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My View: Stitches in time preserve Grandma's flowers

By Gayle Kerman

Our grandmother, Marian Etta Edgett Smith, loved flowers. She grew roses and begonias, forsythias and foxgloves, sweet peas and tiger lilies. She also loved crafts. She knitted sweaters, crocheted tablecloths and bedspreads, caned chairs and created beautiful hand-sewn quilts.

The quilts were some of her most skilled handiwork and it’s no wonder that she had begun working on one with the appropriately named pattern “Grandmother’s Flower Garden.” It was the most popular quilt design after 1925. Each “flower” consisted of 37 small hexagons: one central hexagon and three outer rows consisting of six, 12 and 18 hexagons, respectively.

In our grandmother’s version, the center and the second row consisted of bold solid color fabrics and the outer row was solid white. However, she used fabrics with colorful floral designs for the third row.

Many of the floral-patterned pieces were cut from what had once been 25-pound flour sacks that were sold in the 1930s. These sacks, when emptied, were often saved and used to make diapers, dresses and dish cloths as well as aprons and quilts. In those days, nothing was wasted.

The flowers were entirely hand-sewn and if you were to closely inspect Grandma’s handiwork from the back, you would see the beauty of thousands of tiny, perfect stitches. Each stitch was equal in length, and there was equal spacing between stitches, all done with precision eyeballing. When finished, each flower looked similar to a honeycomb, and represented a great deal of skilled labor, and a whole lot of love that Grandma employed while sewing the small pieces together.

Gayle Kerman.

But, alas, this quilt was never finished. Grandma grew old and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She passed away in 1991. While going through her belongings shortly after the funeral, her daughter (and our mother), Marilyn, took those perfectly hand-stitched flowers and lovingly put them in a safe place thinking she might finish the quilt, for she had been taught well the sewing skills of her mother. As we all know, time has a way of slipping through our fingers, like thread through a needle, and the quilt remained unfinished.

 

Now, our mother is 84 years old and has some physical limitations that make sewing nearly impossible. Still, she never stopped thinking about “Grandma’s flowers.” Her mind kept needling her, but she required the nimble fingers of someone more able, and thus entered my younger sister, Gerri, who was equally qualified for the task.

After many years since Grandma’s passing, our mother decided that instead of constructing one quilt, it would be more meaningful for those who fondly remembered Grandma Marian to each have one of those lovingly made flowers.

Most recently, the process began for my sister. She painstakingly ironed each raw edge under, often while having a one-sided, teary-eyed “conversation” with Grandma, thanking her for passing along the love of crafting to her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. She searched for the perfect complimentary background color for each flower, cut a rectangular piece, hemmed the edges and sewed a single flower to the center.

Repeating the process many times allowed the creation of numerous finished pieces (a deconstructed quilt, if you will), each to be used as a wall hanging or framed under glass.

Now, 27 years after her death, and who knows how many years since the quilt pieces were first started, Grandma’s flowers are being delivered to those who lovingly remember Marian Etta Edgett Smith. There’s no better way to keep Grandma and her love of flowers and crafts alive.

Gayle Kerman, of Getzville, is a retired school librarian.

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