Assembling Quilts and Stories

Edith here, staggering a bit from all the delicious rich foods of Thanksgiving, and still aglow from a lovely long visit with both of my sons.

Today, continuing our Wicked Month of Thankfulness, I’m giving away a promise to send the winner an ARC of one of my three 2017 mysteries as soon as I get them. It’ll be your choice of When the Grits Hit the Fan (written as Maddie Day), Called to Justice, or Mulch Ado About Murder. So make sure you leave a comment at the end of the post before midnight EST tonight, and don’t forget to check the blog Sunday when we post the week’s winners.


Right now I’m trying to polish my fourth Country Store Mystery, Biscuits and Slashed Browns. I’m also about to move into writing a new book in a new series, the first in the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. And, of course, the Christmas season is creeping up on me way too fast, so there will be decorating and  baking in my life pretty shortly, not to mention coming up with ideas for gifts and then implementing them (which might or might not involve shopping). Life is very busy.

That said, the lovely quilt my late mother made me about twenty-five years ago is in tatters on our bed. Mommy was a master quilter, creating probably a hundred quilts in her retirement years. A few years before she died in 2012 she asked me what colors I’d like in a new quilt. She never finished it, though, and I’ve had a bag of the fabric for it in my closet for almost five years now. So I resolved to bring it out and finish it.


I thought I had the pattern stuffed into the bag. I didn’t. To my delight I counted 46 four-fifths completed blocks, and 46 strips. I didn’t realize how much of the work my mother had already completed on the project. It was much like if someone I loved died with only part of a novel completed, but enough of the writing in place for me to see the way forward to finishing it.

I figured out where to add the strips, so I commissioned a son to haul my sewing machine down to the dining table and went to work.


After I added all the strips, I pressed the blocks and trimmed off the uneven edges while listening to my Saturday radio shows. Working with cloth, thread, and iron brought me so close to memories of my mom and older sisters. Sewing was part of our lives from a very young age – Mommy made our clothes, ballet costumes, Halloween costumes, nightgowns, even hand puppets, and we graduated into sewing our own dresses in high school.

The following picture is NOT of us in our high school dresses, obviously, but was taken a few months before our mom passed away, with one of her quilts on the wall and one her own mother made on the bed. (Now you could call us the Silver-Haired Spectacled Scarf Sisters, I guess.)


Once the blocks were ready I was presented with the problem of how to lay them out. I thought maybe some of my far-flung quilter friends on Facebook might recognize the potential pattern, and many suggested some permutation of Irish Chain, but the examples Ms. Google showed me didn’t look like my blocks. It was a mystery! Again it was kind of like a book, where I set up the suspects and the crime, but often I’m not sure who the actual villain is until I write well into the story.

I did a little math before getting to the layout. Seven down and six across would use 42 of the 46 blocks. I could figure out later what to do with the spare four blocks. I smoothed out a plain-colored blanket on top of the worn-out quilt on our  bed and began to lay out squares. After a few false starts I figured out a pattern that worked, didn’t bring any color except the dark in contact with itself, and used all the blocks without any odd corners sticking out.


I posted the layout picture on Facebook and a quilter pal suggested it should be more of a crossover line, but I’m happy with the look of those rings. It’s a little small for a double bed, so I’ll add several narrow borders and a wide one in between. Yet another quilter pal, author Betsy Bitner, suggested fitting the four extra squares into the corners of the border to extend the pattern. Brilliant!

Once again it’s like the stage of authorship I’m in right now with my Country Store mystery – the book is too short, but I always get up to the word count my editor expects by enriching the language, adding the five senses, including things like my protag’s reactions which I knew but forgot to actually write down. Sometimes I even discover a new subplot that betters the story.

The basic top is assembled, so after I add the borders it will need quilting.


One thing I really don’t have time for is hand quilting my mother’s project, so I’ll either hire someone to machine quilt it or I’ll see if I can hire a group to hand quilt it – just like I use an independent editor to help me improve my books. I’m not in for a major hobby of quilting, so I don’t plan to join a quilting group (my mom’s group was called “Stitch and Bitch,” which I always loved). Here’s a shot of the now-tattered quilt when it was new, with my mom (second from right) with some of her quilter friends, all of whom helped hand quilt this lovely piece.


I’m sure I’ll find a good solution for the quilting stage. And then we’ll have a beautiful new bedcover that will always connect me to my mom.

Readers: Do you quilt? What handcraft, recipe, or custom connects you with departed family? Remember, a special ARC giveaway to one commenter!

75 Thoughts

  1. I love the picture of you with your mom and sisters, and that’s one amazing quilt your mom and her quilting buddies made. It’s nice that you want to finish one she started.
    I don’t quilt (at least not at this time). My grandmother was an excellent cook so if I’m making smothered pork chops or Brunswick stew I think of her.

  2. I’m so pleased you’re finishing your mother’s quilt. I hope my daughter will do the same with anything I leave unfinished. My grandmother quilted and Mother sewed beautiful clothes. I made my own clothes when I was young and poor, but quilting is my love. I’m helping my granddaughters, ages 4 and 7, design and make little quilts of their own, so hopefully the “quilting bug” will pass to them.

  3. Great job on the quilt. My Mother sewed quilts by hand and we all have one. I don’t quilt though.

  4. So glad you wrote about your quilt project and shared your sisters and your mother and her quilts with us, too. Her work is the very definition of “labor of love.”

  5. I prefer hand quilting, but mostly do lap quilts. I’ve done stitch-in-the-ditch on the machine for cot sized and meandering-about-the-ditch for a kid’s quilting project (75 small quilts for the local sheriff’s department done by our seniors quilting class: I’ve done 6 3/4? so far).

      1. Lap quilts cover the knees (about 36″ square), crib quilts (which pediatricians would prefer we not use) are about 30″x 40″. Stitch in the ditch is on or close to the piecing seam line, meandering varies more, sometimes crossing from one side to the other.

  6. I don’t quilt and am in awe of the beautiful works from those who do. I have a ‘crazy’ quilt that my great grandmother made that is very special to me. Thanks!

  7. I would say we have family recipes that have been passed down. My mom has even mixed a couple from her side of the family with some from my dad’s side of the family. Each time she makes the chocolate cake I feel connected to both grandmothers again. Edith, your story was beautiful and the quilts are stunning!

  8. I’ve never done it but I know we have quilting shows that come to our city that’s very popular. I’ve bought mass made quilts but never had one made.

  9. I am equally amazed by those with either talent, must less by someone who can craft a wonderful book or a beautiful quilt. Thank you for sharing the experience with one who just doesn’t have it but loves both quilts and mysteries.

  10. I do not quilt, but I do cross stitch. My aunt quilts and she made me a beautiful quilt for christmas one year.

  11. I don’t have the patience or the skill to quilt, but I greatly admire those who do. You and your mother’s work is truly stunning. Years ago I used to crochet blankets and then cross-stitch designs onto them. I always did them as gifts, so I have none of my own work! My mother was a caterer, so I have recipes galore, but don’t really use recipes in my own cooking. However, her recipes for pumpkin pie and split pea soup will continue on because my daughter says she won’t visit unless I make them for her!

    I love your analogy of plotting a book with figuring out the pattern for the quilt. No wonder your stories are so well written.

  12. My mother, a polio victim, learned all sorts of crafts as rehab. She was the greatest knitter and I pale by comparison. However, we worked together on two big tablecloths with a stamped cross edict pattern. I recently passed them along to my cousins grown children because I can keep the memories w/o the objects that have sat in the bottom of my cedr chest for years.

    I do knit…I also crewel, counted cross, petitpoint, needlepoint, handbuild w/ clay, quilt and have woven in the past. My mom was sick from addiction and one of my sweetest memories is her in a hospital bed and my dad in a chair next to her and they are both needlepointing a seatcover….eight eventually, that were on our dining room chairs my whole life.

  13. Beautiful job! My mother quilted some, using our old blankets as batting. She was great at using what she had. I have one on my bed right now.

  14. So awesome! I quilted a twin quilt with my Girls Scout troop. They had a blast learning form one of the mothers. I learned, too. Thanks for sharing- all the quilts are beautiful.

    1. I was a girl scout for many years but we never quilted. My favorite ten-year old is now a scout and I look forward to doing something with her troop.

  15. What a wonderful story of re-discovery and connection! I’ve only made one quilt, but my daughter caught the quilting bug when she came to visit me in Japan, and met my next door neighbor, a quilting fanatic who now has her own quilting shop in Canaan, New Hampshire – Haphazard Quilting. CJ has now made quite a few, including one for her niece, and graduation quilts for a number of her fellow Ph.D. students. She’s coming to visit in December, and wants to raid my fabric and old kimono stash for materials. (Not going to happen – I’ll retire and have the time to use it someday.) When I lived in Japan, I went to a number of quilting exhibitions – amazing workmanship, and often using old kiminos as the basis for the quilt.

    1. There are so many fabulous Japanese fabrics, Vida. How lovely your daughter caught the quilting bug. When and where did you live there? I lived on the Odakyu line for two years in the mid-70s and taught conversational English to businessmen!

  16. I’m always in awe of people’s hand crafting skills. I still hope you learn to crochet or knit someday and quilt. For now I mainly do cross stitch. I feel most connected to my grandmothers and grandmothers-in-law when I make one of their recipes. I cherish each one, especially since three of the four dear women are no longer with us. Thank you for the chance to win.

    1. I am, too, Daniele. I know how to knit but don’t do it much any more. I haven’t had a grandmother around in decades but I have such fond memories of them.

  17. How lovely to have this remembrance of your mom. My mother and three friends made the needlepoint chair seats I have in my dining room in Boothbay Harbor. Nearby is an antique couch that was in my great-grandparents house that has needlepoint pillows on it from three generations of women in my father’s family. Here in Somerville, I have crewel work by my mother’s mother in the guest room and tiles painted by my great-grandfather in the powder room. I treasure all these things, but will likely only be leaving my children with my scrapbooks, which is the only hobby I do with my hands.

  18. I remember my first quilt took 4yrs to complete 🙂 My favorite quilt is the one I made for my Grandmother Opal, it had four G.Mothers Fans, 1 in each corner, embroidered with the dates of her 4 grandchildren’s birth. And the rest of the inside blocks were all applique pertaining to her life, birth, marriage, birthdate of my dad(only child) etc.

    Homemade quilts have a special feel as they are filled with so much love. That first quilt, now sits under the Christmas tree every year, tatters and all.

  19. I used to quilt, but never to the extent I really wanted. I made smaller quilts as ‘throws’ or for my boys when they were little.I have been collecting and hanging onto scraps for many years and plan to go back to doing some.
    My mother sewed for me when I was very young and made costumes, which I did, also for my kids and sometimes for the grandkids. It’s not so much crafts as cooking in my family, and some of the recipes were certainly used for Thanksgiving, with nods to my mother and my father’s mother’s foods.
    Glad your sons got in. My oldest was on duty at the fire station on Thanksgiving, but we had his girls and my younger son was in from Silver Spring, (like yours), with the Grandson and we had an old friend of theirs in Friday, so that was a bigger eating/fun day for us.
    I have always found you lovely but you come by it naturally! Your sisters are also lovely, as you obviously got great genes from your beautiful mother!

  20. My grandmother used to make us these wonderful small stuffed elephants out of all different sorts of fabrics, and of course they were all called Dumbo. She was a great seamstress and made wonderful towel robes for me and my 4 sisters, all in our favorite colors. She also taught us how to make hooked rugs, which was a lot of fun. I have tried to learn cross stitching, but just could not master it, but I have crocheted an afghan. I’m more of a baker. I love how you were able to put your quilting pieces together — it is a beautiful pattern, as are the colors ~

  21. My Great Grandmother pieced a lap quilt back sometime in the 1950’s but it was never finished. She passed away when I was an infant. Now my Grandmother has passed away, so I got the quilt top and had a local lady finish the quilt for me. She even wrote the info onto the quilt as to who I was and who pieced it originally and the dates…..I will treasure it always!

    Love all of your books and series, Edith. If I was to win, I would love to have the newest in the midwife series. Thank you!

  22. I have never quilted, nor have any of my family done any that I’m aware of. Your quilt is taking shape and it’s beautiful. Great job piecing it together. What a lovely memory of your Mom.

  23. I grew up in my great grandmother’s kitchen. I inherited her kitchen-aid mixer and love breaking out old recipes and trying out new. It makes me feel as if she’s still here baking together.

  24. While it has interested me for a long time, I have not quilted. I do better with a crochet hook than a needle! You are doing beautiful work! Thank you for the chance to win!

  25. I love how that quilt looks! I’ve never tried quilting, and I’m not sure I’d be very good at it. I never learned any crafting from my grandma (she lived too far away for that). I have learned counted cross stitch from my mom, but the knitting and crocheting lessons were a complete disaster (I can’t figure out tension). We’ve decided that her teaching me sewing would probably be a disaster, too, so I’ll have to figure that one out on my own.

  26. I’m not very good at quilting. These are amazing. I do cross-stitch and crochet. I can do some knitting but I easily get distracted!

  27. my mother and grandmother both quilted..I have one quilt mastectomy grandmother and one my mom made me and each of my daughter’s..I made all my grandkids a few quilts when they were oldest grandson and granddaughter lost theirs when they had a house fire years ago and lost everything..I now have arthritis and can’t quilt much anymore but try a little on my sewing machine but not too long at a time

  28. I don’t craft but both of my sisters do. I had the pleasure of growing up with quilts that dated as far back as the Civil War. These were done by my Mother’s maternal side of the family. Most have been donated to either local museums or historical societies as they far too valuable from a historical point not to share. The memories of my Grandmother & Great Aunt sewing, quilting or just darning are wonderful ones.

  29. Hello!

    I confess, haven’t done any quilting or anything close to it. My wife has done some stitching or knitting. I get the two mixed up. I’m just hoping to win one of your books! You can’t blame a fellow for trying right? I think you’re a great group and I admire your talent.


  30. I am not in the least bit crafty. Nothing, nada, zilch. But I love seeing other’s handy work. I have a few friends that are quilters and I so admire their work. I know your mom would be so happy with your work on her quilt. Thanks for the chance to win one of your upcoming books!

  31. I don’t quilt, but I admire those that do. Your quilts are beautiful and truly works of art. I don’t have the patience or creativity to undertake making a quilt. It must be a great feeling of accomplishment when you finish one of your quilts.

  32. My Mother taught me how to do stamped embroidery, a craft I still enjoy to this day. It was one of the things my Mother enjoyed before she passed away, this past October. In fact, she wasn’t able to finish embroidering the pillow cases she started, a task that will be up to me. This past winter and spring, I made two quilts, both with stamped embroidery blocks for my two grandchildren to be. They have now arrived, one in late July and the other in early September. Your Mother’s quilt is beautiful. What a wonderful remembrance.

  33. Happy sad memories. My sister-in-law was a marvelous quilter and she and two friends ran a small shop for quilters in upstate NY. For my husband and my 25th wedding anniversary soooooome years ago she made us a quilt. We had a large African wall hanging behind our bed that someone had brought us from Timbuktu with all sorts of colors. She came to see it, made a few notes and then presented us with a magnificent double wedding ring king sized quilt that matched the hanging perfectly. It is our most treasured possession and keeps her in our hearts every day as she succumbed to Huntington’s disease a couple of years ago. She lived past 80 with the disease, while many get it much younger, so she did have a full life and a chance to leave many fabulous quilts behind…….

  34. I sew a little, when necessary, but knit more, and more creatively. Mom sewed, creatively but also as a way to afford to clothe us — nothing since has ever fit as well as her work, tailoring is a real skill. Grandma was determined to teach all her grand-daughters to crochet, and finally figured out how to teach me, by buying a book with left-handed instructions. I realized later, listening to balladeer/storyteller Sheila Kay Adams, that she could have taught me “knee to knee,” as Sheila learned ballads from her Gran. Your tattered quilt reminds me of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.”
    Hugs <3

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