Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Sandy Hasenauer as she shares her quilting journey with us. Thanks Sandy for being a guest here at the Quilting Gallery.
"Hey, I’m Sandy, and I’m a quilter."
That’s how I start each episode of my podcast. It might sound like it’s just a flip way of introducing myself, but the reality is that it’s quite a statement for me—it took me awhile to feel comfortable calling myself a "quilter." For many years, I would just say, "I play around with quilting," or "I’ve done some quilting." But I hesitated to actually label myself a "quilter." There was something about that title that I didn’t think I had earned yet.
My mother taught me how to quilt. She had sewn clothes forever—I still have vivid memories of a spiffy red and blue plaid bell-bottom pantsuit she made me in third grade that I absolutely adored. Soon after that, though, I realized it wasn’t cool to wear homemade clothes and, as I was the youngest and probably the last of her children to come to that profound understanding, she turned from clothes-making to quilting. Most of my memories of Mom from that point forward involve sewing machines, lap hoops, and finding needles in couches the hard way. It took me years after I lived at home to get out of the habit of quickly running my hand over the seat of a couch or armchair before I sat down.
Personally, I hated sewing. I did the requisite home ec project in 8th grade, but it never "took." On the other hand, I always loved coloring books and brand new boxes of crayons. By the end of high school, I had discovered geometric design coloring books and that became my primary form of stress relief in college. Somewhere deep inside me, I realized there was a pretty strong connection between loving to play with geometric shapes in different colors and quilting, but I resisted. Every time I was home from school I’d be thumbing through Mom’s quilt magazines and falling in love with various styles or color combinations; I’d show Mom pictures of quilts and say, "Why don’t you make me that one?" Mom’s eyebrows would rise, and she’d give me that "You-can-learn-how-to-do-this-yourself-you-know" look.
Shortly after I was married, my husband enlisted in the National Guard and spent four months in boot camp, so I moved back in with Mom and Dad. I was only working part-time at that stage, so with a lack of anything better to do, I finally asked Mom if she could teach me how to quilt. I think I’d started to make the mental connection between the geometric design coloring books and designing quilts. Mom helped me choose a design, and I loved picking out the fabrics for it. That was about the extent of my enjoyment, though. I hated to sew. I think I’ve mentioned that before. I barely held it together long enough to get the top pieced. By then, my husband was home, I’d moved back into an apartment with him, and Mom finally finished my wallhanging for me and gave it to me for Christmas a couple of years later.
Fast forward about ten years or so. My husband and I now had a couple of kids and a couple of careers. My father had fallen ill, and over the course of three years steadily declined in physical and mental health. The last summer he was alive was particularly difficult; I was freelancing at the time so I spent a lot of time with my parents doing what I could to help Mom out with Dad’s care. One day it struck me—maybe if I asked Mom to teach me to quilt again, it would be something to give her a distraction from worries about Dad. So once again, Mom helped me pick out a design and walked me through the process, but this time, sewing didn’t seem so bad. I actually finished the wallhanging. Then I went home and repainted my entire family room to coordinate with it. And Mom said, "When you do that, you know you’re a quilter."
But I still didn’t call myself a quilter. I didn’t spend enough time at it. Shortly after Dad passed away I took on a really demanding job and between that and my kids, I had very little time to produce more than one or two projects a year—if that. But I found that being able to share in Mom’s passion for quilting gave us both great joy. Even though I wasn’t doing much quilting, I was learning a tremendous amount from her. And slowly, over the years, I found myself more and more drawn into it. Mom took me to my first big quilt show; Mom introduced me to her quilting friends; Mom encouraged me to join a guild in my area. As my life circumstances have slowly changed over the years, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time quilting of late. But still, Mom was "the quilter." I was the protégé.
Mom passed away in April 2009. As the only offspring who had learned to quilt, I inherited her UFOs and have spent the better part of the last year finishing them. Some of them went to family members as we divided up her quilts among us. Two I finished and gave as gifts at the weddings of my niece and a close family friend so my mom could be there in a way. One of my sisters commented at one point, "I’m so glad you learned how to do this." I knew that my finishing Mom’s quilts had been part of my healing process, but I hadn’t really seen it as part of my siblings’ healing process as well. My husband commented that I was "carrying on the quilting torch" for the family. That gave me pause.
When we were cleaning out Mom’s house in preparation for putting it on the market, I found several antique quilts that I didn’t know she had. I made some calls to my aunts and mom’s best friend and discovered that yes, indeed, these were family quilts. After taking them to an appraiser and matching their time periods up with family stories and genealogies, I have been able to identify several of them with their makers and—in the process—discovered I’m at least a 5th generation quilter in my family. I had no idea. I thought it was Mom and me. But it turns out I’m the current representation of a long-standing family tradition.
My quilting is my strongest connection to my mom. And it’s my connection to my great-great-grandmother four generations back. Suddenly, I’m taking my quilting much more seriously. That’s not to say I don’t have fun, and I don’t bring a strong sense of play to my work. But I realize that it’s now part of my identity to be the Current Quilter of the Family. I’m the one that will be giving quilts to babies born into our fold. I’m the one that will be trying to encourage someone in the next generation to learn. That’s a mantle I am willing to wear.
I began my podcast, "Quilting…for the Rest of Us," a few months ago partly because I needed something "just for fun" in my life at that point. But I also started it as a way to share with others what Mom shared with me: a creative outlet, a community, a good laugh, and the permission to just have fun and enjoy life. And it’s the statement I make at the beginning of each episode that is my word of thanks to her.
"Hey, I’m Sandy, and I’m a quilter."
(Sandy Hasenauer is host of the podcast series, "Quilting…for the Rest of Us", available through iTunes or at http://quilter.podbean.com/. Join the Summer Creativity Challenge—you don’t have to be a listener to play!)