Function + Sentiment

What constitutes an heirloom?

I created this foundation scrap quilt more than a decade ago and it is not particularly well-made.  Nevertheless, it is a precious object.  Why?  Because I made it?  No, not just that.  Because my older son uses it?  Not just that either…

I made it when C. was still a boy – during his elementary school years — and the blanket has been on or near his bed ever since.  I’m happy to report that of the three quilts he could have chosen to take to college, he chose this one (I didn’t make the other two).

Making things for household use is an essential aspect of the quilting tradition – we all know this.  And clearly, sometimes blankets were and are made in the thick of a domestic life crowded with other concerns.  And, while functionality ALONE perhaps shouldn’t render a quilt valuable, maybe usefulness combined with sentiment ought to.

Jude Hill‘s Contemporary Boro class was a wonderful meditation on the value of use.  She went so far as to say, ‘if something has a use but we don’t use it, it’s useless.’  The tendency to have a closet packed with clothes we don’t wear is a symptom of this, isn’t it?

Implicit in Jude’s statement is the converse — ‘if something has a use, and we use it, then it has value’.

I thought about this poorly constructed quilt of C’s in a different way after reading Joe’s recent post (on his blog  ‘manhandled threads‘).  He reflected on a tattered quilt that easily could have been designated a ‘cutter’.  He wrote that he “found this cloth to be filled with a gentle whispering. and, listening to these murmurings, can no longer bring myself to malign its nature further. this cloth deserves love and honor for its own sake. not for what i or anyone else can turn it into.”

His thoughts were in mind as I selected a slightly contrasting red thread to repair the binding – so as to let the repair show, celebrating the clumsiness of the quilt in a way, and acknowledging that it is a thing that exists in time and is used.  I am not averse to repurposing things, even very valuable linens (see what Karen Ruane does in this regard for truly respectful, inspired use of heirlooms), and yet, I am glad to think that the ‘gentle whisperings’ of this poorly made blanket might give it a certain status.

Have you had cause to look at (and cringe perhaps) an earlier creation? What sorts of thoughts were engendered?

About the quilt:  It is twin-sized and foundation pieced on 48 muslin rectangles… some scraps attached by hand; others by machine; some top-stitched, others not.  Almost all of the fabric came from a friend’s studio up in Maine (if you or anyone you know wears bow-ties, check her out — Lisa Eaton at  She makes wonderful neckwear with holiday prints and other themed-prints, so the patterns were scaled for small scraps and fun for a young boy’s bed.  The 48 rectangles were machine pieced and then I used black thread to quilt with a large stipple (ugh!).  The back is flannel, and the binding a non-bias cut binding.

The learning curve issue is perhaps worth noting here, too.  If I were to make another scrap bed quilt, foundation style or otherwise, I would bring a different expectation and a higher level of skill.  I don’t love making blankets and (not counting crib quilts) have made very few — the size is a challenge both for my work space and my attention span.  But I am gathering fabrics for another blanket for C (my other son already has two), and it will be interesting to see how different my approach and results are from this very early project.

8 thoughts on “Function + Sentiment

  1. Ersi Marina

    Maybe these old, tattered and imperfect works can produce even gentler and more delicate whispers. Because of their wabi-sabi nature and the love that holds them together.

  2. Nancy

    Ahhh…while you may notice a difference in how you would construct this quilt, what I see is a boy’s childhood, snuggled into the fibers – filled with his touch and scent. Priceless. I see a woman who then with a friend’s fabrics and now with fabrics in her own studio (quilt in ‘cool’ post) who loves color, and some very similar colors at that. I see a memory holder, for both you and your son. I would be curious as to what your son thinks of this quilt. My grandson, as a preschooler, told my daughter that he liked his ‘star’ (crib sized) quilt best. He then invited her ‘in’ – once under it, he raised his legs towards the ceiling, so the light could shine through, thus creating a magical world lit with stars for just the two of them. If he had never invited, she would have never known 🙂
    Sometimes things have worth, value because of who they belonged to. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to learn those stories!

  3. Julierose

    I have a half-finished “eye of God” quilt that I made on muslin foundation blocks and it was not really very coordinated in any way or made well either….but my Mom had begun to quilt a few of the blocks and so……it is precious to me. I will put it together someday and while looking over those old fabrics perhaps remember better days with her younger self…..have a super Labor Day, Julierose

  4. saskia

    two wonderful posts and I was so busy working in my studio yesterday and cleaning/tidying the house today I wasn’t reading any blogs!! and almost missed these (not that I really would have);
    beautiful quilts, the old one and the new, and I totally get how you can look at soemthing you made years ago and see how different you’ld do it now, but that was then and now you’ve moved on….and it’s good to see how you did do something a certain way and say Okay!
    and reasons for keeping a blog: for sharing All This, as it turns out, although to begin with I didn’t know this would happen to me; but it definitely was a way of focusing my thoughts and experiments and bringing discipline into my art-part-of-life in the studio and learning from others all over the world, finding like-minded souls…..
    oh, and what a beautiful video, art as comfort in this world, that at times is rather tough

  5. deedeemallon

    Ersi, so many old tattered things I love were exquisitely produced in the first instance… so, this feels a little different to me — but your comment sent me to Wikipedia for the term wabi-sabi — here’s the opening paragraph —

    Wabi-sabi (佗寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.[1] It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).

    Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

    ME again – the fact that this blanket’s meaning is currently wrapped up with a child going off to college certainly accentuates the ‘impermanence’ part.

  6. deedeemallon

    Nancy – I love the story of the feet in the air – quilt as private space; quilt as a filter for light!! What a fantastically child-lovely image!
    and yes, I see the boyhood there, too!

  7. deedeemallon

    Saskia – I’m glad you were too busy creating to be here yesterday and the day before… that IS one of the downsides of the internet, I believe – it can lure one into spending hours and hours exploring, reading, being diverted, entertained, etc.

    Noting an increase is skill is very much worth celebrating. When I think about the notion promulgated recently by Malcolm Gladwell in one of his books (Outliers?) that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill or art, I wonder – how many hours have I logged?

  8. deedeemallon

    Julierose – I hope that quilt does find its way to completion some day… esp with the hand of your mother involved!!

    Happy Labor Day to you, too! I just filled the fridge with stuff for the grill and fresh fruit and corn on the cob — yummmmmmmmmm.


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