From the Heart
The sign said simply, “Quilts for
I’d seen dozens like it along the back roads of
, but for some reason this one held my attention. I slowed the car and turned down a gravel drive. Ohio
I’m a quilter myself……a good one. I have a degree in textile design, and I’ve even written a book on quilts. My work had been praised for its technical excellence at shows and fairs across the
Midwest. Funny thing though—I’d never won a ribbon. I’d like to say that it didn’t matter, but…….
After a rutted half mile, the gravel drive dissolved in front of a small clap-board house. A few chickens scratched in the yard, and a dog dozed under the porch….not very promising.
I knocked gently and the door opened to reveal a ancient woman wearing an embroidered apron over a faded gingham dress. “Uh…..I’m here to see the quilts that are for sale,” I said. She smiled and nodded. “I figured so. Not many folks come here just to pass the time. My name’s Josephine.” “Pleased to meet you,” I said. “I’m Molly.” The screen door creaked as she pushed it open and ushered me into her home. It was dark inside, and my eyes took a moment to adjust. Taking my by the hand, the old woman led me to a cupboard and pulled open the doors. Inside was a rainbow of folded quilts in every color and pattern imaginable, so beautiful it took my breath away. “Help your self,” was all she said, backing off. I carefully pulled down the top quilt and opened it. The pattern was Ohio Star—simple, yet engaging. I inspected the quilting closely….it was done in the ditch with large stitches, hardly precise, but the overall effect was stunning. I turned the quilt over to inspect the backing and pinned there was a blue ribbon embossed, “First place, Ross County Fair.” I pulled down another quilt, and then another. Technically, each was flawed….but artistically, all were beautiful. And each one had a ribbon. I lost track of time as I worked my way down through the stack. Later, as I refolded the last one, the old woman spoke. “See any you like?” I swallowed. “All of them!” They’re wonderful. Did you make all of them?” “Mostly. A few of them are from my Mama.” I held up the Ohio Star. “Is there a story behind this one?” She chuckled. “There’s a story behind every one of them. That star I made for my son when he was sent off to
—a star is for good luck. I made it from his old shirts so it’d be his star. “Did he come back safely?” I asked. She nodded yes. Korea
I picked up another quilt. “How about this one?” She studied it for a moment and then smiled before she related its story. We continued through the stack and night fell before we finished. The old lady switched on an ornate floor lamp. “Which one do you want?” “How can you part with any of them?” I asked her. “Each one of them seems to be so personal.” “I ain’t one for holding on to yesterdays. Besides, a quilt needs to be appreciated—I’ve got too many to give them all attention.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe all the ribbons you’ve won. I’ve shown quilts for years without a single ribbon.” She brightened. “You’re a quilter? I’d love to see some of your quilts.” “I have one in the car,” I blurted. “Well, bring it in, child!”
A moment later I unrolled my quilt beside hers. She studied it carefully, squinting through her glasses. “Nice, even stitching,” she noted. “The judges didn’t notice,” I said. “Fine stitching isn’t everything, the old lady said. “Why did you make this quilt?” I was startled by the question. To enter in the show,” I replied. “Where did you get the fabric?” she asked. “From a store,” I said. The old lady nodded. “Your quilt has no Heart. “I’ve never made a quilt just for show. Each of my quilts was made with someone in mind—and not always out of joy.” She pulled down a crib quilt. “I made this after my youngest daughter died at age 6 months. The background is her nightie and this white is from her christening gown. This quilt has Heart—when I look at it, I see my daughter.” I nodded slowly. All at once I understood the one thing I’d never known about quilting.
That was months ago. I read in the newspaper today that Josephine passed away. She was 91. I clipped out her obituary and pinned it alongside the blue ribbon on the back of my latest quilt—a Grandmother’s Flower Garden pattern I’d made with gingham scraps Josephine gave me the day I met her. It isn’t perfect, that quilt. But it is the most beautiful I’ve every made. And every time I look at it, I see Josephine.