The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The String Quilt

By Norma G. Cole © 1986

Issue: September, 1986

She called it a string quilt. It lay folded neatly on an old iron bedstead out in the yard.

We were at an estate auction, way out past Windy on a road that seemed to wind up into the hills forever. As I glanced around and up my eyes saw the endlessly beautiful green of the Kentucky hills, interspaced with fields of red clay and the forest covered crests of mountains reflecting blue and blue beyond and beyond.

The yard of the modest white frame house was filled with wagons and sawhorse tables loaded with the paraphernalia of a life's accumulation. People wandered among the dappled shadows of the trees. In the background, the auctioneer's voice harangued them with the coaxing and cajoling of his trade.

My friend and I were looking at the string quilt. It had been made with "used cloth," faded before it had been stitched, the colors soft and the fabric fragile with age. As I bent to examine it closely, I could see that each leaf of the intricate pattern was made even more involved by the bits and pieces of material, some no longer than my thumb, sewn together with tiny stitches to form the desired shape.

"String quilt," I said, "now I understand." I looked at my friend. Her eyes were filled with sadness.

"It was all the cloth she had," she said.

"Yes," I agreed, "and her need to create something beautiful transcended the foolishness of using old material."

"It was probably the only bright spot in her life, to work on her quilt," she said.

"Can you think of her, stitching so calmly, while her mind reeled with her worries?" I wondered as I stroked the pattern.

"Sick child, little food, man gone, too much work, too many depending upon her.." my friend enumerated from her own heart.

"She had to make it," I stated flatly.

"She needed the quilt, too, " she said with a knowing nod of her head. "Come on, it depresses me."

"Not me," I said, "She needed to create so desperately and she left a treasure for us to see."

Just then, someone came and took all of the quilts. I hoped they realized the value of the string quilt and knew it shouldn't be sold, but in a moment we heard the auctioneer's voice.

"Well," my friend summed it up, "She's gone and so is her quilt."

Then we realized that a man had been listening to us. "She made it because she wanted to," he said, almost with a sneer. Perhaps he had experienced a woman's quilting fever too.

We turned on him. My friend was angry, I was abashed. "She had to make it," we said together and turned away from him.