Thursday, November 18, 2010

Red Star Quilt

Quilts are like families -they are pulled together- sometimes planned but oftentimes not. They can be quite humble or quite grand, made from high quality or cheap and even tacky fabric, and neither of which necessarily determines the charm or integrity of the finished quilt sewn together. Love and patience can create a beautiful thing from very little, as sloppiness and lack of care can destroy great potential -both in quilts and families.

I love quilts and I love quilting. I love the stories every quilt has to tell, even though many of their stories we never know, or only know incompletely. Touching an old handmade quilt gives only a hint of its history and of its maker or makers. Even if its completely unknown, quilts all have a story and that is why I am drawn to them. I intimately know the story of some parts of this quilt, very vague bits of other parts, but no one really knows all of it.

The stars were hand pieced by my father's grandmother, Ovanda Hawes Noyes, who at one time was quite the accomplished quilt maker, judging from what she left behind. My grandmother (her hired girl, and later daughter-in-law) told me that all her finished quilts were given to the more favored daughter-in-law, so I never saw any of them. My grandmother at one point, cared for both her parents and her husband's elderly parents (all at the same time, at one point) in her home, which was the same ranch house I grew up in. Her uncompleted quilts were left there, and miraculously (or meticulously, I should say), stored away. When I was in my thirties, I took up hand piecing and hand quilting with a passion, and my mom gave the uncompleted quilts to me when I expressed an interest in them.

Two year before my parents were to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, I had the idea to get as many friends and families as possible, to contribute a quilt block to put together as an anniversary quilt. I knew I would need a year to hand quilt a queen size quilt, so it was a big project that required planning, but it could be done. Red was chosen as the main color, being my mother's favorite color, and the color of these pieced stars made by my father's grandmother. The idea was received with great enthusiasm, and it was really lovely what people created for the different blocks -each was unique and incredibly wonderful. My sister-in-law and I got together with our six kids (ages 5-11) for a long weekend (or was it a week?) at my house in Everett (she was then living at the ranch house), and we helped each of them make a simple four square quilt block to contribute.

Between the time I received everyone's blocks and actually put them together, in February my father was told he had one year to live. He had survived lung cancer for 11 years, after having two separate lung operations that had removed 1/2 and 2/3 of each of his lungs. He died in October, his funeral was held on my mom's birthday, and it was all incredibly heart wrenching. Later, I decided to go ahead and complete the quilt for my mom. I put all the blocks together and -LITERALLY- the day before I began to hand quilt it, she called to tell me one of the changes she was making in her life was she was getting a much smaller bed. So, I restructured her quilt, but going from a queen to a twin size, required leaving several blocks out. I couldn't bear to not include what everyone had sent me, so I took out these stars and the blocks the kids had done. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed the following year when we gave her the quilt for her birthday at a family dinner. Now, ten years later, she's taken the parts I had to leave out and made them into this quilt to give to me. Like most quilt labels, this one indicates the journey of the creation of the quilt and the thread traveling through the generations, but it leaves out the heartbreaks, the untidy complications, and the many lost details that go into the making of a quilt -and a family.


  1. A beautiful quilt and story of a family.

  2. It's hard to describe that each stitch of a quilt is done with love and thoughts of loved ones, who the quilt is for or from. And I am so grateful to have been taught the gift of quilting from you!! You brought me to tears with this one Sis ;) All the loving memories, feeling so grateful for being a part of this wonderful family. I am Thankful and blessed in so many ways!!