The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
Quilts in the Library
It’s the holidays.
I’m betting you’ve realized this, what with all the ads on television, the pop-ups online, the signs in the store windows tempting you with 20% off this or that, a gift with purchase, or a bonus thingamajig that deep in your heart you know you don’t want. When the world begins to scream that there are “just 10 shopping days until Christmas!” the countdown sparks anxiety in most of us, as though the world’s going to stop spinning on its axis if we don’t hurry up and shell out serious cash to prove we love the people who (hopefully) already know it.
It’s just a lot, you know? Sometimes, it’s too much. Image: Wikipedia
That countdown is my cue to retreat. But where? How? Quilters will be quick to suggest I plunk myself down at my sewing machine and sew it out; indeed, I have suggested this myself to quilters in distress. The trouble is that I’ve got to get a quilt done for a loved one by Dec. 23. As you can imagine, until I turn that last corner of binding and put the blinkin’ thing in a box with a bow, my sewing area is a sweatshop—not a sanctuary.
But don’t worry! I do have a suggestion for my weary, harried readers and any quilter stitching under duress. Why, I wouldn’t be much of a Quilt Scout at all if I couldn’t scout out and bring you solutions. You think Santa’s got your back on this? Hm.
The other day, walking home on State Street here in Chicago, I was cold. I don’t like to admit that, because non-Chicagoans are forever saying to me, “Oh, but it’s so cold in Chicago!” I get defensive because the city I love is so many other, wonderful things first. Also, has anyone been to Minneapolis??
The mighty Harold Washington Library takes up an entire city block in the Loop and runs along State Street between Jackson and Congress—right where I was walking. The building is stunning all the way up, from the heavy brass entrance doors to the incredible art inside to the awe-inspiring facades at its top. “Oh!,” I thought to myself as I crossed Jackson Street, “I could go into the library. I could warm up and maybe even check out a book.”
My very own branch library, the Harold Washington Library in the Chicago Loop. Image: Wikipedia.
The library was busy, but it was library busy, with people walking here and there, books in hand, or heading up the escalator, two by two or on their own, like me. Librarians were checking people out at the circulation desk. Security guards were at the doors (in big cities, there are guards at the library.) The library was so much quieter than the street, the cafes, the department stores. There was no music playing, no cash registers chiming, and definitely no cell phones beeping. It was…wonderful.
I decided that I’d visit the computers on the third floor and search the library’s collection of quilt books. I wasn’t after instructional books, nor was I going to seek out history books or dissertations—if you read this column you know I’m good on those. I thought I’d look for fiction; stories that either uses the quilt as a symbol or features a literal quilt or quilts as a part of the story.
Lo, but I found some good stuff, friends, and I’m passing the harvest onto you. The great thing about quilts is that they show up absolutely everywhere, including in fictional stories and stage plays. The good thing about libraries is that you don’t have to buy anything when you go there. And take it from me: Reading stories with quilts in them, at a library, on a cold day, in the middle of holiday madness is a cure for what ails you. No, you can’t have cookies and milk while you’re in the stacks, but you can pick up both—20 percent off!—when you finally decide to check out your haul and get on home.
Everyday Use by Alice Walker
A classic short story, telling how one quilt can mean different things to different women at various times in their lives. Of all the reading material on this short list, I have to recommend this 1973 gem most of all.
Book by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek; lyrics and music by Barbara Damashek
Yup, the script for the 1982 musical. Many of you have likely seen the show, which is based on The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Allen. It’s a lovely piece, as evidenced by the countless high school and college productions of the show that take place every year.
How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto
They made a movie from the 1991 book (and Winona Ryder was in it) so it’s probably pretty good, right? The story is about love and life and the power of a group of women sewing together.
Aunt Jane of Kentucky by Eliza Calvert Hall
Originally published in 1907, this book is responsible for spreading the romance of the patchwork quilt, for better or worse. It’s really good.
The Bedquilt and Other Stories by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
This lady is pretty amazing, but she’s not well known these days. (Eleanor Roosevelt called Fisher one of the most influential women of her time.) The Bedquilt is a story about an older New England quilter who triumphs against the odds.
My goodness but this is a good story. Grab tissues. Image: Wikipedia.)
You could probably find a recording of the musical, or maybe even a video or DVD! Thanks, Library! Image: Wikipedia.
This lady published 40 books! Start here with nine stories and a couple essays for good measure. Image: Wikipedia.