My Grandma Kay had the unique ability to make each of her 10 grandchildren feel as if we were the most important person in her life. Every one of us is convinced to this day that we were her favorite child! From her I learned to appreciate quilts, family, a mean game of cards, pink depression glass and homemade strawberry jam. My daughter Katherine is her namesake. Kay passed away in 2003 at the age of 92 after a long struggle with Parkinson's Disease. Her body was failing but her mind remained clear and her sense of humor was legendary. I loved being able to share my latest quilting project with her and see the delight in her eyes as she watched me play with her fabric. As the only grandchild who quilts, I was the recipient of many projects in progress including Say Stars and Butterflies seen on my lectures page. Kay had a stack of butterfly blocks and I incorporated them into this quilt designed for my sister's 40th birthday.
In 1996, I created Kay's Yellow Stars from scraps of yellow fabric that I gleaned from her scrap bag. The stars include feed sacks, scraps from old clothing, curtains and more. She had mentioned that she had never had a star quilt so I made her this lap quilt for Christmas. As she opened it, she examined it and announced that she had never had a black quilt either so this was perfect.
I was blessed to be able to spend time with her and we all miss her terribly. Grandma Kay Loved Purple was designed in 2003 in her honor using her purple scraps and family linens.
My grandmother Opal Wilson is the one who actually sat down and taught me to quilt. I thought I knew what I was doing and limped along with sometimes disastrous results. I remember making two baby quilts for my sisters in the late 1980's that would not lay flat nor look like I needed them to. Grandma Opal came to visit and we dissected those two quilts and reconstructed them while we butted heads and attempted to be more stubborn than the other.
Opal made countless quilts and quilted for others during her long career. We have estimated that she worked on over 300 quilts in her lifetime and was actively quilting until 2005. She was a talented needlewoman who crocheted, knitted, tatted, painted and sewed clothes for more people than we will ever know. The picture above was taken at her 95th birthday in March of 2007. Until the week before she died she was still working with her hands and making sure we all stayed in line. We will miss her terribly. This pair of quilts was created in 2006 from two dish towels that she gave me in the early 1990's. They were painted with Tri-Chem paints in aprox 1950.
Morgan is my 17 year old niece who represents the next generation of Wilson-Say family quilters.
Last summer, Morgan came to visit Aunt Mary for a week so she could learn how to quilt. Most first time quilters are content with a simple pattern and a limited color palate. The artist in Morgan came alive as she looked around my workroom and started digging through my stash of vintage and new fabrics. She had a definite gradated color palate in mind and wanted to add a special "Morgan" twist. After she showed me her initial sketches, I let her loose and we incorporated fabrics that included pieces from three generations of scrap bags. As the only family quilter in my generation, I have inherited ALL the scrap bags!
The finished product was wonderful and we had Linda Hahn of Two Country Quilters long arm quilt the top. Only when we took it to show her mother and grandmother did the true significance of her stash diving become apparent.
One of the fabrics Morgan choose for her quilt was used as the center of a Lone Star quilt that was made by Frances Antis Laffoon Cummins in approx 1940. Frances was my great grandmother and Morgan's great-great grandmother. This quilt was given to Morgan's mother when she married in 1985. More than 65 years apart two quilters chose the same fabric to incorporate into their own variation of a family quilt.
Mary Elizabeth Hennighan Kerr was born in December of 1930 and died shortly after her 74th birthday. She was an Irish lass whose determined spirit guided 7 children, 19 grandchildren, numerous in-laws and countless friends. Her courage in battling ovarian cancer and her quiet dignity in death touched us all.
I was blessed to be her daughter-in-law. We shared a mutual admiration born of years spent butting heads. We were both Army wives whose interpretation of situations and protocol were 20 years apart. We were both stay-at-home moms yet our daily lives were light years apart. She stayed at home and I always seemed to have my children on the road with me. She was a stock-market queen and I am a quilter. I loved her dearly and she was one of my most vocal cheerleaders.
Mary's battle with cancer spanned 5 years. As anyone who has lost a loved one can attest, her final decline was the longest few months of our lives. She was not expected to make it to Thanksgiving of 2004 as we drove the 10 hours home to be with her. She loved being surrounded by her family and insisted we leave the doors open so she could hear us in the house. There were 22 of us there for dinner that year. Her brief periods sitting up were filled with music, laughter and conversation.
Following the Thanksgiving feast, we said our tearful goodbyes and drove back to Virginia to wait. We fully expected to return any day for her services. She had other plans, however, and I needed to keep myself busy.
Mary was not a quilter but her mother, Julia Hennighan Denslow, had been. Unfortunately, time and family members had not been kind to her quilts. I received 3 tied quilts in tatters and had put them away in hopes of salvaging some of the scraps. I work almost exclusively with vintage textiles but only rarely are pieces saved that are in such ragged condition.
In my workroom in late November of that year, I pulled out one of the tattered tops and started to work. I cut 68 six-inch squares from the top and planned to set them in a strippy set using the original quilt backing fabric (the dark blue), light blue fabric that had been salvaged from another quilt top, and a light green cotton that had originally been a shirt of my husbands -- a gift from his mother years ago. A friend helped me transfer 16 photos from Mary's life onto muslin and these were pieced with leftover scraps from the family top. The resulting squares numbered 84 and thus determined the approximate size of my quilt.
I wanted to use the snapshots to capture moments of Mary's life and those events and people that were important to her. She is shown with her precious grandbabies, holding the hand of her one true love, hugging her sister and making the funny faces we all enjoyed at infrequent and unexpected moments. The photos set within the blocks are subtle and unnoticed until you get close to the quilt. Then the viewer is drawn in and will continue to search the blocks for additional photos.
I finished the top the day after my mother-in-law died on December 18, 2004, just 6 days after her birthday. She left us in time to be in heaven for her most favorite holiday of all. Her impeccable timing also ensured that all the family was free of school and work obligations so we could travel to Georgia for her funeral celebration and a family Christmas gathering.
The top was quilted by my good friend and expert quilter, Cyndi Souder. Cyndi's work features magnificent free motion machine quilting and generally contains words and phrases. I had found a Jewish saying, "So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us as we remember them". This inspired me to search for additional quotes that embodied Mary's life. I ended up presenting Cyndi with 6 pages and additional notes to be "written" on the quilt. This was a larger piece than Cyndi generally tackles on her Pfaff but her free motion quilting was the perfect finish. The quilt contains 36 quotes and phrases that range from single words to complete paragraphs.
Throughout history, women have used creative outlets to remember loved ones, to create a tangible memorial and to work through their grief. My purpose for sharing this project is to encourage other quilters to use those unusual and unexpected pieces of their lives to create a special memorial. I had never used photo transfer in a quilt before nor had I ever had a quilt finished by machine. My grief and the grief process allowed me to think outside of my normal box and create a truly memorable quilt.
This quilt was presented to my husband, her youngest son and fifth child, in January of 2006.