01 February, 2010


This is an old quilt. By no means is it antique, it's only 11 years old. And it was only the third quilt I ever made. Previously I'd made one baby quilt and a wall-hanging for my mom. That's it.

Eleven years ago I was a grad student, done with classes but working on my thesis. A few months in to the year I started to get sick. Nothing major, but a general ickiness. A couple of trips to the doctor, test upon test, and phone calls to my brother in California revealed nothing. My brother, the doctor, however, didn't like what he was hearing so he finally sent me to the hospital. A visit with a surgeon, a CAT scan, and a lot of laxatives later I was much better. Nothing like a random virus and lots of stress to inspire creativity out of illness.

While wallowing in my fever I read an inspiring book: Hidden in Plain View. This historical account of quilts in the Underground Railroad was fascinating to me. It still is. I am blown away that so many people were willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to help escaping slaves. I am in awe of the work it took and the secret codes of the quilts to help those running. So, rather than continue to wallow in my own minor illness I started sewing.

This is a simple Hourglass or Bow Tie pattern. In the Underground Railroad Quilt Code this pattern signified to the runaway slaves that they needed to travel in disguise, often upgrading their look to an apparent higher status. I can't say why I chose this pattern, but it was a good one to just start with. Like most of my sewing now, it was project that just started for the sake of starting. It filled my time and my imagination with the stories of escaping slaves.

Obviously my propensity to overquilt started with this quilt. I did a grid all over the quilt, at about 1 inch intervals. And because I thought that would be too boring, but I had no concept of free-motion quilting I decided to teach myself how to hand quilt and did a floral repeat on a few spots on the top.

On the border I outlined that accent piece and then did some curves, after the fact. To be honest, nothing about the quilting is very good. Really though, who cares? This quilt was and still is just for me.  I love that it has a personal history for me, I love that is acknowledges a part of the history of quilts, and I love what it shows me about my own quilting development.

I'm sharing this quilt now for a couple of reasons. One, it really does show a progression of my skills. Two, I have to laugh because when I made this quilt I remember thinking that I couldn't see how I would ever make a quilt that didn't have white background. And now I totally rebel against that! Three, this was actually the only time I hand quilted until these last few weeks. Yikes!

Finally, being laid up these past few weeks I actually finished a book on the nightstand. The Book of Negroes is a novel with a stunning heroine. It follows the life of Aminata Diallo, captured in Africa and brought to America. Really, it is a haunting story.  (In the US the book is known by the title Someone Knows My Name.) 

The book itself has inspired another quilt in me, I'm just waiting for the indigo and osnaburg I ordered to show up. Stay tuned.


brown robin said...

So interesting to see your early work.... I love witnessing progression. I certainly was not quilting in grad school. I may have to check that book out. Hmmm.... now when to find time to read and quilt again.

Kris said...

I'm definitely checking out that book, it sounds like a great read. What were you in grad school for?

This is a great quilt and it's always interesting to see where people started. It puts the process in perspective.

sew katie did said...

I love the story of your quilt.

Lee said...

too funny as I was reading this entry I thought oh she has to read The Book of Negroes...and look at that she is. It was awesome wasn't it? You would probably like "The Help" too. by the way the quilt is great too. happy healing.

amandajean said...

it's fun for me to see your earlier work. that's a pretty complex quilt for a third quilt!!! i didn't tackle triangles for quite some time. it's beautiful and fun to read the story behind the quilt.

Diane said...

Isn't it fun to look back at early efforts and remember the drivers for those works? This was a pretty ambitious undertaking for a new quilter and it looks lovely.