4/13/2009

pilgrim classic: Wedding Quilt

Originally posted on The Exponent:

In my family, each of the women make quilts in preparation for their marriage. My mother’s quilt had a white background with intricate blue and green designs embroidered onto the quilt top. My older sister’s quilt was pieced—an Amish-like simple navy blue and white design.

I knew I would want something special for my quilt, something that reflected the symbolism of my wedding and also would be traditional and elegant. I became enchanted with ‘whole-cloth’ quilts--where the fabric is all one piece and the design comes from the quilt stitches. I found a design that I liked—a pattern taken from a 19th-century wedding quilt. With interlocking rings and vines, on all-white fabric. I loved the way the rings and circles in the pattern symbolized the eternal union that I desired. And I wanted it to be white, to remind me of the temple and of purity. Yet I knew that a quilt of such complexity would take a long time to create and I ran the risk of never finishing it! But I also knew it was the one. And I wouldn't be satisfied with anything else.

At the time I settled on this particular quilt pattern I wasn’t yet engaged. It was my sophomore year of college and my boyfriend of my freshman year was serving a mission. I was also dating two other RMs rather seriously. I figured that one of the three would be proposing soon enough and so I ought to get started on the quilt just in case. As a Christmas gift my Mom purchased all of the supplies for the quilt and she marked the design on the quilt top. We set up the quilt frame in the Dining Room and began quilting.

Now, for those of you who aren’t quilters, let me explain a few things:
1) Quilt stitches are small, often 4-5 stitches per inch. I was planning a king-size quilt with designs so close and complex that there were often multiple rows of stitches per each square inch of fabric (was I crazy???).

2) When you quilt, you have to send the needle through three layers: the top layer of fabric, the ‘batting’ or cotton stuffing in the middle, and the bottom layer of fabric. There’s only one way to know if you’re needle made it successfully through all three layers, and that is to use the tip of your finger to 'feel' the needle poke through underneath. This means that with each and every stitch, the tip of your finger is ever-so-slightly pricked by the point of your sharp needle. The upshot: after about 2 hours of quilting, the tips of each finger are full of so many holes that the skin resembles raw hamburger—and are often oozing little drops of blood.

At the time that we were making my wedding quilt, I attended a university about three hours from my parents’ home and I lived in the dorms. So I could only work on it when I traveled home on weekends. Which was, at most, twice per month. When I did come home, I would spend much of the weekend bent over the quilt frame. My mother also put in many hours stitching during the days that I wasn’t home. It took us eleven months to complete the quilting.

As I sat sewing I had much time for thinking. A lot of my thoughts were about my future. It was as I was sitting over that quilt that I read the letter from my missionary where he said that he intended to propose to me when he returned home from Japan. And as I thought about that for a long time, I decided that my future was with him, and the quilt would someday grace our bed.

Ironically, perhaps, even though we married five months after John returned to the States, we have never used this quilt. We have never slept under it. It seems far too precious and too fragile. Until very recently, I've never felt that I had a bed that was pretty enough for such a quilt. But even now that we have a nice bed, we use an inexpensive (and washable!) matlesse spread. Our wedding quilt is carefully folded in my grandma’s cedar chest that sits at the foot of our bed. Occasionally I take it out and look at it. But usually only when we are moving to a new home.

My older sister, on the other hand, put her wedding quilt on her bed for everyday use. My Mother also had her wedding quilt on her bed until it was stained by diaper changes and the messiness of raising five small children.

Today, to take these pictures I spread out the quilt on my bed in the morning light. As I did so, my kitties kept jumping up on the bed and frolicking. They wanted to lie in the sun on the quilt. I fretted a bit about the black and grey cat hair that I could see already accumulating in their favorite spots. Then I let myself stretch out over the quilt and I thought about the intention, love, and hard work that I had invested in this one simple piece of cloth. A few yards of fabric, some cotton stuffing, and thousands upon thousands of tiny stitches. Blood, sweat, and tears. Joy.

And I thought to myself: What am I waiting for? Why not use it tonight and tomorrow and from now on?

22 comments:

Kate said...

I'm speechless. Calling it incredible seems unworthy of it.

Delaney said...

It has nothing to do with me, but it still made me happy when you suggested you just use the thing for real now. I think that's a fantastic idea - adding intricate beauty into your space is always a good thing. Especially when it was made by you and your mother. Really gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

That is truly a beautiful quilt.

I recently heard a story from someone in my grandma's generation. On Sundays, part of the ritual was to make the bed and put the "best quilt" on it. The best quilt would be folded in a chest otherwise. I think it is a nice way to enjoy something beautiful but not wear it out quickly. Of course, that was a different time, when the weekly rhythm was much more defined. I'm lucky if my bed gets made at all once a week!

The Numismatist said...

Absolutely stunning quilt. Wholecloth is one of my favorites. I say use it. No one will ever appreciate the calloused fingers like you will.

ymp said...

That's absolutely beautiful. I can't believe you actually made it.

Kanga said...

A beautiful story and beatiful quilt. If you are afraid that it will get dirty by the cats may be you could hang it on the wall

deb said...

It's beautiful. I can see why you put it away but it needs to be used to make it truly beautiful.

Amy said...

Absolutely beautiful work, to create an incredible piece of art. My Aunt makes each of her nieces a quilt; I have a traditional wedding ring in blue and cream. I pull it out for the summer months and use a comforter in the winter. It somehow makes me happy you are using something made with such love.

Erin G. said...

Love this entry -- just love it!

Sally said...

I love your quilt and I understand why you don;t wan to spoil something so precious, but who will get the pleasure of this quilt if you don't ?? You and your mother have made a true heirloom.

Magsie said...

That is an incredible piece of art and you should definitely use it!

Chelsea said...

Just amazing. I love this post! I think one of the most beautiful things about quilting is that so much effort and love and plain old hard work is put into something that becomes part of the everyday. We could use more of that in our world where all things domestic are devalued.

Kylie said...

That is a stunning quilt. Things like that need to be displayed and used. When my aunt died at a young age, my mother inherited all her "good" china. It had never been used. My aunt had been waiting for the right occasion. From that point on in our house, things were used. Some not so frequently as others, but that "good" china was trotted out at least once a month and used. Let your quilt be used for what it was made for - to warm you and your husband and celebrate the beautiful relationship you have.

G said...

so ironic! I just started a quilt for our (king sized) bed this week. with my mil's help and I've been remembering this post (from back the first time I read it)! your quilt kept coming to my mind as we (machine quilted) our way through a (bright multi-colored)thing I kept thinking about you and this pure white hand stitched wonder.

I'm SO NOT WORTHY!!!

belleshpgrl said...

That is the most beautiful piece of quilting I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of quilts.

Laura said...

I have the quilt my great-grandmother made for my grandmother's wedding. Plans went astray. It was just a pieced top for maybe 80 years--but with signs of use. It must have decorated a bed even when it didn't keep anyone warm. My mother, having kept her mother's treasure in a chest, set it free on the occasion of my marriage. She posted it off to Amish ladies in Ohio who put the top together with filling and a back, making their loving stitches for strangers. The simple cotton pieces (blue and white wedding ring pattern)in thrifty cloth from the 1920s is starting to wear, not even ten years into our marriage. I patch the piecework, and wouldn't think of taking this quilt out of service. I'm honored to have this tangible connection to a great-grandmother I never met. And deeply ambivalent about wearing it out. This tangible legacy won't last. I'm pretty sure the family feeling will, though.

Susan said...

Rants from your quilting sister:
Please do not ever ever ever store anything precious that is made out of fabric in a cedar chest, unless it it protected by other layers of paper/fabric around it. It will eventually stain and ruin whatever is stored in there (I have warned you about this when I fixed that cedar chest a few years back and it was full of linens at the time). For some reason people think quilts should be stored in cedar chests, but its really a bad idea.
I can't believe that you never slept under that quilt before. I swear I remember it being out on your bed when I visited you while you lived in student housing at U of U. But if my memory isn't correct, I think that's really weird that you never slept under it. How could you make a quilt and not sleep under it right away? Why would you own something (or create something) that you were afraid to use? Good thing Mom and Aunt Kathryn almost had heart attacks trying to get that quilt done in time for your wedding. Shame on you for not ever using it!
Also a note: high quality quilting is 8-12 stitches per inch, not 4-5.

jana said...
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jana said...

(I'm amending my earlier comment)
In the early years of our marriage I sometimes used a white battenberg lace duvet on the bed that might be what you remember. While we lived in SLC I also used a funky red/white patchwork quilt that I made out of scraps.

And not to worry, said quilt is wrapped in several layers to protect it from the evil cedar chest. When I married I got a lot of all-white linens--pillowcases, tablebloths, etc. Many went straight to storage (along with the quilt), but since then I've used and worn out most of them. I'm actually glad that the quilt is still in pristine condition and I can use it now that I have a lifestyle that could support an all-white spread.

And it's funny how selective memory can be--I remember so distinctly when all the older women in the family teamed up to stitch Becky's wedding quilt (quilt frame in Mom's LR). But I don't remember Mom & Kathryn racing to finish mine. I do remember, though, that both of them put a lot of artistic effort into making the wedding reception at Mom's house very lovely (oh, and remember that HAWT flowered jumpsuit you wore to my wedding? Weren't you about CatGirl's age then??). :)

Susan said...

I don't know if it was you or Mom that picked out the pattern and the fabric for that jumpsuit, but it was just short of being a full-on clown costume. It was not my idea. I think I was about 16 when you got married, so still older than your kids.
They say that the first time you sleep under a new quilt, whatever you dream will come true, so don't do it on a night when you are stressed out and likely to have one of those "I forgot to wear my clothes to class" dreams. I have made some wedding quilts over the years, and I have to resist the temptation to take a nap under them before they get given to the intended recipient, so I don't steal away any magicness for the first time it gets slept under.

Anonymous said...

I would like to make a wedding quilt for my son and his future bride and I love your quilt.It is absolutely gorgeous. Did you have a pattern or did you combine a number of ideas to create your quilt? If you had a pattern, could you direct me to where I could find it? Also, how did you mark your pattern?

If you could give me some information, I would be very appreciative.

Thanks!
vanarragon@mountaincable.net

jana said...

I'm afraid that I can't help you much--I don't have a copy of the pattern anymore. I think it came from a quilting book. My Mom marked it for me using a pencil.