A few weeks ago, an assisted-living center down the street from our home hosted a big yard sale. I noticed it on the drive home from grocery shopping, which had been preceded by a hectic morning of breakfast making, kitchen cleaning, floor mopping, living-room straightening, toy-putting-awaying, and Diet-Coke drive-thruing. I still had more than a day's worth of tasks to complete, with only a half day to complete them. But I parked the car, grabbed the boys, and made the trek down the block for some treasure hunting.
The boys found a spread of toys on a blanket. I spotted a cardboard box full of folded fabrics. I bent down and started rummaging through them. At the bottom of the box, underneath some flats of solid-colored yardage, I found this:
A summer quilt (only two layers). Some machine stitching, some hand stitching. Lots of shirting fabrics. A few imperfections, but not many. It looked vintage. It looked pristine. It looked fantastic.
I looked for a price tag. Nothing. I looked around. I expected someone to lock eyes with me and shout, "Hey! I didn't mean to put that in there! Give it back!" But no one did. I tucked the quilt under my arm and continued browsing.
When the three of us were done with our search, we had treasured up a toy car for Jack, a Tickle Me Elmo for Charlie, and a big baggie full of vintage buttons for me. And the quilt.
I assumed things weren't going to go smoothly at the cash box. The quilt didn't have a price tag. It was probably put in that cardboard box by mistake. Wasn't it? Had to be, I thought as I walked toward a rickety card table to pay. The original owner will want to keep this, I thought. No one would give this up at a yard sale on purpose. Yes, back to the owner. That would be best.
I approached the table and lay our items down. "We'll take these… and there was this quilt, from a box over there," I said to the woman at the table. She picked up the folded quilt. A voice from behind her said, "Oh, I didn't know that was out there." I looked over the woman's shoulder to see a small, elderly woman in a wheelchair, parked on the grass. She smiled. "That's from Maw Jones."
I walked around the card table toward the elderly woman. "It's just wonderful," I told her. "I can't imagine you would want to sell it."
"Do you like quilts?" she asked me.
"Oh my gosh, yes. I've made quite a few myself."
"That's wonderful," she said. "I have two daughters who just don't like that kind of thing–sewing and such. If I gave them that old quilt, they wouldn't know what to do with it. So, yes. You just take it."
"What? Oh, I don't…"
"Yes, now, you just take it. I can't put a price on it and I don't have anyone I know that would appreciate it like you would."
I didn't know what to say. But I did know that I didn't want to say no.
"Well, can you tell me about it? Do you know when it was made?"
This wonderful little woman told me everything she knew about the quilt; I kept her going with question after question. She thought the quilt had been made in the 1920s (gasp!) by her grandmother, who the family called Maw Jones. She said the quilt was made in Pennsylvania, then it moved to Arizona, then here to Utah. At some point she inherited it from her grandmother, a smart, sassy woman with seven children and no husband.
"Wow. How'd she find the time to make quilts?" I asked her.
"It took her a long time," the woman said.
After some conversation about the neighborhood we share, I stumbled over a series of heartfelt but awkward thank-you's, and then I gave her a hug. I told her I would take good care of Maw Jones's quilt, and that I would write down the details of her story, and that I wouldn't let my boys touch it until they were older (she had just met my lively little ones, you know). I told her I would care for it like it had been made in my own family.
I brought Maw Jones's quilt home. I smoothed out the quilt and examined each block. I daydreamed about Maw Jones and her stitches, and her seven children. Then, out of curiousity, I emailed my friend Valerie (of Cookie's Creations fame), a licensed quilt appraiser, and asked her if she would take a look at it.
After close inspection, Valerie told me a few things about Maw Jones's quilt.
Some of these shirting fabrics are certainly from the 1920s;
others, as they might contain polyester, may be from as late as the 1950s.
For a quilt from this era, it really is in great condition.
There's only one spot where the quilt has been mended,
along a hand-stitched seam that had probably unraveled over time.
This type of doubled dimensional border is unusual, and really super cool.
(Well, the super-cool part is just me sayin'…)
We can't be sure who wrote this on the back in permanent marker; Maw Jones
or someone who simply wanted to remember that Maw Jones made it.
Valerie was miffed by this strange little stamp on the back. She thought
it might be feedsack material but later decided that it wasn't,
because of the length and width of the fabric on the back.
Valerie described the quilt as possibly being a "deep scrap bag" quilt. The maker had saved fabrics for years and years. When she finally decided to put a quilt together, she had a stash that spanned decades.
Ah. Seven children. No husband. A deep scrap bag. Makes sense to me.
What an experience. I am still shocked that the quilt is mine. I'm wondering where the quilt should stay in our home. I want her safely on display. Her blue and cream hues bring calm to our at-times chaotic days. The pinstripes in her sashing and borders are sassy and smart, like I imagine Maw Jones was. But mostly, the story behind the quilt whispers to me. It says to be mindful. In time, all things get done. It reminds me of a quote I've always loved, from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:
"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."
I guess what I'm trying to say, I'm saying to myself. Stop rushing about, Jenny. In time, everything will get done.