Quilting for Peace
During my Grandma’s eighty-seven years of life, she quilted over two hundred quilts by hand. If anyone spoke of quilting, her eyes lit up and she was ready to get out her thread and needle. For her, hand quilting was both a highly creative and technical process. She meticulously designed the look of each quilt, drew the pattern, selected the many colours of material, cut each piece, sewed them together into the top of the quilt and added embroidery and appliqué as required. She pinned the top to wooden quilting rods, added the middle layer of warm batting and then attached the bottom, a coloured material to match the top. Then, she ever-so-lightly traced an elaborate design template on top of the quilt and began the long process of stitching. Finally, the edges of the quilt were bound into a completed masterpiece.
Grandma passed down the art and science of quilting to her daughters who taught it to theirs, including me. She told us her mother taught her to quilt when she was “knee high to a grasshopper” and told us “it’s never too early or late to learn to quilt”. She happily invited anyone who wanted to join in – gathering around a quilt meant friendship, comfort and love. It’s no wonder she was so thrilled that each of her children and grandchildren contributed at least one stitch to the quilt the family made for her and my Grandpa for their 50th wedding anniversary.
Each quilt tells a unique story that she lovingly stitched into a work of art. She carefully selected a design specific to the occasion or person it represented – for the weddings of her ten children or the births and main life events of her thirty grandchildren and twenty-nine great-grandchildren. She made quilts for friends, special events and needy in her community. A true artist, she designed many quilts after being inspired by an image that sparked her sense of creativity and need for a new challenge. She reminded us many times that “the first rule in quilting is that you never count the number of hours”. With around 2,000 pieces per quilt and an average of 800 hours to complete, her quilts truly were labours of love.
They were also her symbols of and instruments for peace. My Grandma didn’t have an easy life. She grew up with what she called “hard times” and had some unthinkable things happen to her. As an adult, she was the mother of ten children, a farmer’s wife and worked in fields and gardens. Whenever there was a spare moment, she spent it creatively. Even while suffering from Alzheimer’s disease during the final years of her life, she quilted upwards of twenty quilts. Quilting was therapeutic and helped her comfort others. It connected her to the past and the future and offered her a sense accomplishment, pride and joy.
After my Grandpa and her retired from farming, they toured throughout Canada, always saying it was the best country in the world to live. As we celebrate Canada 150, I am reminded of what she called “one of my favourite quilts”. She designed the quilt for the Canada theme at the local fair, naming it “Our Home and Native Land”. She cut each province and territory by hand using many vibrant colours and a combination of appliqué and embroidery for islands, the Great Lakes, Mounties, flowers, animals and buildings. She was so proud when it won first prize!
Quilting was my Grandma’s unique way to share her love and joy through the stories in her quilts and the energy they continue to hold. It was her way to find immediate and lasting peace. Peace for herself. Peace for her family. Peace for her friends and neighbours. Peace for her country and a better world.
By: Sharon Henhoeffer