You might remember a bit ago I post a note about selling my quilts. I quickly got a note from a local lady, Marlene. Well Marlene and I have a unique connection. We both grew up in New Richland, Minnesota. Our parents’ farms were about 4 miles apart. Both of our parents milked cows and farmed. Marlene is a little older than me so I don’t remember her in school but I do remember her younger brother. Anyway, Marlene wanted to buy this quilt.
Marlene wanted this quilt.
A couple days later, Marlene stopped by to pick it up.
Later she emailed me this story….
“I want to tell you about my Grandma Dorn. She was such a generous and hardworking German woman. She had to be, her husband died many years before she did and they didn’t have a lot of money so Grandma made her living by sewing for many of the residents of our small rural Minnesota town. She mended, hemmed, let things out and took things in. She made and or altered wedding gowns, bridesmaid’s dresses, mother of the bride dresses and prom dresses. Grandma was known as the “sewing lady” of New Richland. She made my prom dresses and an Easter dress for me every year; she made practically all my clothes until I was at least in Jr. High. I can still see her sitting with pins in her mouth at that old treadle sewing machine. Her family gave her a new electric sewing machine but she didn’t like that “new-fangled thing” she preferred the one she had! Even though Grandma sewed from very early in the morning many days all day, a huge joy in her life was “what else” more sewing. Her one and only hobby was quilting! She lived for and loved making her gorgeous quilts. She made them for her church to give to missions and she made them for family and friends. She took as much pride in her mission quilts as any other quilt she made! Any tiny piece of fabric she had left from anything she made or altered was always saved for a quilting project. Grandma couldn’t drive but she loved to go “fabric shopping” when family members took her shopping.
Grandma spent hours and hours hunched over her “quilting frame.” Since Grandma lived in town and we were dairy farmers who lived about seven miles out of town, I often stayed overnight with Grandma when I had a school function or anything other reason I could come up with to stay with Grandma. It was my job to help her roll the quilts on the frame as she finished more and more of it. Then it was always exciting to see the final project. I would help her get it ready for a gift if she was giving it away or help her wrap it up lovingly for “later” as she would tell me. As I grew older and became more interested in the particular patterns of her quilts she would tell me about them. I was maybe in 4th grade when she explained to me about the wedding ring pattern she was making for a great niece who was getting married, I remember thinking it was the most beautiful quilt I had ever seen. Several years later she was making another wedding band quilt but this one was even MORE beautiful and it was done in my favorite colors, various shades of pinks. I told Grandma just how beautiful I thought that quilt was and she looked at me with that “Grandma is going to say something important and I had better listen” look and told me, “Marlene, this quilt will be yours on your wedding day.” I remember being so touched and excited but at the same time I thought Grandma was jumping the gun a bit since I was only about 15 years old. When my beautiful wedding band quilt was finished I helped her store it lovingly away in a trunk that was used only for her “saved for later quilts.” Over the years I watched her sew and helped her store away 3 more wedding band quilts for my two brothers and my cousin. All of her Grandchildren would have a wedding band quilt from Grandma on the day they were married. We also put other beautiful quilts away. Grandma said every family needed some “everyday quilts” too. I thought they were all beautiful!
I was a freshman in college when we found out Grandma had cancer. Thankfully for her she didn’t have to suffer very long but it was one of the worst calls of my life when my Mom called me to tell me Grandma had passed away. My Aunt from Boston who was her only daughter flew home for the funeral and to help my father and Uncle with the sale of Grandma’s house and things. It was so hard to even think of Grandma’s big old house on the corner being sold. It made me so sad I decided just to stay at college and not come home to watch Grandma’s things be sold. My Aunt gave me Grandma’s wedding ring as she had no children and wanted it to stay with the only girl in the family. I treasure that ring!
It was several months after the sale of Grandma’s house I asked my Mom about Grandma’s “saved for later” quilts. I just assumed they were now stored away somewhere in our big old farm house. My Mom knew nothing about them. She had let my Dad and my Aunt and Uncle take care of the auction since she was only an “in-law.” I told Mom about the wedding band quilts. Mom assured me that my Aunt must have had them shipped back to Boston so she could give them to us on our wedding days.
I was the first of the grandchildren to get married. I was so excited to see that beautiful pink double wedding band quilt when my Aunt came all the way from Boston for my wedding. Sadly after all the gifts were opened there was no quilt. I told Mom how sad it made me, I helped Grandma store that quilt away and I know how much love she put into it! Mom finally got the courage to call my Aunt and ask what happened to the trunk of quilts after Grandma died. My aunt knew nothing about them. She then called my Uncle’s wife, she knew nothing about them either. She didn’t even know that one of those wedding band quilts was made for her son to be given to him on his wedding day. We don’t know if another family member got them or if someone else just walked out of the house with them while they were getting ready for the auction. We will never know what happened to those 4 beautiful wedding band quilts or the “everyday quilts” Grandma wanted us to have. I still love to look at quilts; they always remind me of Grandma. Sadly, I was always too busy helping on the farm to learn how to sew so Grandma’s sewing skills were not passed on to me. The only thing that I have learned from all of this is to PLEASE LABEL your quilts. Let people know what you want done with these special projects you make or even those dishes or pieces furniture you want passed down in your family. Don’t just assume people will be in the right place at the right time to tell family members your wishes! Please learn from my Grandma, I know she wanted me to have that beautiful pink double wedding band quilt!”
After reading the story I wanted to just give the quilt to Marlene…but she wouldn’t have anything to do with that idea! I feel so sad that this happened. I asked Marlene if there is any chance that the quilts could have been sold in the trunk. The answer was no….it just makes me wonder.
Please heed Marlene’s advice and let your family know which quilts are special to you and which are fine to donate. If you are making quilts ahead like Marlene’s Grandma was, pin a large note on the quilt saying “To be given to Marlene on her wedding day”….or if you’re in failing health, just give them now. It’s never too soon, or to late to give the gift of a quilt. Besides, wouldn’t you just love to see the look on their face when they receive it? It’s a joy you’ll always share.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Marlene. It’s good words we all needed to hear.
As a child I was promised knitting needles that were ivory from my Great Aunt. I love to knit. When she suddenly took ill and passed I waited to see if I would every get them. She claimed they were being stored in a barrel. Come to find out her son had sold them along with the rest of the contents and used the money for gambling. Unless things are written down and told to other family members that will survive things like this happen. My Grandmother had things that meant things to her she wanted her grandchildren to have. She gave many things to them while she was alive. The rest she made a list out and placed it with her will. It was hand written, but was witnessed and dated while she could make the decision. Being prepared for the end sounds morbid, but to protect things you want to get to the right person is important. Hopefully these stories will be remembered and you can save family members memories. Chris
Such a beautiful, yet sad, story. It happens so often in families.
For decades, Grandma taped notes to the bottom of every piece of antique furniture, saying who it was to go to. I remember crawling around under tables as a little kid and asking about them. It became a running joke in the family, but everyone knew whose names were on what. Of course, then Grandma opened the antique mall and sold most of those pieces. I don’t think there were many tags left when she actually died, except one old picture with my name on it. I liked that picture when I was eleven. Not so much now — but everyone knew it was MINE. :-P
If a piece is important, don’t wait to ask about it. People get stressed and distracted and forget, and I think it’s better to ask and maybe look a little rude than to lose a family treasure forever.
My grandmother was a quilter and when she had a stroke and had to be moved to a nursing home my aunt and uncle found a completed quilt in the closet with my name attached to it. I was delighted to receive it and appreciate it even more now that I quilt. I don’t know why she made it for me as I have an older sister who was also married at the time and there was no quilt set aside for her. If only I knew what happened to her treadle sewing machine.
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