On the brick wall above our heads, quilts hung, filled with rich purples and oranges and greens — works of art created by my friend Quilt Artist. Other quilts were piled on wooden chairs, their secrets hidden inside folds. The big front window was dark and covered with frost, but inside the small restaurant, women kept holding up patterns of colour and meaning.
“We have a relationship with fabric that begins moments after we’re born,” said the woman next to me.
I don’t quilt myself, but my friend Quilt Artist had invited me to this gathering because she knew I’d want to hear the stories that went with the quilts. I drank hot herbal tea, warming my hands on the cup, as I listened. One woman talked about the symbols in quilts, how people say they were used by slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.
One woman held up the quilt that she worked on in a hospital room while her father was dying and her grandson was being born. The colours represented things that her father loved: green for the pine trees of the mountains, blue for sky, white for the snow on the mountaintops. Another woman showed quilts she’d made at different points of her emotional journey: a quilt she worked on when she was dealing with the sexual abuse of her childhood, a quilt she made for her daughter when she was a baby. Another woman held up a quilt that had been worked on by five generations of women.
As we talked, sharing bits of our lives, Quilt Artist was busy sewing, as usual, snapping threads off with her teeth between sentences. “Quilting parties gave women a chance to get together and talk like this,” Purple Fleece Woman said. The woman next to her laughed. “They still do.” She talked about her quilting group, a diverse group of women who meet every Saturday morning to sew together.
I filled my arms with a quilt that was worn and frayed near the edges, a hand-sewn quilt that had been much loved. I loved looking at the quilts on the walls, which were amazing works of art, but I think I liked most the quilts that were meant to be handled, works of art that you could wrap yourself in on a cold winter night.