Blocks of Time

Clara QuiltA few years ago, a friend of mine was going through her husband’s grandmother’s things after she passed away and found a stack of quilt blocks in her hope chest.

Do you remember hope chests?

They’re kind of a thing of the past now. I don’t know of very many young women who are crocheting doilies or the edges of dish towels and stashing them away in a cedar chest in anticipation of their future life as a homemaker.

It’s kinda sad really, but it’s not like I had a hope chest in my youth either. As a tween I did cross stitch about a third of a pattern on a pillow case and knit one pot holder that was supposed to be scarf but I got too impatient. It’s not like these items were displayed as part of a proud trousseau at my wedding reception.

Trousseaus are kind of a thing of the past too. Probably because we don’t have hope chests anymore. Young girls of today are too busy playing soccer and texting to homecraft. I was a late bloomer of the domestic arts, and if you follow Pinterest or mommy blogs at all it’s easy to see the domestic arts are alive and well (and very commercial).

Anywhoo, this stack of blocks my friend found had probably been sitting in grandma’s hope chest for over 50 years. The fabric in the blocks indicates 30’s-40’s era, most likely made from old clothes. This woman came from a use-it-up-and-wear-it-out generation so when clothes had worn out their usefulness on someone’s back, they were made into something else—like quilts.

I don’t know why these blocks never were made into a quilt. Maybe they just got forgotten about. Or maybe grandma just got burned out on the project. The number of blocks was actually two short of making a symmetrical quilt design, which suggests burnout.

As a quilter, I certainly relate to that. You start a new quilt, all excited, and at about hour 23 into it you’re ready to chuck the whole thing in the garbage and find a new hobby. These blocks are all made out of diamond shapes which are especially difficult to work with because of tricky angles and bias cuts creating stretching and therefore challenging sewing.

I know this process intimately because I ended up with this stack of blocks and therefore ended up making two more blocks in order to create a symmetrical quilt design.

You see, my friend who found these blocks is not a quilter, but she loved these blocks and she loved this grandma and wanted her blocks made into a quilt, so she asked her quilting friend if she would do it.

She’s a dear friend of mine and she knew I’d be a sucker for a stack of retro orphan blocks that have been sitting in a dark chest for half a century just waiting to come out into the light and be made into something beautiful. So I found some retro reprint fabrics, copied grandma’s pattern as best I could to make two more blocks, and did my best to put together a quilt that honored the era the blocks came from as well as be hip and current (the quilt is going to my friend’s teenage daughter—probably not for her hope chest).

The quilt was kind of a beast to put together with all those diagonals, but I am pleased with the final outcome. I hope grandma looks down on it and is pleased to see that her blocks were finally made into a quilt. I hope the teenage girl who gets it appreciates what it is—if not now, eventually. It represents years and years and hours and hours from two people who love her.

That’s what I love about quilting. It connects people. I’m sure this grandma never imagined her quilt blocks would end up in the hands of a quilter she never knew in the year 2013. Yet the combined efforts and result of these blocks will end up wrapped around her great-granddaughter.

The blocks and the finished quilt are much better off that way than in any hope chest.

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