A Grandmother’s Quilt

by Liz Jansen

grandmother's quiltIt’s close to 40 years ago that Oma gifted me with a finely hand-stitched quilt. Lime green on one side, tiny orange and pink flowers against a white background on the other, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. My grandmother’s quilt matched nothing in my home. Now I don’t know what I’d do without it.

Few women I’ve known can match Oma’s resilience or resolute strength of character. Surviving a twin birth which killed her mother, she knew innate courage and unwavering values. At age 26, she was a penniless refugee, steaming across the North Atlantic on the SS Minnedosa with her husband, having left her homeland days after burying their first baby. Heartsick and seasick, she spent the voyage below deck, crying and heaving as the seas roiled and heaved around her.

After many tough years of menial labor to get established in a strange new land, my grandparents settled on a grape farm near Beamsville, Ontario. The large red brick house, which is still in the family, was the scene of many wonderful childhood memories. Even the outhouses.

Worship was very important to my grandparents and they were stalwart members of the Mennonite church in nearby Vineland. Aside from Sunday services and midweek meetings, a core group of women would get together once a week to quilt. For decades, Oma packed her lunch and walked the 7 km/4.5 miles each way to spend the day with friends, creating bedding that provided warmth and comfort to the less fortunate.

Everyone had their specialty and there’d be many quilts in production at the same time. Some women were expert “pinners”, others coordinated colors, pieced the patterns together and sewed them into squares, while a few were fine stitchers.

Oma on the right, quilting in her Beamsville home with her friend. Photo courtesy of Glenna Cairnie

Oma on the right, quilting in her Beamsville home with her friend. Photo courtesy of Glenna Cairnie.

Most of the quilts were best described as utilitarian; with tops pieced together from donated scraps and clothing that had outlived its usefulness. At times there were cupboards full of tops waiting to be matched up to a solid-colored bottom which had to be purchased. Once finished, they were donated to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and could make their way to a refugee camp anywhere in the world.

To raise the funds needed to purchase bottom fabrics, the women made “fancy” quilts on consignment. These were done in plain colors with intricate patterns stitched into them. From time to time, they’d make one that someone in the group would win in a draw. That’s how I got mine. Oma won the lime green quilt and passed it along to me.

One of the things with a broken shoulder, is that it’s quite painful to lie flat in bed. The only way to get relief and some semblance of sleep is to spend the night in a recliner, bolstered by strategically positioned pillows. It’s times like this that the green quilt comes out. She’s with me in the small hours of the night when sleep won’t come. I think of the life she lived, how she lived it and what she’s passed on to me, the rest of her family—anyone who knew her, and many who didn’t. I think of the camaraderie which held those women together, often during trying times. That energy is in the thousands of tiny stitches and can’t be laundered out.

Oma was not one to speak her feelings, yet I know she gave me that quilt out of deep love. She, who rode a motorcycle when she was young but never drove a car, had no idea the quilt would encourage and inspire her granddaughter while she recovered from a motorcycle accident many years later. She probably thought it was merely a beautiful piece of bedding for warmth on cold nights.

Little did she know that a grandmother’s quilt went far beyond the physical warmth it provides. It grounds me, puts things in perspective and touches my spirit every time I use it. There’s no more precious a gift than that. Thank you Oma. I love you.

 

 

Posted in Culture, Liz's Stories Tagged with: ,
12 comments on “A Grandmother’s Quilt
  1. Bridget Greer says:

    Lovely post, Liz.

  2. Bill Airsman says:

    Liz – Thanks for sharing. I have a selfish request. Can you show us the flower side of the quilt?
    My grandmother also spent a tremendous amount of time making quilts, that is stitching beautiful patterns, flowers, etc. Unfortunately there is only one left and it is pretty much worn out. I keep it for memories, sitting on her lap singing ‘Coming Around the Mountain’. She was an incredibly strong person as well.

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Bill,

      Glad it conjured up those memories. You grandmother sounds wonderful.
      The flowers I was talking about were printed on the fabric, not embroidered – at least not on my quilt. You can see a bit of the underside on the left side of the photo if you look closely. If you still want a close-up, let me know and I’ll send it to you.

  3. Sandra Mione-Kent says:

    Ah , what warm , beautiful memories to share . I had a very special Oma and her expertise was ” knitting doilies ” and then chrocheting the outer edge . I have several to bring me back to those days past. Think of you often and sending you healing energy .

    • lizjansen says:

      Wonderful memories Sandra. Thanks for sharing. Doilies are made from such fine thread. Glad you have them and the memories to go with them. Thanks for the healing energy. It’s working!

  4. Karen Carroll says:

    Love this story. Thanks for sharing. Hope you are mending well.

  5. Bruce Brown says:

    That is a beautiful tribute to your grandmother, Liz. She must have been a remarkable lady. I hope you are continuing to heal well, in spite of the pain.

    • lizjansen says:

      She was absolutely remarkable. And she had the loudest singing voice in the congregation too!
      Healing is going well,and I’m told that the discomfort is now muscular, not bone – which is oddly reassuring. It’s progress.

  6. mary says:

    Liz, you know I always love stories about our family and this was no exception. You knew Oma and Opa a bit longer than I did so I really appreciate you sharing your memories. Karen’s comment about you mending made me think – Oma’s quilt, being so carefully and lovingly stitched all those years ago is helping your arm stitch itself together again. That’s something. Love you. M

    • lizjansen says:

      That certainly is something Mary! I like that you enjoy the stories – and thanks for pointing the stitch connection. Love you too!

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