This has been a crazy month. Those who know me well know that I like to do lots of baking during the holiday season. I have many family cookie recipes that I trot out, making as many as I can. This year that tradition went by the wayside. As I was about to begin baking in earnest, my mother-in-law died. The next day Jim and I headed to Wisconsin to help his sister with all the arrangements. We got home two days before we were to celebrate our family Christmas. So things were a little different this year, but it wasn't a sad Christmas by any means.
Vivian Lee would have been 100 years old next May. Though she had become very frail the last few years, she'd still had her faculties and some level of independence until very recently. Thankfully she didn't linger too long after she was not able to be up and about and she had a peaceful end.
When you lose someone, you naturally think back on their lives and the gifts they have given you over the years. Vivian gave me two things that changed the course of my life. Many of you have heard me tell these stories, but I don't think I've ever written them down. I feel compelled to do so now as my year-end tribute to her.
First, I give credit to Vivian for my interest in quilting. Though I had sewn and done needlework since childhood, I'd never tried quilting until Vivian gave me a couple of quilts that her mother had started and never finished. This was perhaps 40 years ago. One of them was a double-bed-sized hand-pieced Grandmother's Flower Garden. The other was a set of 20 machine-pieced eight-pointed stars. I was honored by the gift and felt compelled to do something with them.
I decided to start with the flower garden, since it "just" needed backing and quilting. It didn't need to be pieced together. Since it had been pieced by hand, I thought it should be quilted by hand too. To be honest, I started it mostly out of a sense of duty. I thought the quilting process would be deadly boring. Famous last words. Though I didn't do anything imaginative with the quilting pattern, I just outlined the circles, I found the stitching immensely soothing and satisfying. When that one was finished, I pieced together the eight-pointed stars (by machine) and then went crazy hand quilting it. I was hooked. Not only was the stitching calming, I saw that quilting was a type of sewing that I could be creative with, and I haven't stopped. I was intrigued by the way you could put all these disparate fabrics together to make something totally new. I also loved the texture and dimension the quilting stitches added. I am still intrigued with those things.
Here are those first two quilts. Many memories in them. When Vivian would look at them, she'd point out various fabrics she remembered--ones from old dresses she'd had for example. So special. Of course they also contain my own memories as well.
We used the Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt on our bed at our house in Maine until it started to come apart. Even then I couldn't just get rid of it. After spending a good while in a future project bin, I decided that Vivian's upcoming 90th birthday was a good reason to dig it out again. I cut it apart, saving the sections without holes in them. I stitched some of them back together again and added some embroidery to create "Revisiting Grandmother's Flower Garden" for a birthday gift for her. The stitching tells the story of her gift to me and what it meant to me.
We brought it back from Wisconsin with us. Now it hangs in my kitchen reminding me of her and her gift.
Several years later, more pieces of the original quilt made their way into another quilt I called "Keep the Old." It was made for a joint exhibit with my daughter Sonja. The show's theme of Wabi Sabi--a Japanese concept of making something old new and beautiful--seemed perfect for using those pieces. Here's that one.
The other big thing for which Vivian deserves credit is bringing me back to the violin. This happened much later, but still, probably 25 years ago. This time, she'd found her father's violin. She called to see if my son Peter was interested in learning to play it. He was intrigued so she sent it to him.
I had played my grandmother's violin in elementary and high school. I quit after the 11th grade so I could sing in the choir instead. All the adults in my family tried to talk me out of quitting, saying I'd regret it some day, but I was adamant. I could not imagine ever going back to it. More famous last words.
When Peter decided to try the violin, I thought it might be fun to take lessons with him. We could learn together. So I ate my words again and we started lessons. To my surprise I really enjoyed playing again and though I've had a couple of pretty long breaks from it, I've stuck with it even though Peter no longer plays. I have my own violin and am currently taking lessons in Scottish fiddling. I play with the Williamsburg Strathspey and Reel Society which meets a couple of times a month. It's a great bunch of people and so much fun to play with others.
So as I reflect back on 2019 and the loss of my mother-in-law, it is with great happiness and gratefulness. Vivian's gifts have brought me such joy and satisfaction. I hope that you also have as much satisfaction and joy in your lives. Happy New Year and best wishes for 2020.
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.