Interested in Quilting? Stay Tuned
I am not a quilter. I grew up Mennonite. My mother, an aunt on my father’s side, and a grandmother on my mother’s side were all either avid quilters or piecers, or both. A piecer is one who enjoys putting together designs and patches to make a quilt. Quilters are those who make the tiny stitches.
And that’s the thing about a good quilt: most come with a good story, unless you got it online or in a store.
Neither Mennonites or Amish have any special corner on quilting, even though Mennonite relief sales and quilt auctions are organized and conducted by Mennonites, Amish, Conservatives, and Old Orders across the United States and Canada. Quilting is big in wider circles, though, and the popularity cuts across religious and cultural lines.
I was recently asked to help work on an adult coloring book of quilt patterns to be launched this fall. So I plunged into research and fell back in love with the huge diverse world of quilters and quilting. It is not just for your grandmother or older aunt anymore. Male quilters abound. Artsy and hipster quilters create pieces that qualify as genuine creative art. You can buy patches already organized and cut in pre-matched colors (what’s the fun in that?); cut your own using a bevy of tools just made for the itchy fingers of quilt piecers; and follow favorite quilt gurus doing tutorials with their own YouTube channels. I’ll be sure and tell you more about the quilting coloring book, Beloved Amish and Mennonite Quilts, when it is closer to publication this fall.
Forty-one years ago this summer, I had a similar assignment, one of my first truly creative tasks in my first job out of college. In addition to working as a secretary for several writers/producers at the organization that was then known as Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc., I nabbed an early writing assignment doing ghostwriting for a long-time radio speaker Ella May Miller on the program Heart to Heart. During my very first week of writing scripts for her, the program was to center on quilting—what we called a lost or diminishing art at the time. (It is no longer lost, I’m happy to say.)
To complete my assignment, I sent off letters (I know, how quaint) to my quilter aunt as well as to an avid quilter friend of my mother’s. I also interviewed two local quilters as background for the program. My aunt sent me a pattern, complete with samples of cut-out and neatly stitched pieces. I treasure those samples from Aunt Susie, who passed away long ago. Susie shepherded me through my first ride on the “L” (elevated train) in Chicago’s Loop, led me along skid row, and otherwise introduced me to urban life. I was also privileged to spend weeks teaching Bible school with her there in Chicago, the hills of Kentucky, and the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
And that’s the thing about a good quilt: most come with a good story, unless you got it online or a store. Thinking of Aunt Susie also brings to mind the Kentucky mountain funeral we went to together and how she sat in the backseat of the four-wheel drive Jeep as a cute guy in the front tried to ask me out on a date. She may have saved me from going out with someone who didn’t have my best interests at heart. Aunt Susie was also one—even at an advanced age—to always have quilt scraps at the ready if we visited. My daughters entertained themselves sorting and stacking patches she’d already cut. Each daughter owns a precious twin-size quilt made by their great-aunt Susie.
But I lost myself in the Susie story. The radio show on quilting—my first foray into ghostwriting and getting paid a salary (albeit a secretary’s)—got more responses than any other program Ella May did that year. If my memory serves, there were close to 2,000 letters that came in requesting the pattern. We kept the Xerox machine hot cranking out more and more copies of the simple pinwheel pattern for which I hand-typed the complete instructions. (I know, how quaint.)
I went on to finish a successful year of ghostwriting for Ella May, until she decided to retire. The quilt pattern program won me enough cred that my supervisors were soon eager to hand me more and more creative projects that took me out of filing, typing, and photocopying.
Ella May had an enormously popular program with women of the day, and even though we look back now and say “How quaint,” she was a pioneer whom I admired even though I didn’t agree with her dictums about the place of women (mainly in the home, unless you were called to a special career or ministry). Times were changing.
But her program brought a profitable stream of income and donations that helped pay my salary—along with many other programs we produced. Her Heart to Heart Poetry Album soared to 87,000 copies in print, and her other books into hundreds of thousands.
I’m guessing that some of my readers here might recall that album, or the Heart to Heart program—and might be interested in the “closet cleaning” we’re doing here. I ended up with like-new copies of that little poetry album, along with four vintage Heart to Heart potholders that have never been used. Kitschy, maybe, but if you’d like one, the first four people who contact me about the potholder will get one absolutely free. I also have 15 copies of Poetry Album to give away. If you read this column in the newspaper, go online to www.thirdway.com/aw to see photos of both the little Poetry Album and the “Happy Homemaking” potholder.
And keep reading Another Way to find out more about the quilt coloring book coming out from our Herald Press imprint. I hope these days of summer will bring some space and time to kick back and enjoy hobbies of reading, quilting, writing poetry, baking—or whatever floats your boat in the good old summertime!
[The quilt coloring book is now available for preorder on Amazon, and will soon be available on the MennoMedia store too}
For a free Heart to Heart vintage potholder (pictured), or one of 15 copies of Heart to Heart Poetry Album, write to me at MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.