Sunday, September 28, 2008

Start to Finish

Some years ago a friend sent me a couple of antique quilt tops in need of some TLC and finishing. Among them I found what looked like a variation on the Indian Trail pattern made in the forties or fifties. I discovered that the fabrics were still in very good condition, and the maker had actually appliqu├ęd all the tiny pieces together by hand with a blind stitch.

The color palette and the pattern the maker used wasn't to my personal taste, but I needed to get over my aversion to the color yellow. Also, the amount of work that had already been done demanded I finish what she had started, also by hand.

I started working on the quilt whenever I had some spare time and my hands weren't bothering me too much. I always seemed to work on this quilt during hurricanes or storms, probably because I couldn't use the sewing machine. During the long power outtages from the 2004 hurricanes, I would sit and repair seams by candlelight. By the time Katrina roared into the Gulf in 2005, I had restored the top and had it pinned together with batting and backing. After a tornado knocked out our power during Christmas of 2006, I began the hand quilting work.

Quilting detail, Hurricane Quilt

By 2007 I could only work on the quilt on good hand days, which were few and far between. I seriously doubted I was ever going to finish the work. Toward the end of the year I set it aside for a few months during my blue period and tried to think of someone I could pass it along to. Hardly anyone hand quilts these days; the thought of someone tossing it into a cupboard or giving it to Goodwill was the only reason I held onto it.

I don't know why I kept working on it in 2008; it was taking forever and my hand stitching was becoming erratic. I had to start using a thimble with a needle puller to work on it. It seemed like an exercise in futility. I was never going to finish it, not stitching around one little patch at a time.

Until I did, tonight.

Hurricane Quilt, 2004-2008, restored and hand-quilted by PBW

It's not perfect by any means. The stitching is inconsistent, and some of it where my hands got too shaky with the needle needs to be redone. I still don't like all that yellow. But I finished it in the way I wanted it done, and how I believe the maker would have wanted -- by needle, thread, thimble and hands.


  1. Congratulations! It looks good from here. :)

  2. Wow, that's something! Inspiring work.

  3. It's absolutely awesome. I'm not a fan of that type of pattern but the work, the love you put into it...It's just gorgeous.

    Huge Hugs on finishing a heart's piece.

  4. Anonymous1:45 AM

    Congratulations! It looks wonderful.

    I've been debating taking up quilting again, at least long enough to finish the 16-patch I started as a teenager. Your example is definitely a mark in the "yes" column.

  5. It's beautiful. The fact that you have put so much time and effort into makes it that much more beautiful.

  6. It is a beautiful quilt. The yellow makes it striking though I agree not my first choice. Congratulations on finishing the quilting. I have always loved quilts and I do appreciate the work that went into the done by jand work.

  7. It's beautiful -- all the more so for knowing the story behind it. Consider documenting the story of this quilt and keeping the story and the quilt together. Knowing the reason for the inconsistent stitching you mention (that must have been excruciating for you) will make that stitching precious to whomever eventually gets the quilt.
    Congratulations for finishing. A little at a time and persistence can work wonders.

  8. Anonymous8:06 AM

    It's lovely. Congrats on finishing it. :)

  9. Anonymous8:12 AM

    When I look at both the quilt and your contribution to it I see several important things.
    1) You show your respect for the original quiltmaker and honor her life and her work by maintaining the integrity of the quilt.
    2) You are brave by willing to work outside your comfort zone when you took that time to finish something you would not have begun in the first place.

    I think both are reasons why I read your work and this blog. You've written that you're beginning to work on something (novel?) in a new direction. Your dedication to this quilt reflects that spirit of adventure and willingness to embrace change. The challenges you've faced to complete this treasure are what make you such a terrific writer and human.

    As a quilter (hand only) and someone who does antique clothing restoration on a limited basis, and so many other things, I have to thank you for preserving one more piece of our anonymous past. This is our heritage and future generations deserve to have it passed on to them. Thank you!

  10. Anonymous8:30 AM

    Wow. I do not know how to quilt, but I do love them and respect the work that goes into them. I love this story, and it makes me very happy for you.

  11. What a gorgeous ray of sunshine after the storm. No wonder it's a "hurricane quilt."

  12. Wow--this post really spoke to me. Not about quilting (I actually never learned to sew), but about dedication, persistence, and the belief in doing things the right way.

    Thank you.

  13. The detail in photo #1 is impressive. Makes me miss my Grandma's quilt. (It was damaged beyond repair years ago.)

    Congratulations for seeing it all the way through. I think it's lovely.

  14. Anonymous9:34 AM

    I really admire your stoicism in completing this work.

  15. That yellow does kinda glare...but well done! If nothing else, the care you put into it will show.

  16. Oh wow, that is fantastic. I'm surprised you were able to do it by hand because I know how much tension that puts on your fiingers. I'm sure the original quilter would've been honored you put so much into it.

  17. Congrats on finishing it! It looks like a warm and fun quilt!!

  18. What a beautiful piece of work. Congratulations on finishing, and thanks for the reminder that impossible tasks do get done, one little bit at a time.

  19. It's beautiful. I'm glad you didn't give up.

  20. Determination, sense of obligation, respect for tradition. Kudos for hanging in there all those years.
    What Jean said about documentation.

  21. What a beautiful quilt. I am so glad you didn't give up such wonderful work. As a sufferer of carpal tunnel syndrome and a hand stitcher of my daughter's clothes I know how hard it must have been for you.

  22. Like you, I'm not that fond of the yellow but I applaud you for finishing it. Too many times these unfinished pieces of history are considered too much work or too much trouble to bother with.

    I have most of my grandmother's quilts and ones I've made and I love them all, even if some are not colors or patterns I'd have chosen at this point in my life.

  23. Anonymous6:11 PM

    Lynn, this is just beautiful. Congratulations. As someone who doesn't sew, I'm simply amazed.

    Jay Montville

  24. It looks great! And yellow is my favorite color too!

    I am impressed by your perseverance in finishing the quilt, especially with the problems you have with your hands.

    Amazing work!

    thanks for sharing it with us.

  25. YAY for you! That is a great accomplishment, and a testament to not quitting. It looks warm and wonderful.

  26. It's beautiful and it must feel really great to see it finished! I use to help my grandmother quilt by hand and always hoped to make one myself but I've never been brave enough to start one for fear I would not see it through. You give me hope that I could do it. : )

  27. Anonymous10:01 AM

    For years my great grandmother saved colored tin foil and colored plastic wraps from candies. (I have been told these things were very hard to come by at the time.) Finally, she had a sufficient amount to create two tree wraps for each of her four children: one of tin foil balls, the other of the plastic wraps she gathered and bunched in such a way that the stuff became fancy and festive. These were the Christmas gifts she gave to her adult children. My paternal grandmother is the only one to have treasured and saved the gifts, and she gave them to my dad. They are still the highlight of the tree I see each season when I go home, and someday, the wraps will be mine.

    The quilt is beautiful, and if nothing else, you have touched a bunch of your readers by sharing your efforts and their results.


  28. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Oh that's beautiful! And is there anything better than a quilt you made yourself? I wish I had that talent. I love quilts, have several around my house and on our beds. I keep them even when they're worn out and the stuffing falls out. I have one of my husband's grandmother's and one that used to adorn my mother's bed, even though they're worn and can't be used anymore. There's just something warm and homey and loving about a home made quilt.

  29. Anonymous4:08 PM

    This is a beautiful quilt and you should be proud and happy--but thn yellow is my favorite color.
    Kathy Thurlow

  30. Anonymous12:59 PM

    The quilt is beautiful (I love yellow)!

    I wouldn't restitch it. Mistakes and inconsistencies are what make a hand-made item unique.

    I remember my aunt quilting at giant quilting frames suspended from the ceiling. As she got older, her stitching got a little wonky, but the quilts were still gorgeous.


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