How a Quilt Helped Her Survive the Grief of Losing Her Newborn Baby

The warmth and kindness of quilting helped her heal after tragedy.

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This winter, as I finished hand-stitching a large quilt, I remembered when I made my very first one. It was 1958, and my husband, our first son and I lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I had recently quit my job with the Bell Telephone Co. to stay home and take care of our new baby. But unexpectedly and tragically, our child was taken from us by the dreaded crib death.

I wasn’t sure what to do next. How does a person go on after a loss like that? At first I thought I would search for a new job to keep me busy, but it turned out to be torture as I quickly realized it was too soon for me to face the public. So instead, I chose to do something productive at home.

My mother was a very good seamstress, and when I was 10 years old she showed me how to sew a straight seam and let me practice making doll clothes. Mostly, I loved watching her sew. While she speedily pedaled my family’s treadle sewing machine, she would sing. Her favorite song was ‘The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

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I hadn’t sewn much since then. After we married, my husband, Clare, gave me an electric sewing machine. Because I’d been working, I hadn’t had the time for it. Well, I had time now, and I needed a challenge, so I decided to make a bed-size quilt. I knew where I could get scraps of cotton fabric and lots of help.

First I asked my mother and Bertha, my mother-in-law, for their sewing scraps. Then I thought of Aunt June, who made clothing for her four girls all the time. They were all eager to help.

Mom always told me, “Busy hands are happy hands.” Following her advice, I kept busy with my colorful quilt. And sure enough, the tears became scarcer as I washed and ironed all the fabric and found a good beginner’s pattern. Mom even gave me four feed sacks for the lining. Before long, I was ready for a quilting bee.

I invited Mom, Aunt June and Bertha to the first gathering at my house. Mom brought her old-fashioned quilt frame and showed me how to pin the lining on the frame first, then spread the batting over the lining. The quilt top was laid on the batting and pinned to the quilt frame last. Soon it was time to quilt.

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In those days, we had to stand to quilt. So we stood along one end and quilted until we could roll the quilt to the next row. As we stitched, we chatted. Aunt June was a great storyteller who made me laugh until I cried—happy tears this time. Whenever we got tired, we took a break for coffee and cookies and continued our conversations.

We gathered together for several quilting bees that winter. Sometimes we had more coffee-break time than quilting time, but by spring my quilt was complete.

I still have that first quilt, with its lazy-looking stitches. My quilt never won any prizes, but it has served its purpose well.

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