Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ode to the Unknown Piecer

By definition an ODE is "a lyric poem expressive of exalted or enthusiastic emotion"

I'm not a poet, I'm a rambler...but this post does have what I hope to be enthusiastic emotion.

As a longarm quilter for hire, it's my job (and my joy) to assist piecers (quilters) in the finishing of their masterpieces. Sometimes the owner of the quilt top isn't necessarily the one who pieced it, sometimes it's an inherited top, or even a special purchase from an estate sale or antique market. Sometimes I don't even know the story, as in the case of the quilt I'm working on this week.

One of my faithful customers had a neighbor with a quilt top that needed to be quilted. If I was told the story I have certainly slept since then and don't remember. All I remember is my good customer telling the neighbor that she would show it to her longarm quilter and see if anything could be done with it...for you see, the top had "issues."

I wish I had more of a command of vocabulary because "issues" seems disrespectful, and I certainly don't mean any disrespect to the unknown piecer, but this is another one of those "bless her heart" quilts...

This particular quilt was hand pieced, and judging by the fabrics full of feedsacks and other recognizable designs, was probably pieced in the 30's or 40's when the double wedding ring pattern was very popular. I always love taking a photo of the actual hand piecing before it is covered up forever and ever amen. For a reason unknown to me, the piecing was done in both a black thread and occasionally a white thread - could it be that the unknown quilter was using what was available as far as thread choices were concerned? Could it be that she was a beginner and the black thread was a way for her to see where she was working, or could it be that she was a seasoned saint whose eyesight was aided by this choice of thread color?



The double wedding ring is not a pattern for the faint of heart. Yes, its symbolism is one that will warm your heart - sometimes made in hopes of a future marriage, sometimes made for a wedding, or perhaps even for a special anniversary. Regardless, it's a difficult pattern to piece with it's small ring of colorful scraps and it's odd size melon in between, not to mention the large center piece whose proper geometric name escapes me....


Yes, this quilt had some 'issues' - for one, it didn't want to lay flat when spread out on the floor, and as you can see in the photo above, it didn't end on an even note. The edges looked more like ruffles potato chips with it's ridges than a quilt that would grace a bed ensemble.

Ah, but that's only if you look with your eyes and not your heart!

Not knowing the quilt piecer, the history of the quilt, or anything really except the current owner wanted it finished and was willing to accept puckers in the completed project - I was left up to my imagination as to how to quilt this particular masterpiece.

The design needed to take into consideration that there would be many pleats and puckers along the way, yet I didn't want to just meander or stipple over the entire top. An edge to edge pantograph wouldn't work either, number one simply because it would again be difficult to ease in the fullness and number two (which was really number one in my mind) is it just wasn't befitting to a double wedding ring. Too much time had been invested in the piecing, it would be disrespectful to rush the finishing by just stitching any ole thing to hold in the batting.

For somewhere in time a lovely lady set her mind upon piecing a double wedding ring. Perhaps in hopes of her own marriage, perhaps just because she liked the pattern. Could it have been her first quilt, or even one of her last? After all the careful planning and choosing of the scraps for the rings and the countless hours of piecing did she grow weary and decide not to quilt it? Was she frustrated when she couldn't make the seams obey and lay flat, or was she piecing during a difficult time and the simple motion of needle and thread working in her fingers brought her peace and the end result wasn't the focus? Some thing I'll never know unless the current owner has a story to share - but what I do know is this unknown piecer had the tenancy to finish that which she started - not a ring missing, not an unfinished row, a little uneven and a little full, but a complete top. Bravo!

A top that cried out "finish me". And to the best of my ability that was my goal. In an effort to mask some of the fullness I decided to double layer the batting, with an 80/20 cotton/poly on the back to help shape the quilt and a high loft poly on the top to soften the fullness that was inevitable.

What to stitch? What would work the best considering the obstacles and still honor the piecer's love and attention to the completion of her top? what indeed but hearts! When that thought hit me, the love just flowed out from one quilter to another. The shared passion and perhaps the shared imperfection. Somehow I could relate to this unknown piecer. My designs aren't perfect, I don't make a perfect quarter inch seam in all my quilts, sometimes my blocks are a little wonky, but the love is never less than a perfect love - love for the process, love for the journey, love for the therapy brought about by playing in fabric and thread, and love in hopes that one day this labor of love will warm someone's heart as it warms them from the outside elements. Can the love be felt? I certainly hope so, I tried to match it stitch for stitch with the love I imagined of the unknown piecer.


So yes, it's a little uneven, yes it's a little puckered, and yes it still needs a binding put on to make it complete (tomorrow's task), and yes, it's FINISHED! (almost, except the binding). I hope the recipient will savor the character added to the quilt by it's age spots, creative piecing and beautiful scraps.


And yes, I hope it's loved when it finds it's way home. I hope it will be said that I completed my task of honoring the quilt maker by finishing her quilt so it can be used as intended.

13 comments:

vickiwelsh said...

Kudos to you for a great finish!

Muddling Through said...

Karen, you did a masterful job on that quilt. (But then again, you always do!) I loved that you loved the quilt, even in its imperfections and you improved it so it could hold its head up with the best of them!

Quilts on Bastings said...

Wow, you have done a fabulous job. How exciting to get to quilt such a treasure.

Susan Loftin said...

Beautiful job, Karen!

Anonymous said...

I love your "ramblings" as much as I love the way you finished this quilt. You truly honored the piecer of this quilt top, as always. Thank you for sharing!

Pat
AZ

Autumn Comforts said...

Absolutely beautiful. Karen, you are a delight. Bless your heart, Honey. I feel certain you did the unknown piecer very, very proud.

Jeanne Turner McBrayer said...

This quilt looks lovely, and all quilts do not have to be show-worthy to be treasures.

I have a DWR top made by my sister-in-law's grandma in the 70's waiting for me to complete. Your story is inspiring me to get it out. I don't think it will turn out as pretty...the "melons" are a blue flowered sheet. Oh, well!

sdgodfrey said...

I really like how you quilted all the hearts and your "heart"-warming story.

Quilter Kathy said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts about this treasure. I'd be a wreck trying to flatten out this quilt and figuring out how to quilt it. You did a great job!

Miri said...

Well done and well said!

Laurie said...

I have an 'issue' quilt in the frame right now so came to re-look at some of your issue quilts. Maybe I can do this. I was ready to scream. Thanks.

Lasmosses said...

Really enjoyed your story and the beautiful work on the quilt. Just a little ramble about thread. Years ago, while going thru Grans sewing leftovers, we discovered a small bag with threads lovingly wrapped up in little bundles. Gran said when she reused old garments nothing went to waste. She would pull out the thread from the seams and re-use it as well as the fabric, buttons and anything else that could be salvaged. Gran lived to be 104 and would have enjoyed seeing this double wedding ring quilt made with what looks like all that lovingly salvaged fabric and thread.

Karen E. Overton said...

Thank you for sharing the story of your Grandmother's threads... such a treasured memory!