Thursday, April 24, 2014

Life is like a patchwork quilt

Recently I was invited to speak at a the St. Athanasius Catholic Daughters of America annual banquet.  My subject was, Life is like a patchwork quilt.  This is my talk, along photographs of the quilts used during my talk.  Since it was about a 20 minute talk, more or less, I will do it in parts.

One of many baby quilts I have made using scraps from other projects.
Life is like a patchwork quilt.

Thank you for asking me to come and speak with you tonight on “Life is like a patchwork quilt.”  When Marsha asked me to come, I questioned, “Are you sure?  Aren’t you getting tired of seeing my face and hearing my voice.  This will be the fourth time I have spoken to your group,” but I hesitantly agreed.  When I told my husband Rick about it, he remarked, “Well, duh, don’t you get it? They want you to join the Catholic Daughters; they’ll keep asking you to speak until you join.”  Keep in mind this comes from the guy who also says, “If I die first, I want you to have me cremated.  Take my ashes and sprinkle them in JoAnn Fabrics. Then at least I know you will come and visit me.” 
But, in speaking with Father Willgenbush recently at your out of hibernation gathering, he commented, “That’s during Holy Week,” and I concluded, “you CDA ladies wanted one last big dose of penance to send you into Easter.”  
In preparing for visiting with you about quilts, I did a bit of research:
Does anyone know the origin of the word quilt?

The term "quilt" comes from the Latin word, culcita (CULCEETA) meaning a stuffed sack.  The word has come to have 2 meanings. It is used as noun, meaning the 3-layer stitched bed covering. It is also used as a verb, meaning the act of stitching through the 3 layers to hold them together. 
So basically a quilt is a cloth sandwich.  It has a top, which is usually the decorated part, a back, and with a filler in the middle. We generally think of 3 different types (1) the plain or whole cloth quilt, (2) applique quilts, and (3) pieced or patchwork quilts.  

My preference is to make patchwork quilts and tonight I will mostly talk about them.
 I also put a question on my face book page to my fellow quilting friends.  I asked them, “How long have you been quilting and why do you quilt?”  Some of the responses to my unofficial survey:
“I sew for gifts and to make memories for my kids and grandchildren…”
 I quilt because I love giving the best gift you can give to someone! Handmade awesomeness with love!
I made my first quilt in 1969 when I was a student here at St. Athanasius.  We were assigned a group project for American history class.  Three classmates and I decided to make a quilt, depicting a continuous craft in our country’s history.   Early quilts were just a way of using every precious scrap they had.  Blankets were patched, used as filler between worn clothing reused and pieced together for blankets.  They were intended to be used for warmth.  In later years the manufacturing of fabric and clothing freed women to have the time to sew artistic quilts.  From 1750-1870 thousands were pieced, many were very elaborate taking years to make.  Some have survived and are preserved.
My first quilt at age 14
Well, this quilt is NOT one of them.  If you look carefully at the workmanship, it is apparent this was a first for us.  But we did it, we learned, and most important, to us at the time, we got an A.
I didn’t attempt quilting again for many years.  But I never lost the interest in fabric, needles and thread.

 There are a couple of sayings about sewing; maybe some of you have heard them:
“My soul is fed with needle and thread.”
“When I learned to sew, I forgot how to clean.”
“Stitching forever, housework whenever.”
For those of you who know me, do you think these fit?  My favorite is, “geniuses are rarely tidy.”  I see some of you nodding on that one - you must have been in my house or shop, I’m sure what you are nodding about is NOT the word genius.  And I would agree with you on that.  You see, I don’t think I am an expert on quilting or even on stitching.  Look at my first quilt  - and my first project in High School Home Ec class received a dismal “C minus.”  But I have been blessed to have that “dog with a bone” tenacity and a love of learning and have spent most of my life seeking a better way to do things.  I include stitching and quilting in those passions.
I should tell you a bit about myself.  I am the daughter of Jerry and Rita Kies, and I grew up on a farm outside of Jesup with 8 brothers and two sisters.  My maternal grandmother, Tillie Kremer, a member of this organization in days gone by, was a professional seamstress and the ancestors on my dad’s side were accomplished seamstresses as well.  So I like to tell people I inherited the love of sewing.  I married my husband, Rick Rottinghaus, here at St. A., in 1975 and together we raised four children, Eric, Dean, Kathy and Adam.  A special gift each of them received at birth was a quilt made by my great Aunt Mary. 
Quilts by Aunt Mary Winkel
She loved to sew rags together with her treadle sewing machine and have them woven into rugs.  People gave her their cast off materials and worn out clothes.  When she happened upon pieces worthy of a quilt she set those aside and created those treasured blankets for all of her loved ones.  As I reflected on her gifts to my children, I thought about the love she illustrated for us all.  For not only did she pump that pedal with her arthritic legs to sew those quilts, she chose things others often discard to craft items that became her legacy.  Aunt Mary looked at people the same way she viewed rag rugs or quilts.  All are valued, including people living on the fringes of society.  Her house was home to piles of fabrics waiting to be stitched into a gift of love, along with many people down on their luck who needed a place to stay.  She used her large two story home as a boarding house for folks who needed a hand up as opposed to a hand out.  What a wonderful way to live a life and something to strive to attain. 
When Aunt Mary passed away in 1989, she left behind boxes of fabric and had given away too many baby blanket/quilts to count.  It was then I decided to learn to quilt.  I wanted to continue her tradition of welcoming each new life in our family with a quilt made just for them.  
I wish I had taken a picture of each quilt I made from the time I started until today, but I never thought about at the time. It’s probably for the best - I would have to stop and count, but let’s just say I could show you a slide show that would be so long your eyes would cross and you’d leave here having Holy Week penance checked off your list.
I do remember one of the first ones was hand quilted.  That didn’t last long, okay, I only did it once.  I switched to a machine technique, stitch in the ditch, which means to follow a seam, placing stitches in the center.  The stitches fall into the “ditch” and are hidden.   Now I use a method called stippling to secure the top, batting and bottom together.  I lower the feed dogs on my sewing machine, either Bernie or Sew-n-Sew, and working at a fairly rapid speed I move the fabric on the machine bed.  .  Oh, are you wondering who Bernie and Sew-n-Sew are?  Did I forget to tell you I name all my machines?  The two mentioned: Bernie, (Bernina), Sew-n-Sew (an industrial machine that stitches about 4 x the speed of Bernie b/c I’m always in a hurry).   I named all my machines because some days I only have them for conversation, AND they never sass me back.    Anyway, I move the fabric freely and lay down stitches that move across the quilt in a random, flowing movement, taking care they don’t overlap.   This is also referred to as free motion quilting.   This method suits me the best because it mirrors the way I try to live my life: moving freely from one project to the next, trying not to overlap them.  Long arm quilting is another method used, many hire this done.
Tufted quilt
Back to the history of quilts for a bit: Earlier I shared the definition and that the word quilt is used as both a noun and a verb, referring quilt to the art of stitching the three layers together.  A variation is a "tufted" quilt that is tied through in enough places to keep the filling from shifting and bunching. While a tufted quilt has no stitching holding the layers together, it does have the typical 3 layers seen in traditional quilts.   We have some samples on display of quilts made by a former member of CDA, Agnes Mangrich and her daughters.   Early quilts were used as bed covering for warmth, and to cover doors and windows to keep out the cold.   By the early 1900's
quilting was transforming from a necessary art into a creative one.
During the Depression, people simply did not have the money to buy blankets so once again women relied on their own skills and resources to keep their families warm.  "Use it up, wear it out, make it due, or do without” was common practice for life and many used feed sacks for fabric.
Made by my Great Grandma Wester using feed sacks
I have a sample of one, made my paternal Great Grandma Wester.   She used the Dresden plate pattern, popular at that time.  She appliqued the pieces of feed sack fabric on muslin and quilted it, all by hand.   As you may guess, I treasure this piece of my great grandmother and her legacy.  My Great Aunt Mary, who inspired me to sew quilts, was her daughter. 

50th Anniversary Quilt for my parents
This large quilt is one our family made and gave to my parents for their 50thwedding anniversary.  As you can see, each family member decorated their own square.  Once we accomplished this we pooled our scrap fabrics; each family added to the mix.  My sister, Audry, cut squares and constructed the top.  I would like to note that she took care so each piece is different.  If there are two alike it only happened because two of us gave her identical scraps.   May I ask a question and no, you don’t need to answer this, “How many of us have looked at another person and sighed, “I wish I had her/his talent?”

Romans, chapter 12, verse 6 tells us:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

50th Wedding Anniversary Quilt - no two squares are the same
So please direct your thoughts to the variety of fabrics used – no two are alike.  Could I take out one piece and have the same treasure?  It would be incomplete, just as I like to think about people.  Each one of us is unique and the gift given to us by our Creator is important.  Not one is more important than the other, and without one, humanity would be incomplete.  I challenge each of us to recognize our own gift, thank God for it and then use it to the best of our ability. 
For 1 Corinthians 12 states:
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
When the top was complete our family gathered together as on one from my mother to the young nieces.  We learned how to hand quilt together and built community as we stitched.  It was reminiscent of an old fashioned quilting bee and we created a wonderful memory together.  Isn’t that we do as a church community:  gather together, learn new lessons and create some awesome memories.  
Next I’d like to talk about some of quilts I have made as gifts over the years.

Kile's Quilt
Old McDonald Had a Farm
Cavanaugh's Quilt
These first four are the ones for my grandchildren.  When our first, Kile, was born I decided to sew a theme quilt, using the pattern, Grandma’s Attic Window, selecting farm fabric and the song ‘Old McDonald’ as applique and motifs.  For the first two grands, Eric’s children, Kile and Cavanaugh, I managed to accomplish that.  

Garrett's Quilt
But when our third grand, our son, Dean’s first born, came along someone purchased a matching nursery set for him.  I needed to switch gears. I researched the internet and found fabric to match the purchased items.  I used that as a basis for my design, still using the Grandma’s Attic Window pattern.  My daughter-in-law, Meg said it matched the nursery perfectly. J
Lauren's - Variation of Nine Patch
But when Grand #4 Lauren, Dean’s second came along, I needed to adapt.  You see, Dean’s first born, Garrett returned to our Creator unexpectedly at the age of 5 months and 27 days.  In an effort to lessen their pain, I used a completely different pattern, but some of the same fabrics.  To me this says: life changes.  What works in one situation will not necessarily work in every one that comes our way.  And so, I must be open to change and adapt.

Joel's Quilt
James's Quilt
The next quilts were gifts to great nieces and nephews.  As I construct quilts I try to use fabric left from other projects and match the colors to the flannel backing. .  I want to draw your attention to Joel’s first.  If you look carefully you will find three pieces of blue fabric that don’t quite match the rest.  I ran out and found something similar.  I point this out because I thought - Life is not perfect and that’s okay, I must just do the best I can with what I have been given.  Many quilters add an odd piece in every quilt to illustrate this.

Josie's Quilt
These two quilts belong to James and Josephine.  I used the same pattern for each but look how different they look.  I talked about talents a bit ago and I think this illustrates another point about them.  Many people share similar talents, but each individual brings a different dimension to our world by being themselves.  Just as different fabrics changed the look of these quilts, so can a fresh outlook change our perspective when different people work together using their unique gifts.

Always Kiss Frogs 2
Always Kiss Frogs 1
These next few, the two frog quilts belonging to Mia and Rachel, and no they aren’t identical – I never make two exactly the same.  

Zachary's Quilt
Zachary,James and Josephine’s were made using the same pattern.  They look so different because of my decision to sew the strips in a different order.  I also added an additional row on some and I’m sure you can see the size change.  I talk about this because it gave me another perspective on our world -  we sometimes define our path in life by the choices we make.  One small change can direct our journey on to a totally new fork in the road. 

No Pattern Quilt
Sammy's Quilt
Sammie’s monkey quilt was made using no pattern.  I knew his room was to be decorated in monkeys and I had some scraps that fit that theme.  So I did a technique called fussy cutting and cut my first pieces using only the monkey faces.  I then created the quilt using those 4 rectangles, cutting and fitting pieces as I went.  For me this reminds me once again - sometimes my world has no consistency.  I have to look at what I have been given that day and piece things together to work.  Romans 8:28 tells us “28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.

9 Patch and Rail Fence Pattern Combined
This blue/white baby quilt I brought along tonight is for my great niece Lilliana, or Lily as we call her.  I did several using two patterns.  Why?  My life was pretty hectic and I just didn’t have time to do a more complicated design.  Lately I have been hearing speakers or readings that tell us our world is too busy and we should: “ simplify our life.”  This quilt is an example of a very simple pattern.  This square is a 9 patch. It was first used in the early 19th century and, because it is easy to learn, was often the first quilting square mothers taught their young daughters.  Once it is mastered there are hundreds of variations of the 9 patch.  I chose this for simplicity and paired it with another simple pattern, the rail fence, constructed by stitching three identical strips together to form a block. By combining the two I was able to make it a bit more interesting.  This is one of my latest quilts, it was very quick to stitch together, and it does represent my life – I am working at living a simpler lifestyle.  I slowed down as a business woman and am trying to concentrate more on what is really important, my faith, my family and people around me.  I am exploring new horizons and discovering exciting things I enjoy.  In choosing simplicity, my pleasures in life have expanded.

When we look at some quilts we may think – I could never do that, it is too complicated.  Life situations can make us feel like that sometimes.  We’ve all experienced a problem that seemed bigger than we could handle.  I like to use this pinwheel quilt to illustrate that idea.  All these little triangles may look problematical. So does life sometimes. During a very difficult time in my life from late 2004 through 2006 our family struggled with three major things, mental illness, cancer and the loss of our grandson.  There were days I felt overwhelmed and didn’t think I could get through the day.  I had to quit looking ahead to see how our situation was going to end.  Instead I focused on one day at a time, or one hour, and some days it was one minute at a time. I couldn’t look at the big picture.  Instead, it worked better for me to break it into smaller sections and figure out a way to make things work.  

 So it is with this pattern. Let’s break it down into smaller bites:  I took two pieces of fabric, placing them right sides together, sort of like my situation and my attitude toward it.  I used this paper template, to me it represents my faith, and pinned the three together.  I stitched on the dotted lines – that represents the path for me that Jesus laid out for us as a way to live life.  After stitching, I cut on the solid lines using wonderful tools, a rotary cutter, rule and board (a quilter’s best friends.)  The cutting of the solid lines to me is like when I cut away the way things that I have held on to too tightly.  Some of those things are not important to my spiritual growth and I needed to slice them out of my life.   A press from a hot iron and my challenge has been reduced to a manageable procedure.  So must we, press toward the prize of eternal life. Finally, I stitched the squares together to form the pattern, just as I must use prayer as a tool to hold everything together.   

As I studied this pattern it also reminds me of times in my life.  Look with me at the dynamics of this pattern.  It is has only three fabrics, one light, the lavender, one dark, the navy/lavender print and white.
Ecc.  3:4 tells us,   4 A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.  This quilt illustrates to me this verse.  Everyone has difficulties in life, the hard times, the dark times, a time for tears: the navy print.   But we all have good times, too.  Times when life just rolls along smoothly and all is good, times of light:  a time for laughter: the lavender fabric.    Imagine if I had used only lavender prints or only navy prints?  It would not be as striking, would it?   We need the valleys and the mountaintop experiences for life to be harmonious.  If I had one without the other, neither would be as meaningful.  And the white fabric? – God.  Without a relationship with God my life would not stay together.  I have to stay connected with God at all times, just as the white fabric connects the squares and completes this quilt.  As my figurine states: God Mends Broken Hearts.

The last quilt I wish to talk about is one, given to Rick and I from my sister, Audry, as a gift for our 30th wedding anniversary.  Each square represents a part of our family and our life together.  But to me it represents much more.  In 1993, Audry was in a serious auto accident that left her with a permanent head injury.  She was no longer able to work at her teaching job, but her reaction to this is an inspiration to me.  After her long recovery, she had to choose a new path for herself.  She looked at what abilities she still had and concentrated on those, as opposed to the things she had lost.  This quilt was made by her, along with countless other quilts and sewing projects, since her accident.  She exemplifies to me the saying common in a quilter’s world: “When life hands you scraps, make a quilt.”

Backside of a quilt
As we leave here tonight I would like to leave these final thoughts:  Life REALLY IS like a patchwork quilt.  I shared with you many quilt tops.  Lastly I wish to show a quilt back.  It sure doesn’t look as pretty does it?  It’s jagged, ragged and messy.  When we see life here on earth, this is the side we see.  Often times it doesn’t make sense; we can’t see understand why this is happening.  We are only looking at our life, our quilt, from the underside.

One day, when we meet our creator, we will be able to look at the quilt from God’s view.  With this new angle I believe we will be able to it’s beauty.  Our life, our quilt will be finished.  It will be at that time the veil will be lifted.  We will understand the reasons our blocks were constructed in the manner they were, that without one of the pieces our quilt, our life, would have been incomplete.   Each quilt block will assure us:  We are each valued, we all are unique in our gifts and talents, sometimes we choose our own path by our choices; that we will have times of light and times of darkness; sometimes we fray around the edges, but with prayer we can bind it all together.  And may all of us rest in the knowledge that our quilt WILL be beautiful and irreplaceable in God’s kingdom.