Sewing With Grandma


One of the most precious memories I have of my Grandma is how much she loved to sew. She made beautiful patchwork quilts, pillows, and placemats out of calico prints and scraps of fabric. I loved watching her choose a color scheme, trace the pattern, and cut out the pieces. It was like watching an artist create a masterpiece.

One summer, my Grandma decided to make the most difficult quilt she’d ever attempted.  The flower basket pattern looks simple enough, but the difficulty lies in making sure each and every corner meets up without a gap. There’s about three dozen geometric pieces in each block! On top of that, she wanted to cover the borders and empty spaces with intricate stitch designs.

For most sewers this is a challenge, but my Grandma added a bonus challenge. She believed that patchwork quilts were best when made by hand. That meant tracing and cutting each piece individually and hand-sewing every single stitch. I remember watching her at the kitchen table with stacks of fabric and quilt templates. And how could I forget her sewing blocks together while in the car (it was a looooong drive into town) and even when flying (back in the days when it was okay to bring scissors on a plane).

A few years ago, my Grandma passed her crowning achievement to me. I’ve always treasured it, but now that she’s gone, her flower basket quilt is absolutely priceless.

Grandma's Handiwork: Flower Basket Quilt

Grandma’s Handiwork: Flower Basket Quilt

I love how I can still see her pencil marks and that I can remember her sewing some of the petal stitches. In particular, I have a distinct memory of her using pink thread to make the flowers in the upper right corner.

Grandma's stitched flowers and swirls.

Grandma’s stitched flowers and swirls.

As soon as I was old enough to hold a needle without hurting myself, my Grandma started to teach me how to sew. She taught me how to make invisible knots and how to evenly space stitches. Just like her, I learned how to do everything by hand. To this day, I make my quilts the traditional way.

I made my first micro-quilt when I was about nine years old.  While she was working on a larger Tumbler pattern quilt, I used a few scrap pieces to make a smaller version:

Tumbler Quilts. Grandma made the big one and I made the little one.

Tumbler Quilts. Grandma made the big one and I made the little one.

The bright yellow piece on my quilt was actually sewn in on purpose. One of the special things my Grandma taught me was to make sure there was an “oddball” piece or a mistake in every quilt. This was important because it paid homage to the pioneers who used nothing but scraps to make quilts. They didn’t have beautiful fabrics or the luxury of perfectly matching colors and we shouldn’t forget that tradition. Can you find the “mistake” in her quilt?

One of the last projects we ever worked on together was a quilt I started when I was sixteen. It took ten years for me to complete all the blocks (college kind of distracted me), but she was still there to help me lay out the border and trace the quilting lines. Then, there was one evening when we were both on the floor rolling out the backing and pinning all the layers together. I couldn’t have done it without her!

Another few years went by before I finally finished the quilt. I am so grateful that she got to see it before she passed away. Along with her flower basket quilt, my eight-point star quilt holds memories that will stay with me for a lifetime.

The last quilt I worked on with my Grandma.

The last quilt I worked on with my Grandma.

Yes, there are a few on-purpose mistakes in this quilt! Can you find them?

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c.b.w. 2013