Ode To The Unknown Quilter – A Double Wedding Ring Quilt
By definition, an ODE is “a lyric poem expressive of exalted or enthusiastic emotion.”
I’m not a poet, I’m a rambler…but this post does have what I hope to be enthusiastic emotion.
As a longarm quilter for hire, it’s my job and joy to assist quilters in the finishing of their masterpieces. Sometimes the owner of the quilt top isn’t necessarily the one who pieced it, sometimes the top has been inherited or a special purchase from an estate sale or antique market. Sometimes I don’t even know the story, as in the case of this quilt.
Several years ago one of my faithful customers had a neighbor with a quilt top that needed to be quilted. If I was told the story I have certainly slept since then and don’t remember. All I remember is my customer telling her neighbor that she would show it to her longarm quilter and see if anything could be done with it…for you see, the top had “issues.”
I wish I had a better of a command of vocabulary because “issues” seems disrespectful, and I certainly don’t mean any disrespect to the unknown quilter, but this is another one of those “bless her heart” quilts…
This particular quilt was hand pieced, and judging by the feed sacks and other recognizable fabrics, was probably pieced in the 1930’s or 1940’s when the double wedding ring pattern was prevalent.
I always love taking a photo of the actual hand piecing before it is covered up forever and ever amen. For a reason unknown to me, the piecing was done in both a black thread and occasionally a white thread – could it be that the unknown quilter was using what was available as far as thread choices were concerned? Could it be that she was a beginner and the black thread was a way for her to see where she was working, or could it be that she was a seasoned saint whose eyesight was aided by this choice of thread color? I’ve had one friend suggest that the quilter had a “waste not want not” attitude and perhaps re-used thread from worn garments as perhaps even she repurposed those garments incorporating them into her quilt.
The double wedding ring is not a pattern for the faint of heart, however, the symbolism of the design is one that will warm your heart. Double wedding rings were sometimes made in hopes of a future marriage or sometimes given as a wedding gift. Regardless, it’s a difficult pattern to piece with its small ring of colorful scraps and its odd size melon in between, not to mention the large center piece whose proper geometric name escapes me….
Yes, this quilt had some issues – for one, it didn’t want to lay flat when spread out on the floor, and as you can see in the photo above, it didn’t end on an even note. The edges looked more like ruffles potato chips with ridges than a quilt that would grace a bed ensemble.
Ah, but that’s only if you look with your eyes and not your heart!
Not knowing the quilter, the history of the quilt, or anything really except the current owner wanted it finished and was willing to accept puckers in the completed project – I was left up to my imagination as to how to quilt this particular masterpiece.
The design needed to be taken into consideration knowing there would be many pleats and puckers along the way, yet I didn’t want to just meander or stipple over the entire top. An edge to edge pantograph wouldn’t work either, number one simply because it would again be difficult to ease in the fullness and number two (which was really number one in my mind) is it just wasn’t befitting to a double wedding ring. Too much time had been invested in the piecing, it would be disrespectful to rush the finishing by just stitching any ole thing to hold in the batting and call it finished.
Somewhere in time, a lovely lady set her mind upon piecing a double wedding ring quilt. Perhaps in hopes of her own marriage, perhaps just because she liked the pattern. Could it have been her first quilt or even one of her last? After all the careful planning and choosing of the scraps for the rings and the countless hours of piecing did she grow weary and decide not to quilt it? Was she frustrated when she couldn’t make the seams obey and lay flat, or was she piecing during a difficult time and the simple motion of needle and thread working in her fingers brought her peace and the end result wasn’t the focus? Something I’ll never know – but what I do know is this unknown quilter had the tenancy to finish that which she started. Not a ring missing, not an unfinished row, a little uneven and a little full, but a complete top. Bravo!
This was a top that cried out “finish me” and to the best of my ability that was my goal. In an effort to mask some of the fullness I decided to double layer the batting, with an 80/20 cotton/poly on the back to help shape the quilt and a high loft poly on the top to soften the fullness that was inevitable.
What to stitch? What would work the best considering the obstacles and still honor the quilter’s love and attention to the completion of her top? What indeed but hearts!
When that thought hit me, the love just flowed out from one quilter to another. The shared passion and perhaps the shared imperfection. Somehow I could relate to this unknown quilter. My designs aren’t perfect, I don’t make a perfect quarter inch seam in all my quilts, sometimes my blocks are a little wonky, but the love is never less than a perfect love – love for the process, love for the journey, love for the therapy brought about by playing in fabric and thread, and love in hopes that one day this labor of love will warm someone’s heart as it warms them from the outside elements. Can the love be felt? I certainly hope so, I tried to match it stitch for stitch with the love I imagined of the unknown quilter.
So yes, it’s a little uneven, yes it’s a little puckered, and yes it still needs a binding put on to make it complete but once that is done IT IS FINISHED! I hope the new owner will savor the character added to the quilt by its age spots, creative piecing, and beautiful scraps.
And yes, I hope it is loved when it finds its way home. I hope it will be said that I completed my task of honoring the quilt maker by finishing her quilt so it can be used as intended.
This is Karen Overton, The Quilt Rambler, Telling YOUR story one quilt at a time.
- originally published on my previous blog
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