So How's Retirement Going for You?

The Century-Old Quilt – Like New

The weather has warmed enough where I live that it was time this weekend to put away the winter bed quilts for something lighter.

As there are a number of color and style choices on my shelves, I can pick and choose depending on – oh, who knows or cares. It's not a decision that matters much.

Except for that quilt.

Usually I ignore it. In fact, I've been shoving it aside each spring for (quick head calculation) 32 years. Wow. I had no idea it's been that long.

My grandmother made that quilt. My father's mother. Dad was 10 years old when he saw her for the last time. I met her once, in 1968, at her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. She died in 1984, which is how the quilt came to be in my possession.

It is not an exaggeration to say that part of my family and/or their behavior, can be described as gothic. But I didn't truly understand that until quite recently.

The dawning of that realization came about when a New York City police officer knocked on my door one day in December 1984, to give me the news that my grandmother had died. As I explained in a 2009 story in these pages,

”A St. Paul attorney, whose telephone number the police officer had given me, told me my name and address had been noted among my grandmother's papers marked, 'in case of emergency.' She had been found in her home, he said, frozen to death.

“It got worse from there.”

If you are curious, that 2009 story in four parts titled, The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old, Woman, can be found here. Until this past weekend, I had not read it in nearly seven years and it's an amazing yarn, if I do say so myself. And by “yarn,” I do not mean to say it is untrue. It is not.

Nor was it my intention on Saturday to dredge up that event along with the the rest of the family history it recalls. I will deal with that in my way but today's post is about a teeny, tiny part of that yarn, Grandma Hazel's quilt.

While closing up her St. Paul home in 1984,

”In another drawer, I found a never-used, hand-made, patchwork quilt, probably sewn by Grandma Hazel in her teens, as girls born a hundred years ago did for their trousseaux.

“It is a remarkably modern design for its time (Hazel was born in 1892), and I've kept it. Early on, I thought I'd use it on my bed, but cats and antique quilts are not a good mix. So, as in Hazel's home, it sits folded in a drawer.”

Not “probably sewn.” Definitely sewn by Hazel and if we arbitrarily choose to have “teen” in her case mean 15, that quilt is now about 110 years old.

Two days ago, while rummaging around through the bedding, I decided to take a look at Grandma Hazel's quilt. I hadn't done so since at least 2010 when I moved here and that's all it took for the terrible story of the death of an old, old woman to come flooding back.

It's a tough story. Harrowing. Sad. Disagreeable. Embarrassing. Enraging. Wretched. The odd thing is that it seems even worse as I recall it now than it did when it happened and when I last wrote about it.

But it has also brought me one small piece of clarity that I am quite pleased with.

The quilt is lovely and as much like new as if it were finished yesterday. As I spread it out on the bed, here is what else I thought in addition to the memories:

So what if it's 110 years old. Who cares if the cat's claws get caught in it. What difference does it make if you spill ice cream on it while watching old movies in bed. What are you saving it for. You're 75 years old and you don't even like that woman. Use the damned quilt.

And here it is. Sorry fat, old Ollie the cat is in shadow but I'm glad he thinks it's a nifty place to sleep.



As a hand quilter I have to say that is a beautiful quilt. so happy you are enjoying it. It looks like it was made to be on your bed.

This quilt really is exquisite, Ronni. Redemptive, even.

Quilts are made to be used, enjoyed and for someone to appreciate the beauty of design and colors. As is life.
OK, I read that somewhere...quilts are bases for many motivation messages.

I completely understand not using it through the years. It brought up sadness. And, since I have been reading TGB for so long, I understand and applaud Ronni & Ollie for bringing it out now. After all, one of the messages of this blog is to "live life" now!

Side note: I have a king size comforter my mom made me years ago that I can't use, but hate to give away. Perhaps now is the time.

I would suggest a folded up polar fleece blanket on the bottom part of the bed. Cats and fleece are a match made in heaven and it could save the quilt from cat hair at least. I remember that story and it was very sad.

Ollie is yuge! What a handsome big boy! Your bedroom is warm and soothing.

I made quilts in my youth and I genuinely hoped that they be used and not tucked away.

I hope you can enjoy the quilt for itself as Ollie is doing. He looks very happy to enjoy it because of how it makes him feel. I hope you can enjoy the feel of the fabric and the colors and the way the weight of the quilt is just right for changing seasons. It is a beautiful piece and I can only imagine how it feels-but I know that I use a quilt year round because I delight in the way it makes me feel. Somehow a quilt has a beautiful feeling about it to me no matter what its' history may be. I love the all cotton ones - even the plain backs of them. Ollie looks like he is really enjoying your quilt...

It is a beautiful quilt and you really should use it and enjoy it. We can see that your cat loves it.

I am glad you are now using the quilt. It is beautiful! There is then some redemption for your grandmother's life....a piece of the good part is being shared.

I am working on one for our bed and had decided not to use it because of the cats and the dog. Now, I will finish it and use it!! I might use a fleece blanket at the end, too. Good idea.

How exciting to have a quilt made by someone in the family. I agree about adding a fleece blanket for the cat. I have them in several places around the house for my cat, who seems to prefer them over anything else. They are hair magnets and launder easily as needed.

It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship...well executed and well designed. I would just enjoy the beauty of it, and hope that you can have beautiful dreams under it.

It really is lovely and deserves to be appreciated. Thank you for sharing a picture of it. And the excellent fat cat. :-)

As a girl I had a quilt on my bed made by one of my grandmothers or aunts -- all of those Pennsylvania Dutch ladies quilted and at that point in my life I didn't know or care which one it was. It too was an advanced design for the time it was made: all white with gorgeous orange-red appliques.

One day I spilled Mercurochrome on it, the exact shade of the appliques. Awful, awful. My mother and I both cried. I have no idea what happened to it, but any mention of quilts makes me think of it. Yours is just beautiful.

Happy to hear that you came to this decision. It seems to me that things are made to be used and to deliver some degree of pleasure and joy to the world. That quilt in a drawer or on a shelf was doing neither. Even Ollie likes it, which is my experience with my cats and quilts. There is something about natural fabrics and other natural things - wood versus laminate, real stone versus manufactured, fake flowers versus real ones. Even when artificial things are beautiful and look very much like the items they're meant to copy, there's something about that which, at some time, has been part of the living world. I can't adequately explain it, but I sure can feel it. I hope you and Ollie enjoy that quilt every day it's on your bed.

What a beautiful garden themed quilt - made when people lived closer to nature and depended on it in a way we no longer do. Your picture has made me want to get out an old quilt I have packed away in the linen closet and it will be perfect for Spring.

I can see Ollie appreciates it too.

What a beautiful quilt. Quilts are works of art and works of heart and meant to be displayed and enjoyed. I hope you can appreciate it as the hopes and dreams of a young girl, of creative spirit and talent, something beautiful your grandmother made in her life.

Lovely quilt. I'm glad you're using it. My mother made quilts, not so beautiful, but patchworks that we all loved, and used. My kids were hard on them, but as long as she lived, my mother would repair them when asked. They still use them today. I should get mine out - the cats were never the problem, it was and will be the dog.

Someplace I read that sleeping under a quilt is sleeping under a blanket of love. As a quilter, appreciating the time, effort and care involved and the joy felt in finishing a work of art, I so loved your story. Your quilt is beautiful; how I would love examining the stitches sewn by your aunt so long ago. Treasure and enjoy your heirloom!

What a warm inviting bedroom you have, enhanced by the beautiful quilt made by your grandmother (I too remember the earlier story). And of course Ollie adds greatly to the charm of this picture. He must be aware, as cats usually seem to be, that he looks especially fine on such a lovely antique quilt. He also seems to have put on a bit of weight (I shouldn't comment, my big cat is now unable to jump onto the bed due to added pounds, he's very embarrassed).

For people who have a damaged quilt, do not discard it. Even these can be made into smaller items;e.g. table runners, bed scarves, place mats, small wall hangings, as the damaged part is cut out and discarded.
My first attempts at this craft was to make window coverings in a drafty house for my children's rooms. These were not heirlooms but inspired a lifelong hobby. When no longer needed to keep out the cold, they made cozy doggie beds.

It looks like most of us have a quilt which has been handed down by a family member. It is so indicative of the time when women had to have something to challenge their busy hands and need for creativity.

My quilt came from an aunt, who died early at 47 of alcohol related problems. After reading about Grandma Hazel, it got me delving back into my own sordid family history which produced lots of relatives with issues of abandonment and estrangement. Unfortunately, this mental illness, if that is what it is, has trickled down into my own immediate family.

Interesting story about your grandmother, Ronnie. We all have a story for sure but it is good when we can share our stories and not feel any shame, knowing we may be related to our relatives but we are not responsible for what goes on in their minds.

I too am a part time quilter. I have also worked with antiques for years. That quilt is unique. It's stunning, and it's beautiful. It's similar in style to quilt patterns made at the turn of the century. I tried to find something similar online....an hour or so of looking, but I didn't. Yes, enjoy. Know that the colors, notably the red and greens, will fade with any sunshine. What a stunningly beautiful quilt to own.

Absolutely GORGEOUS quilt! I love quilts and ALL their stories, from those of the women who made them (perhaps every now and then even some by men!) to those in the patches of fabric used. I, too, have a precious quilt ... made by my great-grandmother. A simple patchwork and not as beautiful as yours but lovely to look at and enjoy all the same. So glad you are USING yours and not keeping it with a pair of red lace undies!
Now I will go read the horrible story behind it, but I'll have the thought of that photo and you and Ollie - and all of us - appreciating it to sustain me.

No quilts in our house but the one bought three years ago from LL Bean. But I did go back and read all the installments of Grandma's story. Good grief, I need to go lie down (move over, Ollie). How sensitive our path, one decision following another shapes the trajectory of our lives and ultimately, our end. Attention must be paid.

I need to think about this one. I have one of those old family quilts (mid-1900s I think) and am doing nothing with it. Probably should ...

The quilt is special because it is beautiful and a good story comes with it.

My mother, who died 10 years ago, sewed and hand quilted beautiful quilts with some meaning (a Texas star for a grandson born in Texas, a thistle motif for a new Scottish bride joining our family) for 7 or her 13 grandchildren's weddings. Parkinson's left her unable to quilt for the others. The quilts came with the caveat use it! "Take the quilt on picnics, let babies play on the floor, put it on your bed - I don't want to see it folded away or hung on a wall," she'd say.

As others have mentioned, I also read your story of Grandma Hazel. What a way you have with words, Ronni. I could almost smell the house as I read your description...or maybe I was smelling my mother-in-laws house when my husband and I moved her from it to an Adult Foster Care home. It was in much the same state I'm afraid, and I got to clean it out with a little of husbands help as he was recovering from achilles tension surgery and couldn't carry or even pack things up.

It's funny how people assume that, because someone is a relative, we should have feelings about them. The manner in which St. Paul authorities treated you is quite telling.

In any case, I also am glad you decided to use the quilt..it's beautiful and quite unique. I'm also amazed by the number of quilters here on the Elder Blog...I used to be in an online quilting circle but haven't participated in it for 12 years, since my husband passed away and I lost my desire to be creative for a while.

Marian had the best advise for you..use the damn quilt and forget any bad feelings you might have..your family is the way it is. Nothing you can do about things that went on before you were born except wonder occasionally.

Be well Ronni and enjoy this great Oregon spring! I've planted my corn, peas and squash, already have tiny lithe tomatoes on the 8" high plants I started last February and an inch long poblano pepper...it's going to be a good year for the garden- Let me know if you want zucchini !

Hugs to you and Ollie-
Elle your neighbor in Beaverton

Use the china/crystal/silver/linens. That's what they are for!

My daughters, granddaughter, and I are using all of the linens that my mother thought were "too good" for her to use. She embroidered and crocheted lovely southern belles (in hooped gowns), peacocks, and such on sheets and pillowcases.

I am in the process of making two twin-sized quilts from the pieced-and-tied comforter that my grandmother made from her wedding clothes. They will be used as Afghans by our daughters.

Really beautiful--and pristine looking--quilt. And it looks wonderful on your bed! With the cat!

I had two quilts from my grandmother. I used one of them on the bed for years, until the point where the pieces were falling apart and I finally had to discard it. The other I hadn't used, and wasn't as fond of. I called a nearby museum, and someone came out to look at it. I think the quilt evaluator was underwhelmed, but did agree to take it for the museum. She warned me that it might never be displayed. Even so, I feel better about its being there than mouldering away in my closet. This way, my grandmother's a part of history, and a little of her story is included with the quilt.

I confess freely--I'm dying to hear the story of what happened to Grandma Hazel. It can't be any more bizarre than the family stories of many of us.

P.S. Glad to see you're reading the Coates!

The popular self-help admonition came to mind as I read your post:
"Use your stuff!" It's time all of us dig through the linens, china, and crystal that is packed away. Thanks for another valuable lesson!

Lovely quilt, beautiful big cat! Several readers have mentioned a fleece blanket for Ollie, but he looks quite content as-is. Our two senior kitties like fleece as well as used (but still fluffy) bath rugs.

Families!! They/we all have stories--and secrets. My original family was small and all are deceased now except for my brother and me. He lives in another state, and we don't communicate often.

So far anyway I'm not a collector, but at 86 and 79, it's not as easy as it once was for my husband and me to roll trash bins to the curb every week. Re-reading this story was a good reminder that we need to stay on top of "stuff" or it can collect and eventually overwhelm. We organized our storage room last year but this is another year.

Just re-read your story of Grandma Hazel, Ronni. You described walking into that house like entering a dark cave. Before you even opened the door, I pictured all sorts of horrible things inside. I wanted you to walk away, not open the door, but I was right there. I had to be there. You would not enter alone. We were exchanging looks- "oh my."

Your best find was the quilt. Quilts tell stories. This is a sad one, yet, you have draped it over a whole new life.

If that quilt could talk, it would thank you for rescuing it.

And if Ollie could talk, he'd say "I'm the streeeetching boss of this quilt."

Many seniors die alone, not discovered for days, because they have no connections with anyone any more. I am sitting in the local library, across from two college students who are studying for their final exams. Do they have grandparents?

Are they close to them?

Do they visit, laugh and dance with them?

Grandma Hazel's quilt has legs.

I think I'll get out the "double wedding ring" quilt my MIL gave to me a very long time ago. I never used it because it "wasn't in style"!!!! Since then I've been around the block a few times & have learned many things about life & living. Married to the same man for 54 yrs. & yet to use that quilt. How sad I feel. I'm getting it out tomorrow. Thanks, Ronni for rattling my cage! :) Dee


I was never a quilter, but I had knitting in my hands every time I sat down. My sister quilted beautiful quilts and one time when I was visiting her we agreed to trade our crafts. We went to a store and she selected a cardigan sweater pattern she wanted me to knit for her and chose the yarn.

I had been on a vacation to Hawaii where I saw the beautiful pattern that the women there used depicting the waves in the ocean. Knowing nothing about quilting I chose that pattern for the quilt I wanted my sister to make.

If I had a project in those days I got right on it and didn't stop until it was finished. In a few weeks I had the sweater and matching cap finished and I presented them to her. I waited anxiously for my quilt. Eventually she gave me a beautiful quilt, but not the Hawaiian pattern. I just assumed she had forgotten. Years went by when she suddenly presented me with a hostess gift of the Hawaiian quilt. She confessed that it took her 2 years to make and it was the hardest pattern she had ever done.

Do I treasure and use that quilt? To quote the idiot named Sarah,"You betcha". It's on my bed in the winter as a bed spread and replaces my comforter in the summer.

Your quilt is exquisite, Ronni, and you are wise to show it off now and enjoy it.

I read through the whole series and was fascinated. I am reminded of the phrase, "There but for the grace of God, go I."
My one takeaway and from monitoring my own mother in the aging process, would be to keep your mind active, your body and surroundings clean and have a wide circle of relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances to keep watch on you.

Brilliant decision, and high time.

This enormous number of comments attests to the feeling people have about quilts. I've made quilts for more than half my life (and I'm 77), I haven't owned a blanket for many years although I have a feather duvet for the blizzard nights we have in New England. I can only agree with everyone else that it's a beautiful piece of work which deserves to be used and admired. I agree too about a fleece blanket for your Georgeous George of a cat. My thought was of his nails catching in the stitching.

Perhaps some day you could write a post about the renaisance of quilting and it's many new variations that are not only alive and well in the USA but has spread throughout the world. Few arts and crafts bring so much pleasure to so many people.

Two days late to the party, but here goes...

Lovely quilt; handsome cat. You've chosen just the right time to put the quilt to very good use.

For her 80th birthday, my Mom's 9 grand children each made a piece about 10" square picturing some special memory of their times with her. My sister-in-law made them into a beautiful quilt which became Mom's pride and joy to show off and to keep with her, hanging by her bed from home, to assist4ed living to my house or my brother's. When she died at 94, we had to decide what to do with the quilt. There were too many potential heirs for it. Since it was so personal to Mom, we decided it should stay with her, so she was wrapped in it for her cremation and its ashes are with hers. Of course, it is preserved in photos for all to enjoy.

I kept some of Mom's clothes from which my daughter made a sweet little "memory quilt" for me to hang on my wall as a treasured reminder of Mom.

This is a lovely quilt and glad you decided to use it. The story it could tell, we will never know, but I believe quilts are best used. I have a very old one my maternal grandma made, her last, using scraps of the times. This post reminded me again not to save things for later, for better, for company or whatever. I have to tweak myself periodically to remember that as I have that DNA to save stuff. Last week I kind of scolded hubby for sitting down in the living room in the Queen Anne chair after he was outside working, I said, "you will ruin those chairs yet." He asked me why I would be saving them? We are both in our 70*s and he is right, saving for what? For whom? The back story of this quilt and your grandmother is a sad but very real commentary on fa,ilies, I have plenty of those of my own including estrangement with my half brother ever since mom died. Well, sometimes it is reassuring to read that others' lives too have not been one big happy family. Things happen. Yes, use the quilt, enjoy it & if the cat likes it so much the better.

"Quilts are made to be used, enjoyed and for someone to appreciate the beauty of design and colors. As is life." Posted above by Diane

My ex made me a quilt. A few years later when my nephew was born, she made him a baby blanket \ quilt from the same materials. Fast forward 10 years; my sister comes to visit and says "Can you fix this?" A rhetorical question, I assume, as it was a large pile of tangled quilt strips. He loved that quilt to death!


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