On Art’s day off, during our prairie years, we went places. Mostly to the McDonald’s in town, for the ten cent burger special lunch, splitting a large soda between the three of us, (with free refills). Or to Ziegler’s, the thrift/antique/oddball place run by a family we knew. Several times a year we’d trek the hour and a half to Pierre, to a real shoe store, and get John’s problem feet fitted. While visiting the “big city” we’d tuck in some sites. South Dakota’s State Museum was air conditioned in summer, pleasantly warm in cold weather, quiet, and free. My favorite case enclosed a crazy quilt festooned with small oil paintings, embroidery, fair ribbons, and bits of cloth advertising. The varieties of silks, velvets and fine embroidery spoke of a more gentile life. Fair ribbons hinted at the realities of cattle farming, miles between neighbors, frostbite winters, and blasting hot summers. I recall Art and John impatiently pulling me a way from that display after a long look see. I so wanted to embed that image in my heart, to understand the woman who drew her disparate life-parts together.
My own attempt at quilting started innocently enough. While helping set up a yard sale, I spotted a 1940's red rayon tie in a pile of donated clothes. It shimmered ruby-like with blue and orange highlights in the white sun. And it was only 25 cents. Opening seams and ironing it flat, it yielded about eight inches of fabric at the widest spot. All in all, it took over forty ties for the quilt. Each had a story. One was my dad’s, a narrow woven black and white checkered number he wore in the seventies. Another came from a friend back home in Pennsylvania, a crazy red thing with gold threads woven through it. Most were silk or rayon, in various reds, given by individuals through word of mouth, or carefully collected at yard sales. Strips were arranged and rearranged side by side onto squares taken from a worn bed-sheet, then pieced, and assembled into wide panels. Panel over panel until a substantial rectangle formed. Then framed with swatches of drapery fabric, sandwiched with batting and another sheet, and finally quilted. Though not expertly done, it’s richly colored, and keeps us warm. And like the one in the museum, it tells a story, of places, family, and friends.