A short story by Dave Brown
This story begins as any long arm quilters may during the Christmas season.
It was the first Christmas season since we started our quilting business. My wife, Jane is the designer and “piecer”, as well as the consultant on my long arm projects. Jane had been piecing and I had been “long arming” for what feels like 24-7 for several weeks. The date was on or about December 17th.
We’d been in the long arm business only since March of the same year. In just that short time we had developed a close relationship with many of our clients and they were more like friends. On that day, we came home to find a box sitting by our front door. In that box were 4 quilt tops with a note from Elizabeth – or Liz as she preferred. Liz was one of our clients, who we now considered such a friend. Her instructions indicated on the flowered appliquéd top to SID (stitch in the ditch) and copy the flower and leaf quilting pattern from a drawing she included. For the remaining tops, she just wrote “do what you do best, Dave, your choice for quilting. Please use cotton batting and neutral backing fabric. Thread color is your choice. I know this is asking a lot, but please, please have these done by Christmas.”
I looked at Jane and said, “I don’t know if we’ll make it, but we can try. I’ll call Liz and tell her we’ll do our best. I called her number and just got her answering machine and left her the message.
I had felt very good, as I had just completed the last of my Christmas “rush” quilts for the season. But now there were 4 more to complete!!!
The appliquéd quilt appeared to be a very “special” quilt. That night I sat down to my computer. I copied and digitized the pattern from Liz’s drawing. It was not too hard as it was simple leaves and flowers as fill in for some triangle setting pieces. The rest of the top was very busy and did not need much quilting. I then transferred this triangle motif design to my trusty, “Millie” - long arm machine's computer. I applied this new design to the specific areas and then added freehanded fill patterns to the rest.
Jane chose the backing fabrics for each quilt. I then cut and squared the backing fabric to fit and then mounted the piece to the quilting frame, added the batting and then the appliquéd top. The process went well, as Liz was an excellent quilter – her quilt tops were square and laid flat, including the borders. It was the reason I felt it would be possible to have her quilts done by Christmas.
On December 23rd, I started the last of the quilt tops. It appeared to be the easiest, as all it needed was an all over pattern to match the theme of the quilt top fabric. As I lifted out the last quilt from the box, I noticed a small bag under the quilt. In the bag, there was a label and binding prepared for each quilt top, with a note.
“I am so sorry to be such a bother, but please ask Jane to put the binding and labels on for me. I would so, so much appreciate it.” This was very unusual, as Liz loved to complete her own quilts. I called Jane over and she read the note. She gave me an “I don’t know” look and said, “this may be impossible, but I will get done what I can”. After all, Liz was one of our best customers and friends. If we could help her – we would.
Jane set to work and had attached the binding to the front of 3 of the quilts by noon of the 23rd. Gathered them up with her thread, needle and thimble and headed for her favorite chair in the living room to hand sew the binding to the backs of the quilts and attach the labels. She knew she would be there for hours. I completed quilting the last quilt by 2 in the afternoon. Jane took a break from hand sewing and quickly attached the binding to the front of the 4th quilt. She then continued with her hand sewing. She noticed each quilt had a theme and something very special about them – a little extra special touch added to each one.
By noon on December 24th, Jane was just completing the last of the quilts – stopping only to sleep!!! I called Liz’s number to tell her the good news and just got her answering machine again. I left her a message that the quilts were done. I left her our phone number, just in case she had misplaced it. I thought it was unusual we had not heard from her, but thought she must be busy with Christmas. I then realized she had never talked about family at all. I had just assumed she was a widow- as she was elderly and lived alone.
We had our children and grandchild coming over for our Christmas Eve celebration. Jane was now in high gear cleaning and cooking, since she just spent most of the last 24 hours binding quilts. She appeared to have a “plan” of attack. After I picked up and vacuumed the living room, I decided it might be best for me to just get out of the way. Since we still had not heard from Liz, I packed the box with her completed quilts and thought I would drive the 15 miles to her home and deliver the quilts.
When I arrived at Liz’s rural ranch home, there was a car in the driveway and lights on in the home. I rang the doorbell and a man answered the door. He appeared to be in his mid fifties. I asked for Liz, he said that she was not there and asked who I was. I told him that I was Dave from Country Quilts & Crafts, in Randolph. I had completed her quilts and was delivering them as she wanted them prior to Christmas and we’re cutting it close, but we made it! We had assumed these were to be Christmas presents and had worked extra hard to get these done for her. We also had made an oak ruler holder as a present for her.
The man asked me to come in; he introduced himself as Bill, Liz’s son. He told me that Liz had passed away on the 22nd. She had been battling cancer for the past year. He looked a little surprised and told me that he had delivered the box to our house at his mom’s request. He did not know what was in the box – only his mother wanted to get it to us in a hurry. She said she had so many things to get done, in her short time. She knew of her limited time on this earth.
Bill said he was there that day to pick up presents, as his mom had left a note indicating that there were special presents for everyone this year. They would be waiting for him here on Christmas Eve. Bill said he came about an hour ago and could not find what she had left for the family. He said the family was gathering at his home this year, instead of his mother’s home, as it was too painful for them all. We both knew I was holding the presents. I asked Bill how many siblings he had – he told me 2 – a brother and a sister. I thought, she had three children, but four quilts were in the box.
I told Bill there were some special quilts in the box. There were labels on each quilt with names. His eyes were red and a tear ran down his cheek. He said, “These must have been what she was working on so hard in her last days as her pain permitted. He opened the box and the tears were now running freely. He read the labels and agreed these were indeed the special presents.
Bill then looked at me and asked if his mother had paid for the quilting. I thought about the bill in my pocket and said that it was already taken care of. I told him I was just glad we were able to get them done in time. It was an honor to work on his mother's quilts. They were a true work of art and love. It was what quilt making was all about. Bill was affectionately looking at the quilts, with red-rimmed eyes as I turned to go. He then asked me to write down my name and address. I handed him my business card.
I thought about the 4th quilt. I said, “Bill, I am just curious. Liz had 3 children, but there are 4 quilts. If you don’t mind me asking who is the 4th quilt for? “ Bill looked a little startled as he had not noticed the 4th appliquéd quilt at the bottom of the box. He noticed it was smaller than the rest of the quilts. He lifted the quilt out and looked for the label, although he already knew for whom it was made. The label read, For my little Lilly. Love, Mom.
Bill told me he had a sister who passed away when she was 4. This quilt was similar to the quilt Lilly had used and loved. The well-used quilt had been placed in her casket. His mother had always talked about what comfort that gave her, knowing Lilly had her quilt with her. With love, his mother had recreated the quilt for all to remember the whole family this Christmas.
After a few moments of silence, I hugged Bill and said “Merry Christmas” and left.
The day after Christmas was Liz’s funeral. Jane and I went to the little country church. It was a beautiful service with lots of candles and many of Liz’s quilts were hung on the walls of the church. The minister talked of Liz and her loving hands and what they made. On the front of the pulpit was a beautiful small flowered appliquéd quilt, with the special design by Liz. We were also able to meet her children and talk of their memories past.
Bill told us that, at the Pastor's request, Lilly’s quilt would remain on the pulpit in memory of both his mom and sister. I glanced back and noticed the appliquéd flowers were in the shape of a cross. I felt honored to know Liz had the confidence in us to get her quilts done in time. It was humbling to think of her trust in us. Could it be that Liz was there helping and guiding us to complete her wishes that Christmas, I believe she was.