Train Track Pennies

My last living grandparent passed away in early 2016. My dad's mom lived to be 90, and lived independently very nearly until the end. She was wonderful in many ways. She was sweet and funny, crafty and thrifty, made THE BEST scrambled eggs, popcorn, and lasagna, and had the greatest stories about her life as a young woman.

When I was a little girl (around 6 years old, I think), I spent 3 weeks at her house during the summer. It was much too long for a kid that age, and I was a homesick wreck by the end. Still, I have a lot of great memories from that trip. We took walks, put coins on the train tracks, picked Queen Anne's lace which we then put in a cup of food colored water. We made seed bead bracelets and I repeatedly spilled the bowl of beads we were working from. We would patiently pick them up together. Once I spilled an entire bottle of Calamine lotion on her carpet. Again she surprised me with her calm reaction. Coming back from one of our walks one evening, I ran ahead and locked the back door and the front door and then ran out again. I had locked us out of the house. I think I thought it would be funny, but I was soon in tears realizing it was not actually a good joke at all. Grandma took it all in stride, again, and calmly found a neighbor to help us pick one of the locks and get back into the house. 

 Grandma and me, 2001

Grandma and me, 2001

I think because of the good experience of staying with her that summer, I always felt close to her. When I graduated high school, instead of staying home and enrolling in community college, I decided to move in with her and attend one near her. I was a terrible roommate, self centered and inconsiderate. I know she must have been irritated with me much of the time but once again I felt so close to her because of the time we spent together. We watched the first season of The Bachelor together and had to hide our eyes and giggle when things got too sexy in the last few episodes (same thing when we watched Coming Home with Jane Fonda). I was vegetarian at the time and she went out of her way to cook things completely foreign to her so that I could eat. We spent countless hours chatting in the kitchen as she washed dishes and I dried. She beat me at Scrabble many times. She was still playing with and beating my parents until a few weeks before she died. I wish I had recorded some of her stories somehow, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to make her a quilt. She only got to use the one I made her for a few weeks. 

 One of grandma's garments I included in the quilt

One of grandma's garments I included in the quilt

 Stack of clothes, waiting to be cut

Stack of clothes, waiting to be cut

My parents and sister did most of the work of cleaning out her house after she was gone. I asked them to set aside some things I could use to make a quilt. They delivered a large box full of clothes and bed linens, and also lots of my grandma's own craft projects, like doilies, or table runners she had embroidered. These items sat in my house for over a year before I was ready to cut into them and make this quilt. They carried the smell of my grandma's house so strongly. It was an emotional experience just to open the box. After a couple false starts, I finally got going. 

 Ovals in progress

Ovals in progress

 Ovals cut in half

Ovals cut in half

I decided to make these oval shapes to represent the pennies we used to smoosh on the train tracks behind Grandma's house. I used the six-minute circle method to piece them, and was happy to discover the technique also works for shapes that aren't perfect circles. Once the ovals were made I cut some into halves and some into quarters and mixed them all up. I felt inspired to include another design element... I had always been fascinated by notebooks full of Gregg shorthand that my Grandma used for practice during her time in secretarial school. The secret-codedness of it all was intriguing to me and I thought the lines were beautiful. I decided to applique shorthand symbols over the top of the flattened penny shapes, and I chose words that describe the attributes I most admired in my Grandma. Patience, generosity, love, curiosity, humor, service, fortitude, and neatness.

 shorthand symbols applied with a bias tape machine applique technique

shorthand symbols applied with a bias tape machine applique technique

This quilt was emotionally challenging at first. Then it developed into a technical challenge. I've never worked with so many different types of fabrics before. There are silks and polyesters in here, along with cottons of all different weights. There are thick fuzzy blankets, and nubby hobnail bedspreads. I put interfacing behind the stretchy fabrics and forged ahead. It's extremely thick in some spots but my Juki handled all the different fabrics beautifully. I quilted this one myself. I was proud to have it hang in the juried show at QuiltCon 2018. Thanks to Mitch Hopper for taking final photos for me, the last four images here are by him.

 Final quilt, measures 51" x 63"

Final quilt, measures 51" x 63"

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quilting detail

 back of quilt. I used a flannel sheet found in my grandma's house, new in its packaging.

back of quilt. I used a flannel sheet found in my grandma's house, new in its packaging.

 Label and key for shorthand symbols 

Label and key for shorthand symbols