Posted by: ktzefr | January 12, 2010

Quilts and memories…

My mom made quilts.  She had an old Singer sewing machine that sat in the back of our grocery store where she could sew during slow times when customers were few and far between.   She made aprons, pillowcases, and cushion covers, too, and most of my dresses.  I inherited many of my sister’s clothes when she got new ones, and, as styles changed and the skirt length slipped higher and higher, mom cut and hemmed and made them into mini skirts — but not too mini!

Quilts with squares were the quickest to make, but it also depended on the size of the squares.  One of my favorites was a quilt made with hundreds of tiny squares in a multitude of patterns and colors, stitched painstakingly together.  At that time my sister was working for a mail-order dress company that sent her glossy sheets with pictures of garments and corresponding swatches of fabric.  She gave me the old glossy sheets to use as scrap paper to write on and gave my mom the old fabric swatches.   I wrote stories and Mom made a quilt.  One special square on that quilt had a tiny ballerina who appeared to be dancing in space amid a world of vibrant colors.

I have lots of my mother’s quilts — squares of all sizes, flower gardens, a Dutch girl, one with a different cat on every square, another with fish, and Mom’s special “lone star” design.  She never liked making only one star on a quilt, so she added a smaller one to each corner.  This “Crazy 8s” quilt, however, is my favorite.

When my mom visited with us in the city she liked to find a sunny spot to sew and listen to music.  She and my son made this quilt together.  He came up with the design and she cut a pattern from cardboard to match it.  The lime green background was his idea, too, and his grandmother was happy to oblige!

Most Appalachian women sewed when I was growing up.  Some did embroidery work; some crocheted; others made rag rugs from long strips of fabric scraps braided together.   We didn’t find anything particularly special about handmade items, but I have since developed an abiding appreciation for handicrafts.  I enjoy meeting artisans wherever I go, and at home I surround myself with their work — paintings, rugs, weavings, pottery, wood carvings.  I can’t always tell whether something is really good art or really good junk…but, well, it really doesn’t matter!  If I like it, I like it.

One day in early April a few years back in Ecuador we met a family of weavers.

From another notebook story…

On the old blue school bus, again, we bump out of San Pablo del Lago early to look for handicrafts.  The roads are narrow, mostly dirt, full of potholes, the potholes full of rainwater.  The bus creaks to a stop right at the door — literally — of a small stone house.  There is no yard, no porch, no stoop.  Two steps off the bus and we’re through the front door.

Spinning yarn in Otavalo, Ecuador

Ludmila spins red yarn round and round the metal rim.  She wears the traditional clothing of the weavers here with a gold seed necklace wound like yarn around her neck, her black hair hanging down her back in a single braid.  Across the room her husband Tomas sits at the old loom, pressing the pedal, running yarn side to side, mixing colors and making pictures.  In the Andes men are the primary weavers.

Wall hanging: Ecuador

We watch as Ludmila pulls out one piece of fabric after another to spread on the floor, drape across a pile of rugs, or hold in front of her so we might see how the sweater or shawl or scarf would look.   She and Tomas can’t afford a kiosk in the local market so they are dependent on word of mouth, on friends and family and visitors to spread the word about their work so others will come.  We’re glad we did.

Outside, again, with a new duffel, a couple of rugs, and a small wall hanging, we climb back onto the bus…pass by houses with wooden pens attached for the family’s chickens and pigs.  The clouds hang wet and low over the valley and the strong, raw scent of rich earth after a rain filters through the open windows…

The big, colorful duffel bag I bought that day from Ludmila in Carabuela has traveled many places with me — on planes and buses and boats, to the East Coast beaches and the mountains and the islands.  It’s sturdy; it still looks as good as the day I bought it.  And it’s big enough to hold a lot of memories…

I don’t know what happened to my mom’s old quilt with the little ballerina.  It was starting to show it’s age long ago, but I can still picture the dancer forever frozen in a pirouette.  I like to think that life is at its best that way, when we can keep dancing — with one foot firmly on the ground and the other poised somewhere in the air.

(In my book, To Come and Go Like Magic, there is a character who is a quilt maker.  She, too, knows the intrinsic value of something made by hand and filled with memories.)

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