Generosity of Strangers

A tied quilt donated to the Winside Museum by a friend of the museum to auction during a fundraising event.

Quilts and generous strangers are often associated. People donate quilts for fundraising events as evidenced by the photo above. Strangers buy raffle tickets for quilt drawings and attend fundraising events where quilts are sold or auctioned.

In my blog Quilt World, I describe how a quilt is assembled and finished. A tied quilt, like the one pictured, is another way to fasten the quilt top to a quilt back with a piece of batting between the quilt sandwich layers. This often involves attaching the parts of the quilt sandwich on long wooden stretchers to establish a flat surface then running a needle and thread through the layers and tying each thread on the top of the quilt. It is often thought to be a faster method of connecting quilting layers, but it requires a large space to set up the quilt frame, and time to add all those ties.

This is a quilt I made and machine quilted, then donated to a museum to be sold at a fundraising event.

In my blog entry, Quilt World, I mention writing a letter to the editor of Nebraska Life Magazine about the International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Please check out that blog for more details. That letter led me on an interesting journey.

The answering machine on my phone screens calls. I answer it’s ring when the number appears to be a person rather than a telemarketer. Consequently, something moves me to pick up the phone one Saturday to talk to a woman who says her name is Nancy Smith (this is a pseudonym to protect her privacy). She asks me if I am the person who wrote the letter to the editor in Nebraska Life Magazine about quilts last winter.

I have to think for a few minutes to recall her reference, having forgotten about the brief letter to the editor. Nancy tells me she is looking for a home for four quilt tops. After some discussion, it became clear that she wants to give me the quilts. Surprised and curious, I ask for pictures and measurements. Nancy engages the help of her daughter who takes photos and texts them to my phone. Nancy measures the quilts and texts that information as well over the course of the weekend.

This is quilt #1, a crazy quilt design made from scraps of silk and satin connected with decorative stitching. It appears to be the model for two cotton quilts described below.

The next hurdle for this generous gift is “the how” of accomplishing the quilt handoff. Nancy lives in Lincoln, NE. I live in a rural area approximately 100 miles or around two hours’ drive from Lincoln. I confess to Nancy that I didn’t know when I’d be able to get to Lincoln and ask if she has considered giving the quilts to someone closer to her home, or perhaps donating them to a shelter, imagining it might be easier for her.

Nancy is not interested in donating to a local source. However, she is a determined person, motivated to get the quilts out of her house, and generously agrees to drive more than halfway to meet me that Monday afternoon. I drive to our agreed meeting place. Nancy and her husband soon arrive. He greets me, steps out of his vehicle, and retrieves a box from their SUV. He hands the box of quilts to me.

I stow the box in the backseat of my Chevy Malibu and profusely thank them. Nancy says she wants to talk to me. Her husband walks around their vehicle and gets a walker from the rear seat, unfolds it, and helps Nancy out of the passenger seat. Nancy then walks, using her walker, around the SUV to talk to me. If I’d known about her condition I certainly would have walked to her side of the vehicle.

Nancy explains that she has been diagnosed with MG and asks if I’m familiar with that condition. I am not familiar. Her husband explains, MG is short for Myasthenia gravis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/myasthenia-gravis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352036 The Mayo Clinic describes the condition as one characterized by weakness and rapid fatigue of the muscles. Nancy explains that she no longer has the strength to finish the quilts.

Quilt #2 is a crazy quilt design using larger pieces of cotton and 1940s feed sack fabric machine sewing to a muslin backing.

I ask for more information about the quilts. She tells me she acquired them from a man from Yankton who advertised them as quilt tops. These quilt tops were not what she was expecting. Nancy said she offered the quilts to her church group, but that group was afraid to work on quilts they feared might be antique.

Quilt top #3 is constructed in a similar fashion to #2 and uses some of the same fabrics.

Nancy also isn’t sure why the original unknown quilter chose to machine sew the crazy quilt pieces to muslin backing. It makes the tops difficult to quilt. Three of the quilts can be considered crazy quilts. The fourth pink diamond quilt is hand-pieced without any facing.

The pink diamond quilt is all stitched together by hand. This quilt top does not have a backing fabric.

After returning home with the quilt tops, I decide to take a tough love approach to the quilts and clean them, like I’ve done with previous rescues quilts. I add a little vinegar in the wash to remove stains and any possible mites. I place the three machine-sewn crazy quilts in the washer, turn it on and hope for the best. I launder the hand-pieced quilt by hand and then hang them all on the clothesline in sunlight, muslin side toward the sun in three cases, backside up on the pink diamond quilt. All of them come through the laundry process in good shape. Two of the quilt tops will need minor repair. Two are ready to be quilted.

The quilt tops are an amazing gift for Nancy to give a stranger. I will try to be a good steward of her largess. One or more of these will make great donations to a community organization when completed.

Published by llzranch

parent, writer, mental health counselor, gardener, environmentalist

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