Labors of Love – Quilts with Heart, by Joan Ciolino
February is the month for giving and receiving expressions of love. Mothers, fathers, friends and dear ones all given love tokens in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, mediums, and all-important flavors of chocolate.I have always considered quilts to be among the greatest expression of love but only recently have I fully appreciated the depth and scope of their significance. Quilts I made over the past 20 years have been displayed in homes, been unfolded, used, refolded, comforted babies, warmed bodies and family pets, all the time witnessing and absorbing the history of their lives, the growth of their children, the pack-up-and-moves to new cities.
Baby quilts are always a satisfying labor of love. I have a nephew who was so desperately attached to the shredded remnants of his baby quilt and a receiving blanket that he loved to bits (literally) and squeezed them into a ball of shreds. He tucked it up inside his pillowcase (so no one would know) and held on to it well in to his early teens. Mom was insistent the baby quilts she made for her grandchildren be used and washed, and was keenly pleased to see how long her grandson held on to the quilt she made just for him.
My favorite baby quilt was one made by my mother when Joe and I were newly married and confidently planning a family. Fate intervened and no babies ever came. The quilt was always in our bedroom, draped over a quilt holder for about 20 years. When my god-daughter had her first child I decided it was time to let go of that quilt and find it a home with Mom’s new great-grandson. The emotions surrounding the giving and receiving of that quilt cannot be expressed in words. For me it defined a four-generation gift of love in so many ways, with both a melancholy ache and tears of joy.
Quilts are visual and tactile manifestations of love. Who hasn’t been sick and wrapped up in a quilt and felt just a little bit better, or at least comforted? When missing my Mom overwhelms me I grab a quilt she made and roll myself up, inhale the fabric and trace my finger over her carefully hand quilted stitches, taking to her and feeling a bit of her presence in my needy soul. So many pioneer brides crossed the frontier with a signature quilt packed among her belongings, a physical reminder of home and loved ones she might never see again. How cherished those quilts must have been even as they were pressed into service warming bodies or blocking sod house drafts and windows with non existent-glass.
In the late 70’s, when my Grandma Major (Dad’s mother) was in the nursing home, my mother made her a lap quilt out of scraps of our old dresses and pantsuits. We still have the precious keepsake and it was covering Dad the night he left us. While Mom was waiting for him on the other side, a quilt she originally made for his mother was keeping him warm.
At both of their funerals the double wedding ring anniversary quilt made by their three daughters covered their caskets with beauty and love.
I invite you to look back over the years and inventory the quilts you have seen, given, been given or were just privileged to see in a show or exhibit. Every one of those quilts matter – every one that you or I or anyone has ever made, regardless of shape, size, color or intricacy. No such labor of love should be judged anything but the most wonderful gift from the heart. It blesses both the giver and the recipient with the greatest gift of all — a colorful, tactile and enduring expression of love. When the flowers have faded and the chocolate a memory, the quilt endures as a lasting and constant assurance of true love. Happy Valentines Day – to you and to all you love.
Photos courtesy Joan Ciolino, from family archive.