The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons

On The Ephemeral
Nature of Being

Column #12

For most fans of public television’s “Love of Quilting,” the Tip Table segment is the best part of the program. At the end of every episode, Mom and I sit together at a wood table and share tips that have come in from viewers. We’re continually amazed at how resourceful and creative people get in their studios. We’re also amazed at how many applications there are for empty Q-Tip boxes.


Photo Right: “The Cemetery Quilt” (1836-1843) by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell.


Most tips have a “prop,” if you will: we encourage people to send in an example of their tip so we can properly communicate it to the audience. But there are other tips that have no prop, and some of them are worth sharing, even without a visual.


One such tip came in during the most recent taping. A woman advised quilters to tell their friends and family what to do with the contents of her sewing studio “in case the unthinkable happens.” This was an elegant way to say “if you die…,” but that’s obviously what she meant.


Photo Below: If you don’t know what to do with the quilts of Aunt Nanna (R.I.P.) may I suggest selling them to an antique dealer? Your burden could be someone’s treasure, right? Photo: Oxford, Ohio quilt vendor booth, 1913.


The woman said she knew someone who was explicit in her instructions upon her untimely (or timely, let’s be honest) death. If the family members don’t want the items, her wishes were thus: sell the sewing machine(s) or give them to charity, give close quilter friends first crack at all the fabric and donate any that’s left (there won’t be much), and notions and tools can be shared among the friends, too, though there will surely be items tossed away (e.g., blunt rotary cutters, grimy pincushions, old thread, etc.). Most quilters would agree this is a good plan and easy enough for close ones to execute.


The second half of the woman’s tip was cautionary tale—taken on the whole, her advice had a Goofus and Gallant quality to it. Another family she knew of or heard about didn’t appreciate the value—neither financial nor emotional—of their mother’s sewing supplies. They threw it out. Perhaps they sold a machine at a garage sale, but they didn’t know what to do with the fabric, supplies, etc., so into the bin it went.


The idea that yards and yards of perfectly good (and potentially fabulous) quilting fabric would end its life in the dumpster is enough to give a quilter a heart attack.


The tip was morbid. We’ve mentioned blood on the program, as quilters often inflict injuries on themselves with rotary cutters and needles, but we’ve never talked about death. It definitely felt a little weird. But I insisted on reading it because, indeed, it is important to tell the people we know that the quilts we make for them, the objects they treasure, have an origin. They come from our power tools (sewing machines) and our paint palette (fabric.)


The time we spend in our studio—or at our dining room table, in my case—is worth honoring. Make sure your legacy, however humble, is passed on to the next quilter…and tell her pass hers on, as well.