Tuesday, January 09, 2007

15 years ago Meredith and I each purchased a copy of the book, The American Quilt Story, by Susan Jenkins and Linda Seward. It's a lovely book with many lovely antique quilts, but this one took Meredith's fancy. She talked constantly about making one like it, and I had to agree that it was gorgeous. It was made by Mary Hathaway Alden, and it was one of a pair. Meredith thought it would be great to match new fabrics to the photo, and recreate the exact same quilt. This was in the days before reproduction fabrics, so there was an element of challenge involved, to hunt down that many antique-looking pieces.

11 years ago Meredith had some devestating news. Her second son Robert, 11 at the time, was diagnosed with diabetes. Rob had to be taken to the Adelaide Children's Hospital to stabilse his condition. It was the start of many hospital visits. I felt so useless, being so far away, and unable at that time to leave my own family to go and help. I knew Meredith needed something to occupy her mind and her hands, and I came up with the idea of kitting up the hexagon quilt for her, so she could make a start on her quilt in the hospital, and then hunt down the rest of the fabrics over the coming months.

I cut out enough hexagons for about 7 of the rosettes, and strips of any fabric that I though she could use in the others, and sent it off to her. Then I began my own quilt, so that we were making a current day pair of quilts too.

I worked on this every year at Wimbledon time, sitting up late into the night with my stacks of pieces, industriously basting the material to the paper hexagons, then whip-stitching them together; all very English. It was a lot of fun, and I worked on it for more than four years, until it was finally pieced. Towards the end, when I had trouble finding anything at all that I could use to approximate the old fabrics, I had to use whatever I could. This was before the Stash came into existence!

It was so monstrously big! I hadn't worked out the final measurement when using a 1" hexagon, and the final measurements are 98" x 86". I was slightly appalled at the size, and thought it had grown to be a monstrosity, too big to fit any bed we owned; it was christened the Red Elephant.

Do Americans have White Elephants? It's an English thing; a White Elephant was anything that was more trouble than it was worth, or no use to the owner. White Elephant stalls at Fairs sell donated junk and household objects that no-one wants any more. It's any object that is out of place or not wanted or unsuitable. And my quilt was definitely unsuitable. But Red...I found an elephant print and made this rosette, and then came across this material for the backing. Perfect.For some mad reason I decided to hand quilt this baby, and it took more years than I care to remember, seeing as I can only handquilt in winter, and we get about 2 months of the year that even remotely resembles winter. It seemed never ending. The original was tied in every hexagon, and that must have taken a long time too.

In time we bought a bigger bed, with one of those very thick mattresses, and a large quilt became a necessity. Instead of this quilt being an embarrassment, it's the only one I've finished that actually fits the new bed. It has lived there ever since I took the final stitches in the binding 2 years ago, and every day when I make the bed I run my hand over the rosettes and smile at the memories.

8 comments:

Helen 6:04 PM  

Great memories. Great Quilt. we all need at least one humungous quilt in our lives. That elephant backing fabric reminds me of some cotton prints I got from Jim Thompson's Silk shop in Bangkok about 3 years ago.

pamina 10:58 PM  

The story of this quilt is moving ant it is absolutely wonderful. What a patience !

May Britt 2:22 AM  

This is a great quilt. And I understand you love it. Grandmothers flowergarden is a beautiful pattern where you can use all of your scraps.

The Calico Cat 5:14 AM  

To answer your question, yes we have white elephants too... As a matter of fact, my guild has a white elephant sale every year in October or November and the proceeds go to the church where we meet for their Thanksgiving charity baskets.

Lovely quilt - great back!

meggie 1:23 PM  

What a lovely quilt, & a lovely story to go with it. Thanks for sharing.

Molly 5:32 PM  

So nice to get your comment on my blog....and then to find you were a quilter too---and what a quilter. Your work is beautiful....and a tennis fan...I'll definitely be back.

Sewcatherine 7:26 PM  

I grew up going to a great antique store in the mountains called The White Elephant...it used to be an inn of the same name. It still had the claw foot tubs in all the bathrooms. One of my favorite places. Thanks for sharing your elephant.

Molly 10:59 AM  

Went snooping through you archives...ha! Love the billy jar idea, and your log cabins are gorgeous. We call a "mistake" such as the one on your log cabin quilt, a creative design option! I drew encouragement from the story of your Dad. Made me feel much better about all my unfinished symphonies...

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