I have been fortunate to have grown up with hand-made quilts. My aunt Elizabeth was born in the late 1800s on a rural Iowa farm with outdoor “facilities”, no running water and no electricity. She lost the tips of her fingers to frostbite when she was a child and had only a limited opportunity for a formal education. She was perhaps the most hardworking and intelligent person I have ever met. Although her and her husband of more than 50 years lived a very modest small-town life, she was among the most generous and giving I have known. With the very little she owned, it was impossible to leave her house without an armload of canned goods or hand-made items.
Two things she was well-known for were her quilts and her garden. The backyard garden, which encompassed all, grew almost the entirety of the vegetables they needed for the year. Meats were obtained from her brothers’ farms and dry goods came from the local grocer. Her cellar walls were lined with shelves that overflowed with canned and preserved food for the winter, and boxes of potatoes and giant Hubbard squash with parts cut away for a meal. During winter nights when the house was cold, I lay in bed warmed by her heavy flannel quilts, made from cut-up wool mens pants. Her quilts were works of art in themselves. She could sew up to a dozen of them in one long Iowa winter, piecing together scraps of cloth she had collected from old clothing or purchased for a special project. She promised to make a quilt as a wedding gift for each of my sisters. But, one of her most beautiful was the rainbow quilt she made for my mother. The artistry and care lavished on this quilt by this woman, who could have very well decided that her damaged fingers were not nimble enough to accomplish such tasks, have inspired me in ways that I could have never dreamed. Every color block in this quilt was selected, cut, joined and hand-quilted with affection for her craft and my mother. After fifty years, it is as vibrant and beautiful as the first day it was presented as a gift. Aunt Elizabeth and my mom have been gone for so many years, yet those quilts remain one of the few ties that connects me to them.