Five years ago, my Grandma passed away at the age 98. She had lived with my Mom and Dad the last dozen or so years of her life and was fortunate enough (for us) to die in my parents' home. She was a real matriarch of the family who lead quietly by example and modeled an almost compulsory habit of service to everyone around her. She left many memories that we carry with us and often share at family gatherings (or in blog posts), and sometimes I'm lucky enough to have her visit me in my dreams. But she also left behind the physical stuff that we all accumulate over a lifetime. Perhaps among the most intimate of her belongings were her clothes. They are intimate not only because of their obvious closeness to the body, but because she cared so dearly for her clothes. Grandma was a wiz at laundry--able to get all stains out. This was her art. She said she was "fussy, " but her intense care for her things made them last--a behavioral outgrowth having grown up poor, a daughter to illiterate immigrant parents, and of surviving the depression. This kind of care for her clothes was how she cared for us, tending to our relationships in a way that made them endure. Our relationships never wore thin much less out.
We all have experience losing loved ones, and it is difficult to lose them even when they live 98 years. So, I conceived of this idea of transforming the clothes of our loved ones into memory quilts. This way, their most intimate possessions can be transformed into a new textile--designed to comfort and endure for many more generations. Last year, I made my first memory quilt for a family friend who'd lost her partner and who'd recently been diagnosed with cancer herself. I imagined our friend being wrapped in a quilt made of her partner's clothes for healing--for being able to receive the physical hug that she needed from her. And shortly after that quilt, my Mom asked if I would make quilts out of my Grandma's clothes for my parents and siblings. Of course, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work so closely with my Grandma. In deconstructing them, rearranging and piecing them together, I could see where the fabric had been taxed and where stubborn stains resurfaced after years of disuse. I could imagine her hand washing them, stringing them on a clothesline, folding them into perfect squares. I could feel her love for us, and I was able to return it and hopefully add to it through this process.
At our recent family lake vacation to L'Anse, Michigan, my Mom gifted them to everyone. It felt like an appropriate way to end the project. Grandma would have appreciated my stringing them on a clothes line for a photo shoot. Although she'd have been afraid they'd get dirty in the process. I'm hoping they will bring comfort and textile hug to my siblings, nieces and nephews and generations to come. Thank you Grandma!
PS If anyone is interested, I'm taking commissions for memory quilts for loved ones who are deceased or perhaps have outgrown baby clothes. The above quilt dimensions are designed to wrap around a torso to simulate a hug, but they could obviously be made to any desired dimension. If you are interested or know someone who might be, please email me at: email@example.com Thanks for enduring my sales pitch!
PPS I should mention that the backs of these quilts are bed sheets from my other Grandma. So, another intimate textile was incorporated into these hugs!
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.