When my grandmother recently passed away, we were given several heirlooms that she intended to be passed down. After all, that is what a heirloom is; something that is passed down from generation to generation that is not only treasured but whose quality is intended to last in physical nature as well as memories.
As the family members sifted through the jewlery, family photos and crocheted baptismal gowns, my eyes fell on a quilt. It was an Amish quilt that I remember she had saved for and used for covering the grandchildren up when they were not feeling well in her care. The quilt was displayed for many years on a quilt rack and she proudly told anyone who cared to listen all about the Amish pattern and history of the pattern. She told us about the quality and time the Amish took to make each stitch and how their patterns told a story with each color and design. I remember the times that she would come to look after me and she would bring that Amish quilt. She would drape it carefully around my body as if the very quilt pattern had some kind of healing powers. In a way, it did. As my grandmother fretted over me and spoiled me with her soups and her quilt, I felt the healing power of love surround me and warm me. My fingers would lazily trace each stitch as she recounted the stories of how the Amish women patiently created their quilts.
She told me the stories of how the Amish quilts began. Amish women were taught to quilt from a young age as a life skill. That life skill evolved to a way for the Amish quilter to socialize within her community and then advanced to a way to make money. The first Amish quilts were done in a basic color such as black, but even then the Amish quilter was able to put so much deatil in the hand stitching that even that drab basic color became a work of art. The Amish eventually began to implement color and bolder designs in their quilts, yet those handstitches were always the heart of the quilt.
Much like the Amish women painstakingly creating each stitch, my grandmother wove their stories of tradition, hard work and simplistic lifestyles into my life. The simple attention to detail in not only their quilts, but in every aspect of their lives. My grandmother would explain to me that we would do good to use the Amish quilter as an example in our own lives, to be able to take something basic and with hard work turn it into something worthy of a heirloom. She would tell me that "these" days that skill is gone. In a day of mass production and foreign manufacturers, we would never find that pride and hard work that went into something as basic as a quilt. All we would be able to find in today’s stores would be a quilt that was thrown under an electric self-operated machine with a pattern and fabric that was cheap enough to sell to the masses who didn’t really care about quality but about price. Her biggest saying during this conversation was "Buy once, Cry once" Sure she saved for years to be able to buy her Amish quilt, but it’s quality was worth the cost. She knew from the history of the Amish quilt that is would last for generations, so she placed it in her memory trunk to pass down as a heirloom.
Years later when I had my own children to look after and care for, I found myself standing in a store looking at their quilts. The prices were low, but the quality and colors never matched those of the Amish quilt of my grandmothers. I picked up a couple since the price was so low and took them home, hoping to recreate that care and love that I remembered from my youth.
Every time one of my children became ill, I would whip up some of my grandmother’s famous soup and drape one of my newly purchased quilts around them. It was never quite the same. The stories of the Amish quilt and how special it was never was told to my children. The healing power of the Amish quilt never worked. It seemed every year I was purchasing a new quilt from the store. Every year after several washings I was throwing the quilt away as the seams would fray and the colors would fade. I could never quite recreate that memory of the healing quilt for my children.
As I sat in the floor and my fingers once again retraced those familiar stitches from my childhood, I felt my grandmother and her love as though she was right beside me. The colors were just as vibrant as they were thirty years ago, the stitches just as tight and the story of the love the Amish woman put into their quilts flooded through me like my grandmother’s soups. Healing my heart from the loss of my grandmother. This was the heirloom piece that I wanted to take home to my children.
The first time one of my children caught a cold, I pulled out my grandmother’s Amish quilt and placed it lovingly around their shoulders. I began telling the stories that my grandmother had told me and watched as my child’s fingers began to lazily trace the stitching the same way as mine had. I watched as her eyes filled with wonder of the stories of the Amish women and the work that went into making their quilts and I knew that I had given her the healing power of my grandmother’s Amish quilt.
One day when my children are grown and my grandchildren are looking through my heirlooms that I have left them, I know they will see the Amish quilt of my grandmother’s with the stitching just as tight, the colors just as vibrant and my love covering them the way that Amish quilt used to.