Quilting and Hope

If you grew up in an LDS family, it’s quite possible that you have at least one grandma, aunt, or immediate family member who made you a quilt and was perhaps even considered a quilting “fanatic” in your family. It can be very easy to take such handmade quilts for granted. Taking some time to ponder the meaning invested in such gifts, however, may help us to appreciate them more.

Quilting has recently come to my mind because we are expecting a baby, and a quilts made by family members are now in progress– or complete. A few days ago I received a package from my out-of-state grandmother containing handmade bedding for our baby. We received a different blanket from her in the mail several months ago even before the pregnancy. I was surprised (and touched) both times to think she would go to the effort of making and sending them to me. First of all, she is in her mid-eighties and sewing of any kind can’t be very comfortable to perform. Second, I have some idea of how difficult her own experience as a young mother was. She had extreme morning sickness with each of her six children and began to suffer from emotional and mental illness in her twenties. And last, I realize that she has so many great-grandchildren at this point that it would seem impossible to keep track of and send handmade gifts to them all. She can have little hope of getting to know them all, let alone witnessing them grow up. Yet, as I reflect further on her choice to send such gifts to me, I see many reasons why creating such a gift might prove meaningful enough to her to go to the effort. Quilting, I find, can be understood as an act that expresses hope:

1. Quilting can be seen as an expression of hope for future events in the lives of others and a way of celebrating these events even before they take place. My grandmother made the first blanket hoping that we would someday have a use for it. If your mother makes a quilt for each child to be used during marriage, I would suggest that part of what she is doing is expressing her hope and faith that you will prepare for and and seek out a good spouse.

2. Quilting is a way of expressing continued hope in the quilter’s own life. By encouraging me as I become a mother, my grandmother seems to show that she continues to have faith in the importance of motherhood and the joy it can bring. This late and difficult phase of her own life doesn’t overpower the joy or significance of the event to her. Her own painful experiences as a young mother also don’t appear to reduce her desire/ability to express such hope and joy on my behalf– in fact, they seem to amplify her reasons for creating such a gift. My grandmother might be said to have hope she can have positive impact on my experience, even to help make my experience in early marriage and motherhood happier than her own.

3. Quilting is a way of reaching out to posterity, even those one may never meet. This is an example of how the hearts of the fathers turn to the children, and vice versa. I will be able to tell our daughter who her baby blankets were made by. Even if she never meets my grandmother, I expect she will be able to sense how the gift expresses the sacrifice and love my grandmother offered at the event of her birth. For many families, inherited quilts serve as reminders of ancestors family members have never met. Today, it would be easy for mothers and grandmothers to buy factory made quilts rather than make them, but the act of making them oneself is a way to personalize what they pass down– they invest time and themselves into the gift itself just as they do in family relationships.

4. Quilting can be a way of turning loss and mourning specifically into hope for future reunions and joyful events. Quilting a baby blanket for my (then) college-aged sister was a coping strategy for me after we were separated. It allowed me to hope for events I would later enjoy with her while also showing how much I missed her. Seeking to fulfill the (future) needs of others or to comfort others is a way of responding to one’s own losses and suffering (an experience which helps one be sensitive to others’ needs/suffering). A quilt is a gift that is particularly designed to physically comfort someone else.

What I have suggested about quilting is true of many other handmade crafts (and things that we do for others with our hands in general). Thus, all of this is not to say that quilting is essential to women in LDS culture. It’s just one common manifestation of how the faith of LDS women (and men) is evident in the ways they choose to shape the lives of their families.

[For a somewhat related post by Candice on Mayan weaving, click here.]

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5 Responses

  1. This is an excellent post, Candice. Thanks for sharing this.

    Hopefully each of us can realize what we can in our own lives to invest time in personal gifts for our family members.

  2. A fabulous post, Candice :) It reminds me of the quilts that have been made for me, and the other, ancient quilts inherited by other family members. You’ve done an excellent job putting the expression of a gift quilt into words.

    Oddly, I had considered making a simple baby quilt and sending it to you when I learned that I wouldn’t be in-state when you’d have a baby shower. Then I remember that you and several of your family members quilt, and, while you would still appreciate mine, that there I might as well fill the void of a different gift could fill ;)

    Still, your post makes me want to figure out this quilting thing even more :)

  3. That is sweet you thought of making one for me :)

    Yeah, there are many other aspects I didn’t focus on here to consider when you think about the role of quilting. It would be cool to write something about quilting as folk art in Mormon culture. Some quilts (often the more ambitious ones) tell stories. I have always focused more on ways quilts can reflect personality and personal taste (using a favorite animal, favorite colors, flowers, designs and colors that suit the room/the person). You could say these choices are part of the way the quilter put themselves into the quilt or reaches out to the person it is given to.

    It would also be interesting to talk about the symbolism of quilting as a craft. For some people, quilting has been and continues to be about using what you have the best you can to make something greater, so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (especially scrap quilting and reusing fabrics, etc.) It’s also about maximizing comfort and warmth through layering.

  4. Awhile back FMH had an interesting post on quilting to express personal history.

    I’ve pieces of old, worn clothing that cannot be worn to work (and too plentiful to keep on hand for weekends or dirty jobs). They’re also nearly too worn to donate. I hand onto them because of the memories attached to them. (Something I did while wearing them, someone who made them for me, or somewhere they were purchased.) I’ve been considering wacking a few squares out of them, and saving them for a far, future quilt. And by future I mean something to take to a retirement center with me.

    Though it also seems a little too ironic poetic that with how when you age your peers begin to pass away and how often people aren’t able to visit frequently that I’d really only have my memories to keep me warm. . . or something. So sad. Still, it’d be nice to be able to have each square be a memory.

  5. I like the clothes quilt idea. The other day my sister was saying she wants to make a quilt out of clothes she had when she first met and dated her husband. I thought that would be neat– same idea that you have with preserving memories. One neat thing with using clothes is that it involves fabric types you would normally quilt with (esp. for dresses, skirts, etc.)

    I once saw an elaborate quilt made out of clothes and dolls dresses from childhood (from multiple sisters).

    A few years ago I made a quilt out of jeans I could no longer fit into or that looked bad on me. It was a great way to turn something unpleasant into something good!

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