Monday, July 14, 2014

Hand Work

I am not so good at just sitting. I have learned from countless drives from our home in Iowa to my mother's house in Idaho (1,250 miles), that I arrive at our destination in better spirits and my husband arrives loving me more if I have something to do. This year I was thinking about my guild's mini quilt challenge so I looked for an English paper piecing project to hand stitch while we were on the road. I found one called Star Hexie on Sew Mama Sew. I reduced the pattern pieces (it IS a mini, after all) and packed myself a charm pack of Mama Said Sew.

I hadn't been sewing very long before I started thinking about how to set the hexagons for the finished quilt. I can say with confidence that the only reason I finally settled upon appliqué was that I knew my mom would help me. My mom is the undisputed queen of needle turn appliqué.

I can prove that last claim, too. This is a quilt that my mom made for my youngest daughter. Mom planned a spring visit around an applique workshop by Angela Lawrence and the birth of my daughter. Both of those events were SUPPOSED to occur within a week of each other. Instead, Mom ended up doing an extended baby watch with me and I ended up with a 9+ pound baby! Needing something to do (maybe it's genetic?), she started a pattern that she'd gotten at the workshop. The awesome thing is, she was forced to use my fabric. Mom calls my fabric "wild." I think that the real wild thing is to see Loulouthi (top middle, if you're looking for it) in this context!

 This picture was completely an accident. Mom got distracted by a darling baby girl while she was laying out some of her finished blocks for my inspection. I am beyond pleased to have Miss E and the beginnings of her quilt in the same shot!

I made hexies the entire way to Idaho and the entire way back to Iowa and I STILL had a few more to do once I got home. I marked out where the hexagon middle would go on my background fabric so I could have help on the needle turn appliqué. Before I left, my mom showed me a technique that helps give each leaf a sharp, pointy tip. Mom stitched on two of the black leaves for me.

You may notice that her right hand is not like yours. When she was 14 years old, Mom was in an accident. A group of friends from her school were driving up the canyon to have a barbeque and a bonfire. Mom was sitting in the back of a grain truck with some of the others and her older brother was driving ahead in a Jeep. Going for a laugh, the driver of the grain truck started purposefully edging the tires up the walls of the canyon. There were screams and yells and laughs as everyone in the back of the truck was thrown off balance. The last time he did that, the motion was severe and abrupt enough that everyone was violently thrown to one side. That time the screams were real. Feeling the vehicle starting to tip over, Mom grabbed on to the side of the steel bed and hung on. The heavy truck fell directly on her right hand, severing an artery and crushing her wrist and thumb. Hearing the thump, her brother turned the Jeep around and arrived at the scene so fast that the dust still hung heavily in the air and the tires still slowly spun on the overturned vehicle. Her brother and friends dug her hand out from under the truck in blood-soaked clay. One of the boys had just received a life-saving merit badge from the Boy Scouts and put it to use. He used a handkerchief and a belt as a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. He saved her life.

Mom's brother drove the Jeep home to wake up their dad. Her father arrived at the small hospital in the next town over and watched the doctor working on his daughter. Dr. Smith tried to reattach the tendons and stop the bleeding. He attempted to place stitch after stitch to no avail. The doctor turned to her dad and told him that the damage was too severe and that there was just too much gravel in the wound. He had no choice but to amputate. "No," her father barked in his stern voice, "Keep trying." He saved her hand.

Over the course of a year, Mom had nine surgeries. She contracted an infection so severe she nearly died. At one point, to develop a skin graft, her hand was literally attached to her belly for six weeks. She had to learn to write with her left hand. Gravel and heavy black thread from Dr. Smith's stitches worked their way out of her hand for months after the accident. So much effort was expended in saving the use of her thumb that her wrist was not set and it knit together in a haphazard fashion, giving her only millimeters of movement in her right hand. When I was in high school, my dad took my mother to one of his appointments and asked the orthopedic surgeon to look at mom's hand to see if she could get back a little motion in her wrist and to have help mitigating some of the chronic pain. After looking at the X-ray, the doctor came back in the room shaking his head ruefully. "There is absolutely nothing I can do for you," he said. "Be grateful you have a hand."

And she is. I am, too. That so much much beauty can come out of a part of her that saw such ugliness is an inspiration to me. That she was brave enough to even attempt needle turn appliqué as a hobby, knowing that her injuries would change everything from the way she held a needle to the way she placed a stitch with a wrist that doesn't move is an inspiration to me.

What's holding you back?


  1. Wow, what a powerful and moving story about your mother, and what an awesome photograph of 3 generations together! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing. There's so much in your mom's story for me to think about...

  3. Aw, Jill, you're a great quilter AND storyteller. I meant to catch you at guild and tell you how much I liked your mini, but I like it even more after having read this.

  4. Really lovely quilts! I've not tried needle turn applique yet but my mum is looking for a baltimore style quilt so you'v given me the nudge to get on with it!

  5. Amazing and moving story. I just came across your blog by accident and I love what I see. Two talented quilters with beautiful quilts...

  6. What an inspiration she is! It's always been apparent you must have amazing parents and this story confirms it!