For the 39th time the Maumee Valley Antique Gas and Steam Association held their summer festival East of New Haven. As I drive out to New Haven with thoughts of quilts, steamed corn and flea market delights on my mind, I arrive as a mid-afternoon storm rolls in that sends the flea market vendors into a tizzy to cover up all of their fleas. After a while the rain stops, but the covers didn’t come off because sure enough by the time I left, it is raining even harder then when I arrived.
The rain could not dampen the joy of the quilts on display. From a century old quilt featuring flying geese to grandmother’s flower gardens, to a quilt saluting the EMS the quilts reflect the ingenuity of their makers.
As a quilt restorer, I’m drawn to the hand-quilted quilts. There is a wonderful red/white quilt featuring embroidered children circa the 1920s. Wonderfully embroidered and quilted the attached note states the making of this quilt helped the maker cope with the death of her father. One of the quilt show officials assists me in tracking down the maker who thankfully happens to be on the grounds. After calling her and letting her know about Waynedale and The Waynedale News she agrees to meet me and soon we’re sitting around a frame and I’m getting to know quiltmaker Darlene Williams of Mt. Cory, Ohio located about 15 miles West of Findley.
Darlene tells me how she learns to quilt in the late 1970s when her mother-in-law takes her to a church quilt bee. Having grown up in the 4-H programs Darlene knows how to sew clothes and embroider, so she finds it easy to pick up quilting and falls in love with patchwork.
As a farm wife there are always chores to be done so Darlene is a New Year’s Day to May 1 quilter. The summer and autumn months are filled with farm chores, farm shows and the tending of the gardens. Darlene’s hostas garden surrounded by a pond she dug herself and three fountains are her pride and joy. Not to say in the “Quilting Off Season” she isn’t planning and designing quilts. In the past four decades she has never repeated a design except recently when she had enough strips leftover from a variation of a log cabin quilt to create another one for her grandson only changing one of the four colors from blue to green so it wouldn’t be exactly the same.
Red is Darlene’s favorite color so it stands to reason she would make a redwork quilt. Redwork is a form of embroidery using red floss to trace simple line drawings: traditionally animal, children, nature and kitchen themes. She finds patterns entitled “Childhood Memories” and decides they would make a great quilt except the patterns are sized smaller than she would like. She takes the patterns to Ross Elementary School where she works as a cook and shows them to a friend who works in the office. The friend takes the patterns and enlarges them to various sizes so Darlene can determine the size she likes best.
After choosing the size, the work begins. At this time, Darlene’s father is dying. This is the first time Darlene is faced with losing a parent, and it is a very emotional and yet special time as she spends precious moments at his side and later grieves his passing in January 2006. This redwork quilt with its boys and girls of days gone by in their outfits (including bloomers) with their toys and activities brings her solace as she takes these quiet moments to think of her father. As she cross-hatches the blocks and quilts a cable design in the borders, stitch by stitch as time passes, her broken heart begins the healing process.
Now it is 2016 and for Darlene the past ten years have flown by. Her family includes husband Richard, three children and seven grandchildren. The quilt lies on a guest bed, ready to welcome a guest who if they ask about it will learn of its role in mending a broken heart.
Footnote: Darlene’s quilt was awarded third place in the “People’s Choice competition.
Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts where FrankenBlankies are brought back to life. Located at 4005 South Wayne Avenue, the studio is open Wednesdays from 5:30p-7p and Saturdays 9a-2p.