How many years does it take to complete a family quilt?
In one instance at least 77!
At the recent Born Again Quilts grand opening I met long-time Waynedale residents Morris and Ida Willett. Ida tells me how her late mother-in-law started making a quilt for her unborn child but never finished it. Ida hopes I can help her finish the project now 77 years in the making.
So on a cold and rainy evening while Sandy kicks up a raucous we meet at the studio where Ida pulls out the makings of a 60-degree angle diamond star quilt from the old cardboard box faintly penciled in Thelma’s hand “unfinished quilt”. Now just so you don’t get your stars confused, this is the one that takes six diamonds to form the star or depending on your color choices tumbling blocks.
Thelma Willett makes a great start on the quilt back in 1935. She completes a three feet by two feet piece of stars comprised of scraps from her scrap bag. She sews more star blocks and interconnecting diamonds and has them ready to attach. Apparently she planned to make a quilt bigger than crib size because she neatly cuts out more diamonds for future blocks. On November 15, 1935 the blessed day arrives and she gives birth to Morris who joins his older brothers four-year old Travis and two-year old Wayne.
Life in Pike County Arkansas isn’t easy in the ’30s. Living on an 80-acre farm with a horse and mule raising three sons and eventually a daughter too there isn’t time for piecing together a quilt. The project is packed away along with the templates cut from old penny postcards, needles and pin cushion waiting for “some day” to arrive.
In 1950 the family moves to Indiana and in 1956 twenty-year old Morris marries Ida and they take up residence in Waynedale. The Willetts welcome two daughters Linda and Anita. In 1978 while Linda happily awaits the birth of her first child, Grandmother Thelma gives her the box stating, “Since this was suppose to be for your father, I want you to have it for your child.” It was not to be. After giving birth to Angela, Linda is busy for the next two decades raising Angela and her siblings Janelle and Joshua. Working full time to boot, Linda only finds the time to cut out more diamonds in preparation for the completion day that never comes. Sadly Grandma Thelma dies in 1996 her work unfinished.
A few years ago about the time she becomes a grandmother, Linda gives the old box to her mother Ida and asks her to finish it. Ida’s spirit is willing but her skills are weak. She faithfully reads The Waynedale News and she is aware of Born Again Quilts. “Some day I will go downtown and see her,” she thinks to herself but never gets around to it. When she read in the WN of the grand opening, the new location closer to her home, Ida is ecstatic, “Put it in on the calendar Morris, we’re going to the grand opening!”
So now after a demonstration of how to insert the border diamonds and an understanding of the need to take out a certain fabric now before it deteriorates even more and replacing the block with another made of sturdy closely woven cotton, Ida has found the confidence and determination to finish the top. She knows she can stop by the studio if she gets “stuck” or needs an encouraging boost.
Ida wants me to quilt it, an undertaking I may or may not accept. It is my wish that once Ida completes the piecing she will want to learn to hand-quilt it. For now she looks forward to the day she tucks her great-grandchildren under it and tells them the story of their great-great-grandmother Thelma and her special quilt that four generations later they get to snuggle under.
Lois Eubank is the owner of Born Again Quilts Studio. She may be contacted at 515-9446 or through The Waynedale News at firstname.lastname@example.org.