In my family, each of the women make quilts in preparation for their marriage. My mother’s quilt had a white background with intricate blue and green designs embroidered onto the quilt top. My older sister’s quilt was pieced—an Amish-like simple navy blue and white design.
I knew I would want something special for my quilt, something that reflected the symbolism of my wedding and also would be traditional and elegant. I became enchanted with ‘whole-cloth’ quilts–where the fabric is all one piece and the design comes from the quilt stitches. I found a design that I liked—a pattern taken from a 19th-century wedding quilt. With interlocking rings and vines, on all-white fabric. I loved the way the rings and circles in the pattern symbolized the eternal union that I desired. And I wanted it to be white, to remind me of the temple and of purity. Yet I knew that a quilt of such complexity would take a long time to create and I ran the risk of never finishing it! But I also knew it was the one. And I wouldn’t be satisfied with anything else.
At the time I settled on this particular quilt pattern I wasn’t yet engaged. It was my sophomore year of college and my boyfriend of my freshman year was serving a mission. I was also dating two other RMs rather seriously. I figured that one of the three would be proposing soon enough and so I ought to get started on the quilt just in case. As a Christmas gift my Mom purchased all of the supplies for the quilt and she marked the design on the quilt top. We set up the quilt frame in the Dining Room and began quilting.
Now, for those of you who aren’t quilters, let me explain a few things:
1) Quilt stitches are small, often 4-5 stitches per inch. I was planning a king-size quilt with designs so close and complex that there were often multiple rows of stitches per each square inch of fabric (was I crazy???).
2) When you quilt, you have to send the needle through three layers: the top layer of fabric, the ‘batting’ or cotton stuffing in the middle, and the bottom layer of fabric. There’s only one way to know if you’re needle made it successfully through all three layers, and that is to use the tip of your finger to ‘feel’ the needle poke through underneath. This means that with each and every stitch, the tip of your finger is ever-so-slightly pricked by the point of your sharp needle. The upshot: after about 2 hours of quilting, the tips of each finger are full of so many holes that the skin resembles raw hamburger—and are often oozing little drops of blood.
At the time that we were making my wedding quilt, I attended a university about three hours from my parents’ home and I lived in the dorms. So I could only work on it when I traveled home on weekends. Which was, at most, twice per month. When I did come home, I would spend much of the weekend bent over the quilt frame. My mother also put in many hours stitching during the days that I wasn’t home. It took us eleven months to complete the quilting.
As I sat sewing I had much time for thinking. A lot of my thoughts were about my future. It was as I was sitting over that quilt that I read the letter from my missionary where he said that he intended to propose to me when he returned home from Japan. And as I thought about that for a long time, I decided that my future was with him, and the quilt would someday grace our bed.
Ironically, perhaps, even though we married five months after John returned to the States, we have never used this quilt. We have never slept under it. It seems far too precious and too fragile. Until very recently, I’ve never felt that I had a bed that was pretty enough for such a quilt. But even now that we have a nice bed, we use an inexpensive (and washable!) matlesse spread. Our wedding quilt is carefully folded in my grandma’s cedar chest that sits at the foot of our bed. Occasionally I take it out and look at it. But usually only when we are moving to a new home.
My older sister, on the other hand, put her wedding quilt on her bed for everyday use. My Mother also had her wedding quilt on her bed until it was stained by diaper changes and the messiness of raising five small children.
Today, to take these pictures I spread out the quilt on my bed in the morning light. As I did so, my kitties kept jumping up on the bed and frolicking. They wanted to lie in the sun on the quilt. I fretted a bit about the black and grey cat hair that I could see already accumulating in their favorite spots. Then I let myself stretch out over the quilt and I thought about the intention, love, and hard work that I had invested in this one simple piece of cloth. A few yards of fabric, some cotton stuffing, and thousands upon thousands of tiny stitches. Blood, sweat, and tears. Joy.
And I thought to myself: What am I waiting for? Why not use it tonight and tomorrow and from now on?