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Quilt Stories

In her latest blog post, Resident Artisan Laura Brown traces her roots, history, and attraction to quilting. 

Posted on January 6, 2022
by Laura Brown

[A note for those uninitiated to quilting vocabulary: I refer to hand piecing or hand-pieced quilts below, which refers to the process of sewing small pieces of fabric together to create the top side of the quilt. It is different from hand quilting, which is the process of sewing the three layers of a quilt together. In modern quilting, both of these steps are now often done by machine, and the three layers of a quilt can also be tied together at short intervals with yarn or thick thread. Sometimes a quilter will use a combination of hand and machine piecing, and/or a combination of hand quilting, machine quilting, or tying the quilt layers together at intervals. Essentially, if a quilt is both pieced and quilted by hand, it means that many, many hours of work went into creating the quilt.]

A stack of quilts I like to visit at my parents’ house

One of my earliest memories is of the time my mom pulled our 1973 Volvo station wagon to the side of the highway in the middle of Dallas rush hour to go after a quilt she saw tumbling along in the median. “Do NOT move” she told my sister and I in her most serious voice. We did not. We watched as she darted across multiple lanes of traffic, and then back again with the quilt in her arms.

Because of many holes in the quilt, my mom reused parts of it to make smaller things for our home, or as gifts: sachets, stuffed animals, potholders, ornaments. The rescue and subsequent re-use of the quilt was a formative experience for me, as I learned about the life that objects possess (especially those made by hand), and how they make our lives richer with daily use and enjoyment.

Even though we didn’t know who made the quilt, or where it came from, my mom recognized it as a treasure. Every quilt has a story, starting with who made it, even as the vast majority of those makers remain anonymous. When I tell people I make quilts, they can immediately think of a family member, usually a mom or grandma, who makes quilts or sews. My own story of learning to sew starts with my own mom and grandma, as well as my great-grandma who I never met. She was a professional seamstress and made house calls to clients with a notions box in tow.

My mother’s very first quilt, made for a doll, and two ornaments made from the quilt saved from the side of the road

My mom has made and saved many quilts over the years, completing pieced tops found at thrift stores into whole quilts, and making many quilts as gifts for brides, new babies, and each one of her daughters, nieces and nephews for our high school graduations. She and my aunt collaborated to make a quilt using pieces from their mother’s fabric collection for her when it was time for her to move into a nursing home.

It’s no wonder I think of quilting as a medium for expression and connection, both with those I know personally today, and with those I have never met: makers whose work has outlived them and continues to keep us warm and our homes beautiful. Since I was just visiting my parents for Christmas, I took the opportunity to pull out a few of my favorites to share

I love the fabrics in this quilt and the size of the blocks, it really allows the prints to shine!

My favorite quilt is another adopted quilt top my mom found at an estate sale or thrift store many years ago. Alternating hexagons and stars, the quilt top was pieced by hand but never made into a finished quilt. She added backing and batting, and had it machine quilted. I love the zig zag edges along two sides.

The bright pink of this Lone Star quilt is a strong childhood memory. This quilt is soft and delicate from decades of careful use.

My parents received a vibrant pink Lone Star quilt for their wedding from a family friend. It is entirely pieced and quilted by hand and I can’t help but think it has influenced my lifelong love of bright colors.

Quilts like this boggle my mind with the precision and level of craftsmanship (each arch of the circle has to be just the right angle to fit with the others to create an actual circle). And every tiny stitch was sewn by hand!

I was in high school when my dad’s parents passed away, and my grandmother left my mom a much-loved quilt: a beautiful Double Wedding Ring pattern, which was a wedding present to my dad’s parents in 1945. It is completely pieced and quilted by hand. I have never felt particularly pulled toward the idea of creating a quilt entirely by hand sewing, but as I studied the quilt this time around, I thought of how the process of creating a quilt so detailed and in the same way might create understanding of and connection with my ancestors. So stay tuned! If I decide to sew a Double Wedding Ring quilt entirely by hand, I’ll definitely share it with you all.