Saturday, April 16, 2016


Quilt No. 111
April 2016

This quilt started out decades ago as a piece of crewel embroidery crafted by my mother.   A single long panel contained the scene of seagulls on a beach.  It was framed without glass, lounged around on one wall or another for many years, and eventually was packed away when my mother moved.

Original embroidery, removed from frame.
I felt it still had some life left in it so I thought about how I might use it to create a new quilt.  I removed it from the frame, washed it, stabilized it with fusible cotton, and sectioned it vertically into pieces.  These pieces were then fused onto the dark blue fabric.  A border was added and the piece was machine quilted.  I could almost hear the seagulls squawking.

You could trace the trajectory of my mother’s life by her needlework.  Earlier pieces of traditional embroidery included decoration and borders on table cloths and hand towels and more than a few dresser scarves. You don’t hear the term “dresser scarf” too often anymore, but at one time a young lady’s trousseau had better contain at least a dozen if she was going to snag a husband.  I assumed that dresser scarves no longer existed in the modern world but when I Googled the term I was proven wrong.  Walmart has a couple of dozen stamped dresser scarves that you can order.  The needlework and the lamplight is up to you.  You might also want to call them “table runners” if you’re in a more contemporary mood.  So while the need for a trousseau has been shed along with the girdle, Walmart and women have at least managed to preserve the dresser scarf tradition.

After many years of marriage and the demise of the traditional dresser scarf – which was deemed as out of style by my mother in the late 1970’s – my mother took up crewel embroidery.  Dimensions Crafts and other embroidery kits were available everywhere and in every degree of complexity.  My mother worked her way through many of these during evenings ensconced on the couch with my dad, watching Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, and Bonanza.  It was put away for Hockey Night in Canada – you can’t do needlework and follow the puck at the same time!

After my dad passed away, Mom put away the crewel work.  It felt too sad, too tied up with Dad who was no longer on the other end of the couch.  A decade passed and my mother remarried.  She returned to her embroidery, sharing 60 Minutes and Alf with a new partner in the adjacent Lazy Boy.  She returned to her crewel work.  No picture was too complicated as she worked her way through the complicated stitches that grew into flowers, birds, whole towns.  Sadly, that partner was taken from her as well, and her desire for needlework faded away once again.  But my mother had a truly indomitable spirit.  In her eighties she once again thought about doing needlework, and asked me from her hospital bed if I would bring her one of her untouched kits.  I worried that her physical limitations would just end up frustrating her, but kept my fears to myself.  We spent a pleasant afternoon unpacking the wool in the kit and sorting out the colors, debating which strands were pink, light pink, very light pink, or coral.  The success of crewel work depends as much on organizing the numerous wool strands by colour as it does on the crafter’s ability to wield a needle. 

During her hospital stay Mom did some of her very best crewel pieces and delighted visitors, staff, and other patients with her progress and the generous gifts of her completed works.  Once again it brought both contentment and purposefulness back into her life.  Little did she know that it would also have the power to reconnect us in the future.

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