Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mrs. Woody's Quilt

A couple of months ago I went to an auction on Woody Farm Road in Bedford, hoping to buy a spinning wheel for our center. I didn't get the spinning wheel, but I did buy a couple of old unfinished quilt tops, entirely hand-sewn. The prettiest of the two is made in a six-pointed star pattern of tiny 2" patches (see the detail in the picture) and measures about four feet by two feet. It came with a whole box of completed quilt blocks that just needed to be sewn on.

The name of the man whose estate was being auctioned that day was Woody, and I call the quilt artist Mrs. Woody even though I have no idea who was actually making the quilt. Mrs. Woody must have put hundreds of hours into carefully cutting the tiny pieces and hand-stitching them together, arranging the colors beautifully, but one day she stopped, mid-seam, leaving a block half-sewn onto the quilt, and never returned.

When my sister-in-law Trish was here over Thanksgiving, she and I vowed to continue Mrs. Woody's work, and thanks to my brother Doran's taking their two very active young sons on a long hike, we were actually able to spend a couple of hours in our round living room hand-sewing a couple more rows of blocks onto the quilt. As we sewed, Trish and I talked about the woman who started the quilt, what she was thinking, how long it took her to get as far as she had, when that was and how old she was at the time, whether she had small children as she made it or whether her children were already grown, and what made her stop so abruptly and never return to her work. We thought perhaps a family crisis, a death or disappointment, had caused her to lose her creative spirit. Maybe she was a young woman with no children when she started the quilt, and when the kids came she had no time to work on it anymore, like the tablecloth my mother finished crocheting after fifteen years. Or maybe she herself became ill or died suddenly. It was strange and wonderful how completely into Mrs. Woody's mind we were as we worked to complete a project she had labored on so long. No longer a total stranger, through her art she had become a friend and helped to seal the friendship between the two of us, sisters-in-law separated most of the year by the long road between Indiana and Texas.

Fellow artists, when we sit down with a needle and thread, or a handful of clay, or a crochet hook or knitting needles or a palette of paint and a gourd, we begin an adventure that will live long after us, whether we finish the work or not. Enjoy every minute of it. There's no better time to think about the continuity of past, present and future than at Christmas, a time of deeply honored traditions all over the world. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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