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Column #95

Her Mother Pieced Quilts

Sabina Palomo
Sabina Palomo, circa 1941. Photo courtesy of Teresa Palomo Acosta.

Sabina Palomo came to Texas with her family from Mexico as a child. The family moved to Central Texas during the Great Depression of the 1930s when Sabina was 18 years old, having heard from a relative that there was work to be had on a farm near the town of McGregor.

For years before then, they had followed the crops—starting with spinach in South Texas, then toward Corpus Christi along the Gulf Coast, and finally moving northward with the various harvests, ending with cotton in the Texas Panhandle—until the seasons finished.

They traveled with the Acosta family on these annual migrations, and eventually Sabina married a son of that family, Andres Alderete Acosta, in 1942. The couple’s fourth child, Teresa, was born in 1949.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, an acclaimed writer and poet, and author of the often-studied and reprinted poem, My Mother Pieced Quilts, does not know how her mother, Sabina, learned to quilt. She only knows that an artistic vein ran through the entire Palomo lineage and that Sabina was a skillful seamstress with an eye for color.

From the clothing that she made her family, she saved scraps of fabric and pieced them into quilts that Teresa says were mostly in the “Crazy quilt style.” Although a great many aesthetic decisions went into the creation of Sabina’s quilts, there was never any question that they were made with function in mind. These quilts were how the family kept warm and they received everyday use.

“My mother’s quilts remind me of the intricate sand mandalas created by Buddhist monks. The monks know their work will be destroyed once it is completed, but that’s all part of the process because destroying the beautiful mandalas symbolizes the transitory nature of material life,” Teresa says. “My mother made her quilts to be beautiful, but she also made them knowing that they would be used up.”

When the family eventually settled down in McGregor, Teresa’s father began working for the Santa Fe railroad. Sabina reared their four children and kept on making quilts for her family. It was only later in her life that Sabina began quilting with a group of ladies at the local senior citizen center. Prior to that time, quiltmaking had always been a solitary activity for her.

“I see my mother’s quilts as an expression of her great love of nurturance for her family. They protected us,” she continues. “We valued them because they represented warmth in such a beautiful way.”

In an equally beautiful way, Teresa gathered her memories of her mother’s quiltmaking and turned them into a poem that captures the warmth not only of the quilts, but also of the loving hands that made them.

It is said that Buddhist monks disburse the remains of their sand mandalas in a local waterway in order to achieve the widest distribution of the good blessings that they put into the mandala during its construction. Sabina’s quilts distributed the good blessings that she put into them for her family, and Teresa’s poem shares those blessings with us all.

My Mother Pieced Quilts
they were just meant as covers
in winters
as weapons
against pounding january winds

but it was just that every morning I awoke to these
october ripened canvase
passed my hand across their cloth faces
and began to wonder how you pieced
all these together
these strips of gentle communion cotton and
       flannel nightgowns
wedding organdies
dime-store velvets

how you shaped patterns square and oblong and
then cemented them
with your thread
a steel needle

how the thread darted in and out
galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in
as you did us at night
oh how you stretched and turned and rearranged
your michigan spring faded curtain pieces
my father’s santa fe workshirt
the summer denims, the tweeds of fall

in the evening you sat at your canvas
—our cracked linoleum floor the drawing board
me lounging on your arm
and you staking out the plan:
whether to put the lilac purple of easter against the
red plaid of winter-going-into-spring
whether to mix a yellow with a blue and white and
the corpus christi noon when my father held your
whether to shape a five-point star from the
somber black silk you wore to grandmother’s

you were the river current
carrying the roaring notes

forming them into pictures of a little boy reclining
a swallow flying
you were the caravan master at the reins
driving your threaded needle artillery across the
       mosaic cloth bridges
delivering yourself in separate testimonies

oh mother you plunged me sobbing and laughing
into our past
into the river crossing at five
into the spinach fields
into the plainview cotton rows
into tuberculosis wards
into braids and muslin dresses
sewn hard and taut to withstand the thrashings of
       twenty-five years

stretched out they lay
armed / ready / shouting / celebrating

knotted with love
the quilts sing on


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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