For the last three years the autumn quilt show at Houston, USA has celebrated Mothers with an exhibit called I Remember Mama. This is the final selection of quilts that my mum and I saw together in 2006 by Davina Thomas
Each quilt is very individual but there are some themes which link the quilts. Washing seemed to feature strongly, perhaps because in the days before washing machines and tumble driers washing took up a greater part of the week. Backyard Meditation by Cynthia Morgan was one of these quilts. Using raw edge appliqué and machine piecing with free machine quilting; it was a beautiful study of washing on the line. The pieced background, using hexagons for the fence or wall behind, added interest and depth. The colours glowed and the washing seemed to shimmer in the breeze. It was made in memory of her mother, Jacqueline Morgan.
Cynthia says: Mom loved hanging laundry on the clothesline outside in her own backyard. She loved the fresh smell of it, but mostly she loved the chance to be outside alone in the quiet of the sunny morning doing something enjoyable yet useful. On Saturdays we awoke to sounds of the clunky old washing machine and knew she was probably already out hanging that first load of wash. It was one chore she wouldnt let anyone else do. She went about it slowly, almost leisurely and with a specific order of hanging; sheets on the front line, towels next, then shirts and dresses, and finally on the very back line, next to the tall wood fence, the underwear was hung modestly.
Another quilt which celebrated washday was Monday Morning 1955 by Carol Suto, which was awarded second place. It used hand painted and commercial cottons, with fabric from old clothing. I particularly like the basket of washing that uses old clothes. It was very three-dimensional. Carol used a painted background, appliquéd and fused the figures and completed the quilt with machine quilting.
Preserving Love by Ann Horton was another quilt that celebrated a hard working life. It used cotton fabrics, vintage textiles, feed sacks and cotton and rayon threads. With hand and machine piecing, appliqué, digitized embroidery, photo transfers and fabric painting, almost every modern technique has been incorporated, but that didnt stop the quilt from having a homespun appeal. Ann was brought up on a family farm and food represented the cycle of life. Planting, harvesting and preserving were the seasons they lived. Ann says: I remember my mother in the garden, at the kitchen sink. With kettles steaming producing shelves of canned food. Her love was constant, and like the food she preserved, we knew she would be there for us in times of need. Preserving love is a tribute to the heart and soul of my sweet and loving mother. Mother wrote the canning labels for the jars of food on the quilt. The red and white quilt border echoes the red and white fabric in the quilt on the balcony. Full of details to be seen close to, Preserving Love was presented to Anns mother on Mothers Day in 2005, when she was 81 years old.
Other quilts were memories of mothers that were no longer around. I should have warned you to get a hankie. It was hard enough going round the exhibition without one grasped in your hand, reading the stories of mothers who had died too young, who hadnt lived to see grandchildren or to see their daughters make a success of their lives. The Last Squeeze by Mary Beth Clark, awarded third place, was one of these quilts. She was only eight when her mother died unexpectedly. She used raw edge piecing, zigzag stitching machine quilting to create an image of herself and her mother sharing a tight hug, which is her last memory of her mother. She wanted to capture that in a quilt design. By quilting the memory, she says she hopes to layer in fabric some of the confused feelings of loss and pain. The emotions may have faded but the memory of that last squeeze will live on now not only for her lifetime but for her familys too. The green hillside is covered with words relating to loss and your heart just breaks for that little eight year old girl.
Another quilt relating to loss was Rosemarie Now and Then by Pat Moormann Kumicich. This quilt was awarded first place. It uses cotton cheesecloth, machine appliqué and piecing; printing on fabrics painting, free motion machine embroidery and quilting. The images of Pats mother are, I am sure, ones that will stay with many viewers: strong and vibrant with her fishing rod and then sadly diminished by dementia, a quilt on her lap. Pat says: My mother suffered from dementia for many years. She enjoyed watching me sew and in her earlier healthier times was very supportive of my art. She died one month to the day I finished this quilt. I am grateful that I was with her for her last breath. Im quite certain that for a second, she knew who I was and offered me a last kiss. The words on the quilt read: I remember Mama liked to fish, play bingo and poker. She worked hard but still found time to volunteer at the hospital. She loves peanuts and chocolate. I remember the day she went into the nursing home. Yes I remember Mama I wish Mama could remember me.
Other quilts celebrated special events in a life. First Grandchild by LaRetta Ann Trower showed LaRettas daughter, Tara, on her grandmas lap at their first meeting when Tara was nearly a year old. First Grandchild portrays that homecoming and was taken from a home photo that recorded the event. LaRetta recollects: Mama grew fabulous flowers. All of her daughters remember the garnet ring she wore. The mother-ofpearl buttons on her blouse symbolize my thoughts toward her. I liked the use of grandmothers flower garden piecing in the background to symbolize the flowers and the use of the letters in the cream border.
Although many quilts looked to the past, some touched on the future too. Tiana by Gayla McAlary was one of these, using cotton fabrics and batting, machine piecing, hand appliqué and quilting. The quilt showed a portrait of her mother, as she might have been, as a dancer. Gayla explains: My mother is native American Indian, a member of the Wyandotte Nation, raised in Oklahoma. As a young girl she dreamed of being a ballet dancer. Well, life happened and at 14 she was married and then had 5 children, putting her dream to rest. She always taught me and my siblings that we could do or be anything that we wanted. I am now one of a handful of female yacht captains, sailing around the world, making a few quilts along the way. When I read about this contest I started Tiana and when my mother saw my work, it inspired her to take her first ballet lesson at the age of 61. Isnt that just wonderful. I can imagine Gayla piecing the quilts when on land and then taking them on board the yacht for the hand appliqué and quilting, or maybe these days you can run a sewing machine on board too.
A portrait of strong women is how I think of The Women of God Know This by Lyric Montgomery Kinard, which received an honourable mention. The quilt used hand dyed cotton, with discharge fabrics and fused appliqué with machine quilting. Pictured from are ancestors and mother of Lyric. Lyric says: When I struggle with the difficult task of motherhood I look to them. This quote by Neil A Maxwell says what I feel of their work and mine.
When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and neighbourhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling that what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside celestial time. The women of God know this.
How would you decide to portray your mother or motherhood in a quilt? Tempted as I am by the pictorial quilts and ideas shown here, I know I would take the easy option and use star blocks. So apt as my mothers name is Starr. She is also now a quilter and has made quilts for all her grandchildren. Her drive and enthusiasm inspire us all. A 132 page book containing colour photographs and artists statements of all the quilts over the past three years of I Remember Mama is available from Quiltstore for $14.95 plus postage. Its a wonderfully powerful book about the joys and pains of motherhood expressed in quilts.
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