on “Why quilt?

  • March 4, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Wonderful words which I couldn’t agree with more. To me, it’s not about perfection (although I strive to do the best I can) – it’s about the love, thought and time which you try to convey through your quilt. It’s not about buying all of the most gorgeous brand new materials – although they are lovely and if I had the funds I would enjoy investing in more – but I also get alot of pleasure from using old clothes or scraps and the memories that they hold – that’s when I really feel closest to all our quilting ancestors – patchwork was done out of necessity (as you say when scraps were regarded as precious). Yep, I drool over the beautiful quilts of professionals – but I get so much more inspiration from thinking of the women who quilted by lamplight and their reasons for doing so.

    Thank you for your words x

    .-= Shelly’s latest post: MMHM 01.03.10 =-.

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