Thank you, My Unknown Quilter Friend by Jean BrashearAs I look at this quilt I made, I wonder how you see it. Think about the long journey it’s had, the missing chapters of its life you and I will never know. I encountered the beginnings of it as small bits of fabric inside a small white cardboard box like those at a donut shop or bakery, about the size of a loaf of bread.

These scraps had been donated as someone had cleared out the belongings of a quilter whose identity I’ll never know. They come often to the seniors’ handcraft shop where I volunteer, when heirs who don’t sew or quilt don’t know what to do with unfinished projects but don’t want to simply throw away what their loved one had begun.

I took the box home with me to sort through and figure out what was there; to determine what or if the shop had anything that could be sold, as the shop is an all-volunteer-staff nonprofit, so every penny earned is precious, keeping the rent paid and the lights on to provide an outlet for seniors to supplement their pensions.

I found five appliquéd blocks, not uniformly assembled, several more plain white squares of background fabric and many pieces which turned out to be the leaves and petals and vases you see here. Many of the petals, however, were from dressmaker fabrics which would fray too easily or otherwise weren’t suitable to piece and quilt. It was the beginning of a project, but it wouldn’t be an easy sell unless someone wanted to start almost from scratch.

But I have a hard time seeing someone’s time and love go to waste—it literally hurts my heart to think about some person caring enough to start this project and cut out a few hundred small pieces but never finishing. My writer’s mind can visualize a plethora of reasons from tragedy to simply being too busy that this never came to pass, and I can only guess at what she had in mind, based on those five partially-finished blocks.

Thank you, My Unknown Quilter Friend by Jean Brashear

So though there was little monetary value to the shop in the largely unusable scraps, my imagination was caught by those little green vases. So I made a donation to the shop and kept them. I wound up replacing most of the blossoms and started appliquéing the bouquets in various arrangements on the white squares. I still didn’t know what I would do with them until I’d finished these, but I create projects the way I create books: forging ahead with very little idea where I’m going. It’s insane and very inefficient, but I seem to have a taste for walking on a tightrope over a canyon with no net, which is pretty much how every book of mine feels until I reach the end.

I laid out the blocks again and again and auditioned my fabric stash for the in-between blocks and sashing until I unearthed that big piece that makes me think of stained glass. Voila! I have no idea how it looks to other eyes, but I loved it the second I found it in a sale bin and just had to keep it.

I hand-quilted the whole thing (with a long break during the summer when it was simply too dang hot to have a big quilt draped over my lap!) on a small PVC frame and sometimes a hoop, finishing with a border hoop loaned to me by a cherished quilter friend. I entered it in our local quilt show and was thrilled to get second place with my mishmash—and I hope that whoever that person was who began the unnamed project is happy with what I did on our joint project. Thank you, my unknown quilter friend, and the loved ones who didn’t take the easy route and simply throw away the seeds of this quilt.

Do you like to sew?

  1. Jean, I can see you in my mind as I read, poring over these quilt pieces, and forging ahead just like you do in your writing. The way you used the tight rope walker for an example does remind me of your books, one reason that I love to read them, you keep the reader engaged constantly throughout the story. I love the quilt, one of these days when I retire again, I will take up quilting again, right now I don’t have time to enjoy the relaxation of quilting, but I will again some day. I love seeing pictures of your creations, you have so much talent. The quilting and the writing are both a picture of your personality and your talents. Thanks for sharing!

    • Alice, thank you so much for saying such kinds things! I hope you will find that someday when you, too, can dive in and enjoy your own talents!

  2. I have some fan squares from a great aunt I may have met when I was a baby. I’m thinking of a pattern. May I’ll just start like you did and see where it goes.

    • Oh, I love Grandmother’s fan! One of my most cherished quilts is that pattern done by my great-grandmother. Have fun with your blocks–they’re a real treasure!

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