Photo by Kaki Steward

The Ties that Bind


This is a photo of a memory quilt square started by my mom. She chose this bowtie pattern, from a quilting book published 1935. Her plan was to make the squares out of white linen and the bowties from remnants collected from dresses she made for my sister and me from grade school to my sister’s wedding in 1965.

Mom was the first in her family to graduate from college. She owned and operated a pre-school in 1955. She sewed for us in the afternoons while the students were napping. She designed her own patterns, and sewed everything from summer outfits, to school clothes, and winter coats on her Pfaff machine. My sister and I loved to go to the dry goods store with mom; We’d “ooh” and “ah” over patterns in the giant catalogs, picking out dresses we liked. Perched on those high stools we’d choose very complicated designs with ruffles, and flouncy sleeves that were entirely beyond any practical use for school. Our mother’s response was often “We’ll see” which was code for “Nope”. Once down in the aisles, I was first attracted to the rich colors of what seemed to be endless bolts of material. I loved running my hand over the cool polished cotton, the reassuring flannel, the scratchy wool and the quiet rustle of taffeta. If I was quick about it, I could gently touch velvet to my cheek before Mom caught me. I realize that these tactile experiences are directly tied to my love of silk.

As much as I loath to admit it, despite the intense sensory experiences from the fabrics in the store, my sister and I hated those yearly matching dresses and even the woolen coats with covered buttons. Why? Well, because they looked “homemade”, not store-bought dresses from J. C. Penney’s. We were smart enough to never openly express these thoughts to Mom. I particularly disliked my sister’s hand-me-downs. And I was sure my teachers knew my entire family tree on the first day of school, simply because they recognized the dress. . .

I must have been in highschool when my Mom started the quilt. I remember picking up a square saying, “ This was my first recital dress,” or “The was my communion dress.” Over the next few years, she had sewn enough squares to cover a twin size bed, but no further. Our busy lives got in the way and her passing stopped the quilt altogether. As a saver, I couldn’t  part with the pieces when we cleaned out Mom’s stuff. My sister, a resolute non-saver, wanted no part of it. The only thing my sister ever saved was her collection of Teddy bears. And yet, the bears came to play a crucial role in triggering further memories of ties that bind.

Every time we moved, I'd open a mystery bag only to discover Mom’s quilt pieces again. Each time, I'd vow to do something with them only to forget.

We’d been in Virginia for several years when I took a sewing class on a early fall Saturday. As we went around the group introducing ourselves, the woman next to me said she made custom teddy bears. Bells and whistles went off in my head.

I noted  her address and phone number and after class, rushed home to see if I I could retrieve  those quilt pieces. I did have them, only after I searched through several bags of saved fabrics and keepsakes to find them. As promised, two weeks later she presented me with my sister’s Christmas present: the bear sitting about eight to ten inches tall, had been constructed with incredible skill and our remnants. Its arms, legs and body were patched with grade school dresses. Its eyes were buttons from blouses. Our winter coats became paws and ears.  

That quilted bear held the top bear title for many years. These cherished memories were created by our clever Mom. As a child of the depression, she defined ‘repurposing’ out of necessity. Even though the scraps never became a quilt or another bear, Mom’s intention to create memories was more than successful  And yes, I still have the remaining quilt pieces.

When I think about our organization, I’m reminded that it is the love of silk that binds us together. Our members bring their disciplines, varied styles, and unusual willingness to share, from all corners of the world. We’ve successfully stitched a quilt of silk artists who continue to share their skills in our organization. We also preserve our memories via the Silkworm. We must continue to challenge one another to become part of our silk quilt. For me these are the ties that bind.