I’m again at a crossroads with my handsewn quilt, which is part creative expression and part investigative learning. I finished my first quilt during the 2020-2021 pandemic years, which is its own story. Since I was doing it at home alone, the internet became my best resource. Hand quilting is almost a lost art, and it’s been challenging to find answers to my many questions. I watch videos about quilting, and then adapt what I see to what I’m trying to do by hand. It’s interesting to watch a variety of quilters and their personal techniques, which helped me realize that although I’m doing a traditional sewing project, it’s also an open platform for my own creative ideas. I can literally make it however I want.
I enjoyed quilting so much that I immediately started making a second quilt. I found a wonderful local quilt shop and proprietor who listens to my novice questions and admires my stitching. She often posts photos of new fabric and packets of squares already cut, and I fell in love with a bold color palette of retro prints. After agonizing for weeks about what to use as a neutral, I chose one of the prints in the set, a light gray with tiny dominoes. The quilt pattern I chose is called June Squares, and the blocks are now pieced together to form the body of the quilt. The next step is adding any decorative stitching I choose inside the neutral borders, thus the temporary halt.
The gray thread I’m using doesn’t show up well with the tiny domino motif, so I had the idea of trying some different weights of thread for a bolder look. Also, my needle is very small, so I retrieved my sewing box out of the hallway linen closet in search of larger needles with bigger eyes.
My sewing box is a Converse shoe box that I’ve moved around with me through the years. It contains the usual jumble of basic sewing essentials, but I found only small needles. The I spotted the vintage sewing box that belonged to my husband Gaylon’s mother, which has been in the closet for years. I decided to look through it for things that might be useful for my quilting project.
Gaylon and I married later in life, and both sets of our parents died long before we found each other. I know my mother-in-law only through photos and stories and snippets of history she left behind. She had a helpful habit of putting small handwritten tags on heirlooms with information about who it belonged to or where it came from. I found this note inside the lid:
“Sewing box used by Leona Carter in the 20’s thru 40’s, then by Vivian”
Not only were some of the items inside the sewing box used by Gaylon’s mother, Vivian, but also his grandmother, Leona, starting in the early 1920s. Respectfully, I lifted things out one at a time. On top was a hefty pair of stainless-steel scissors, in excellent condition, and I instantly claimed them for my sewing table. There were various hooks and eyes still sewn onto cardboard, loose buttons, colorful spools of thread, a requisite red pin cushion with the little strawberry hanging off the top, and into it poked a wide array of needles. I also found a small silver thimble which fit my finger perfectly. I took the thimble plus a couple of needles and put everything back in order, the way she had left it for future sewers.
I’ll add the handful of buttons to my own mother’s button box, also in the closet. I have memories of sitting on her bed, my small hands sifting and sorting the buttons like precious jewels, some 60-plus years ago. I’m excited to work on this next phase of my quilt using my newly acquired treasures. The shiny silver scissors are now in full view on my sewing table and have already become integral to my process. These newly found treasures are symbols of our joined lives, the piecing together of family histories into a new, colorful piece of art.
One thought on “New Quilt, Old Treasures”
Elaine, this is so lovely. I had tears at the reverence you showed to Leona’s and Vivian’s sewing box. I have my own grandmother’s sewing box, from when she used to make wedding garters in the 1920s and 1930s and mail them to famous brides-to-be. Some of her bits of elastic, satin, and lace are still in there and I love to peek at them. Thank you so much for this beautiful post.
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