"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

November 5, 2011

A Quilting: Friendship, Harmony, Unity

Two years ago my daughter and I were part of a unique experience. A group of women from the local Old Order Mennonite community in Casey County, Kentucky, led by several of my good friends in this faith, wanted to make a 'Friendship' quilt for my husband's December birthday. That summer I had selected the fabrics, and decided upon the pattern, with my friend Anna. She then pieced the blocks together and took each of thirty-six blocks to different families and individuals that we knew in the community. In late October we gathered at her father's house, a central location, to quilt the sewn back and front together and to bind it off.

All day the women worked at the quilt frame in the late October sunlight that filtered through the southern side of the home. At noon we took a break with a meal my daughter and I had provided–of meatloaf and many sides, if I recall–and then we enjoyed a potluck dessert with a grand (surprise) birthday cake for my 47th birthday. All of that time I'd been trying to keep the quilting a surprise from my husband, which, believe me, was very hard to pull off, and here my friends were also wanting to surprise me. It worked! Anna's daughter Norma made the beautiful birthday cake.

I picked many vintage fabrics and patterns that were semi-neutral 
and not overly feminine (well, a little bit), because it was Temple's gift, after all!

I didn't write about it at the time on my older blog, In the Pantry–except for the initial fabric purchasing–because I had felt like it might be violating a very special, and almost sacred, occurrence in my life. Of course, I took many photographs, being careful not to include faces if I could help it. I wanted to document the occasion, as it's not everyday that one is given a handmade friendship quilt or gets to see part of its creation, and most in attendance understood this. [One of the more conservative church women spoke out about this, however, and got me in a bit of trouble, something which soured me a bit for a time. But, as I explained, while quilting is the women's way of self-expression, photography and writing are mine.]


Our daughter was visiting between resort job seasons and tried her hand at stitching, also.

Friendship quilts are often made before a woman's wedding or as a send off,
or welcome, to someone in the community from the other women (or families).
A beautiful birthday cake from Norma.
I put in a few stitches for luck–
mainly because my cooking
exceeds my sewing ability!

Team work! Two Mennonite girls transport rolled-up quilt 
after the quilting. There were several quilts done at the same time.

Many of these women are the most industrious women I know: they easily run domestic circles around me and, sometimes, I wish I could just turn the ideas and thoughts that clatter around my brain off (A.D.D. much?) and try and work more as they do in and around the house. [To stay on task, and so well, is an enviable attribute.] A quilting provides a necessary pause away from all of that domestic routine and solitude, and a time for more intimate discussions, a chance to share news, some polite well-meaning "gossip" or to share recipes. These women run their houses like well-run machines and I swear they could run the world if we let them! Being a part of that day showed me what women can do when they put their minds to it, in whatever capacity: how, when working together, they can make great things. It was a truly humbling for me. [After four years at a women's college in the early 1980s, and in the workforce, of course I understand that women can work together–I just had never seen this kind of collaborative effort before with such a great number of people. Or, to be honest, I'd not been privy to women working together so well, in any setting. The men in their communities work together the same way on building projects.]

A quilting–like a church-cleaning, auctions and other occasions–is a chance for the women 
of the Old Order Mennonite (or Amish) faith to join together, only in a more intimate way. 
This is also what most farm women did in rural communities, and as far back as early American times. 

What I realized today as I was changing our bed, and still thinking so much on this recent church split, is that the quilt we use and see every day represents these friendships and acquaintances that we hold dear. There is such harmony in its pattern and yet great diversity, too. And there, stitched on each block, are the names and individual embellishments from so many families in the community–from both churches. I can run my fingers over the stitching and think of each one, each gift they that have given us with their participation and handiwork–and many with their friendship.

On Christmas Day in 2009 we assembled at the home of Anna and Melvin Hurst to sing hymns together in the afternoon. The day was dreary and dark but the songs of the many gathered there lifted us up to the place you should be on Christmas. I felt a stark kind of spiritual experience and to be a part of their fellowship made me feel all the more welcome here on a holiday that can be hard so far away from one's familiar. 

After the singing, Anna and I and some other women walked out with the quilt. My husband was very surprised, moved, and, for once in his life, speechless.

Today I look at that quilt and am reminded of how well this community of Old Order Mennonites can and does work together. They are the first to show up for local blood drives and in times of disaster, working for weeks after the Liberty flood of 2010, among other things, including rallying around their own people in need or crisis. They are always the first to help each other, despite their church differences.

A quilt of many colors: here Anna and her daughter Grace hold up the top,
minus the final row at the bottom, a few weeks before the quilting.

The quilt represents beauty, order, benevolence, and individuality amongst unity. We were blessed to receive it and my daughter and I were blessed to be a part of its coming together (even though we only added a few stitches for the sake of doing so–seamstresses we are not!).

And it will be a constant reminder to me that among discord there can always be a quiet, but resonant, harmony, a purposeful mission, a joining together in force despite differences of opinion or ways of worship. A reminder that, as with most things, it is the final outcome or greater glory that is important and not necessarily the details. If only I could take it to each family and remind them of this, too, despite our many differences in lifestyle and worship, and what it means to me: especially now in the clamor of their community's internal upheavals. 

The quilt is like an intricate rosary of fabric and stitches and handmade, heartfelt care. It has warmed our bed and our hearts for the past two years. When I look upon it, at times, I will say prayers of benediction for every one of those who have given it to us and for the healing of the community that has been such a part of our lives here in Kentucky. 

You come back when you're ready! 



  1. I always come back for articles just like this one.

  2. Such an amazing day Mom. Thank you for sharing :)

  3. What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.


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