My grandmother recently asked to sit down with my daughter and me. Picture frame in hand, she explained that she wanted to give a gift to each of her five great granddaughters.
My daughter sat puzzled as she examined the contents of the frame. I, on the other hand, instantly recognized the shapes beneath the glass: quilting patterns that belonged to my great grandmother. My grandmother explained that she found them years ago after her mother had passed away and, unsure of what to do with them at the time, she’d tucked them away for safekeeping. Almost three decades and five great granddaughters later, she knew that dividing them up among the girls would be the perfect way for each of them to carry this legacy with them.
A lump formed in my throat as I admired the shapes and remembered my great grandmother. Fortunate to have several of her quilts in my possession—some of them over a hundred years old—I consider them to be some of my greatest treasures. Sewn together with her own two hands, her quilts are more than a work of art to me. Every piece of fabric and stitch points to a simpler way of life: one that involved time to sit and create. A time when attention to detail was of the utmost importance, and there was no rushing to finish a task. My great grandmother’s quilts remind me that life was meant to be cherished and enjoyed, that every seam of it is being woven into a tapestry—a work of art in living color that reflects the sum of its parts.
While I was so thankful to have my daughter holding a relic that my great grandmother once held, I felt saddened by the memories of my great grandmother sitting with fabric stretched wide on a rack. And in that moment, I suddenly felt as though the thread that had hemmed generations of women together had somehow been tethered. I had come from a long legacy of quilting women, but I would not be one of them. All of those summers I had spent with my grandmother as a child and I had never taken the time to learn.
My grandmother no longer quilts—I had forever missed my opportunity to learn from her. My daughter would never learn from me what the women before me had learned from their mothers. My heart sank with regret as I realized I had let something so special slip through my fingers.
My daughter happily handed the frame to me and thanked my grandmother for the gift. I knew that she was appreciative but could not yet understand at her age the treasure that she had been given. As I sat there, holding the weight of five generations of women, I told my grandmother that I was sorry. Sorry that I never took the time to learn from her what she had learned from her mother. And that’s when she hit me with a life changing truth.
“I didn’t learn how to quilt from your great grandmother,” she explained. In fact, when she was a little girl, her mother all but begged her to learn to quilt but my grandmother would have nothing to do with it. I sat there shocked as the image of my grandmother quilting with her mother shattered. In fact, my grandmother didn't begin quilting until she took an adult ed class at a local high school. “We made a pillow top,” she told me. “And I thought, if I can make that, I can make a quilt.”
My grandmother learned to love quilting in her own time and in her own way. She went on to make at least thirty quilts for friends and family members; praying for them while she worked on their quilts and reflecting on how much their lives meant to her. A wave of relief washed over me. The circle had not yet been broken. Not in theory, anyway.
While I know that this busy season of working and raising kids will not provide time for quilting, I can look forward to the day that I might have time to learn. And in the meantime, I can still pass on to my children the values that these quilts embody such as the importance of hard work, attention to detail, and the beauty of slow and steady progress in life.
The frame of my great grandmother’s quilting patterns now hangs in my living room. One day, it will be passed, along with the quilts, to my daughter and she she will pass them on to her children. And while those descendants will never know the women who stitched them together, they might be inspired to pick up a needle and thread one day and try a few stitches of their own. Either way, my prayer is the same, that they will view the fabric of their lives as an opportunity to create a glorious tapestry. And that they will sew to their heart's’ content, watching the beauty unfold.