On Quilts and Sewing Circles

“Rest is the best medicine.”

I’ve taken that advice over the past few weeks as this ugly cold runs through my system. I come home from work, gather the necessities (iPad, hot drink, cat, book), get on the couch, and wrap myself in luxury: a homemade quilt.

I love this quilt. A longtime friend made it for me. Abby and I met at a summer camp for sixth grade students and have been friends ever since.

She and her husband came to visit with me one hot August day during their annual get-away from the stifling, central California weather.  Their lodging for the week was a tent on a beautiful state beach near my home.

When she handed me the quilt, I became like one of those blubbering winners you see on game shows — though I had won my true prize 45 years ago when Abby came into my life. The quilt was more evidence of her priceless friendship.

Today I examined the quilt closely and thought about the hours it took to create such a treasure. All of that work. All to give away.

Quilting. Knitting. Crocheting. Sewing.

Labor of love.

Needlework has played an important role in every culture, and especially for women.  While doing research for one of the stories I’m working on, I came upon a home sewing article that inspired me to dig deeper. The information I found was so interesting — the cultural meanings of sewing in the U.S. — that I added a sewing circle to my story.

A group of women meet weekly to work on projects and “chew the rag.” I’m using the circle not only to highlight the fact that home sewing was a given during the Depression, but also to bring out personalities, attitudes, and back story. The circle ties in well with my story’s theme.

Here’s an excerpt. Eva has accepted an invitation given by Rachel, the landlord’s wife. She’ll be the first black woman to attend the circle as a participant. At one point during their walk to the gathering, Rachel expresses her concerns. Eva responds:

“Oh, I’ll be uncomfortable. But I’ll do my best to not let them see it. All I want is a chance to learn some things about sewing.”

 

Rachel admired Eva’s walk as she tried to keep up. Anyone watching would think the woman was on her way to a movie or a meeting with her sweetheart.

 

“I’m not looking for their boys to marry or their fancy ideas to change. Just teach me how to sew so I can make a living and move on from this place. That’s all.”

 

Rachel smiled. “And you want to show up Barbara Diller with that learned mind of yours.”

 

Eva looked sidelong at Rachel and her voice lightened. “That, too,” she said.

I have a feeling that the sewing circle will be a proving ground in more ways than one for Eva and all the women who share it.

I knit and crochet. What about you? Do you enjoy needlework?

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

11 Comments Write a comment

  1. My mom taught me to mend, hem, and hand quilt, to do embroidery and to do running stitch or cross stitch pillowcases. She taught me also how to knit. The times have utterly changed–by the time I was ten years old, I knew all of these things; my ten year old daughter has yet to sew on a button. I guess I have fallen down on the job. We are living a faster life.

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  2. Sounds like it’s time to get a needle in your daughter’s hand. She’s missing out! You have so many talents to share with her. I’m far from an expert, but I enjoy the pleasure of making something out of a ball of yarn. Plus it’s so relaxing. I do lots of thinking and praying as I work with needles and hooks.

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  3. Sweet analogy, Darla. My sister has all the talent in that field, as I am not too hand/eye coordinated, apparently. Marilyn, on the other hand, has done quite well in most of those mediums along with our mother. In fact, Marilyn had a childhood friend who was a real quilting pro and wrote books, I understand. Did she ever tell you about Velda?

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  4. Thank you, Darla. I wish I understood the technical side of photography, a must in today’s working with cameras and and science which is FOREIGN to me. I love seeing life through the lenses and appreciate beauty but that’s about as far as it goes for me.
    Marilyn’s childhood friend is “among the “Who’s Who” in the quilting world, I guess. You should ask her about Velda, maiden name Botts…don’t know beyond that but think she has published some books on the topic. I just got posting from another facebook friend who is attending a quilting gathering in nearby Wall today. I think I’ll send her this information on your blog as she is also a short story writer as well as a quilter. It just occured to me after all this that you didn’t claim to be a quilter yourself but your article had to do with the gift you received….I think I may have gotten off on a tangent here? (0:

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    • Your comment is fine! Each reader brings something different to share, and that’s what makes blogging such a joyful activity. Yes, please send your friend a link to my blog. I love connecting with fellow writers. Thank you, Nat!

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  5. When Jim and I were married, we received a framed quilt piece that still hangs over our bed: “Those who sleep under a guilt, sleep under a blanket of love.” The women of my family were avid quilters, and thanks to an aunt who didn’t want her quilts and was preparing to donate them to Goodwill, I have numerous quilts on our beds and walls. Think of the careful stitching and the memories and sharing of stories that went into quilting bees. You friend gave you a priceless gift.
    Thanks for sharing the sewing circle of your story. I love Eva’s reply–“That, too”–in your excerpt. It says so much about Eva and her life and hopes. Lovely.

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    • I believe I’ve seen some of those quilts in photos on your blog. Yes, they are priceless.

      And I’m so glad you read Eva’s reply in that way. I was hoping that those two words would share a lot about her.

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  6. Hi Darla, We attend the church, but I go to the Spanish-speaking part (definitely a God-thing– I’m sure there are purposes beyond what I can see, but I do enjoy His sense of humor!). In any case we met once after the gift you shared of singing Amazing Grace.
    This post is beautiful. Needle pointing has been passed down in my family, at least since my Grandma. She stitched an entire rug, which I inherited because of my of flowers. Tall delphiniums, & larkspur, bunnies (her favorite) crouching among bearded iris

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  7. (Katrina again) hope you’ll indulge a few more thoughts:

    -My grandma would needlepoint in the store with other ladies; I’d love something similar.

    -I was diagnosed w/ Adhd during my doctoral program. Needlept turned out to be an excellent accommodation for focusing in classes–less smelly than my earlier playdough attempt!

    – I have zero experience quilting, but aspire to make a quilt for my Mom’s next bday when she turns 70 in April

    – Finally, she has a gorgeous book of art through ages depicting women doing needlework of all sorts. I’d love to show you; perhaps over tea someday at my studio?

    PS was the article re culture and needlework online?

    Apologies for the length- my enthusiasm needs an editor

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    • Hi, Katrina — Thanks for sharing all of this with me! Your grandma’s rug must be beautiful. I hope you stick to your plan for making your mother a quilt. The only way to learn is to jump in and try it! You may even find some women in church who are quilters to go to for advice. As for the sewing article, yes, it was online. It was taken from a book, which I also found online. Here’s the link: http://www.gutenberg-e.org/gordon/intro.html. Catch me between services next week so we can chat!

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