Momma’s Yo-yos

American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala
American Patchwork—edited by Sonja Hakala

I collected and edited stories about quilting by quilters in the U.S. and Canada in a book for St. Martin’s Press called American Patchwork: True Stories from Quilters.

It’s a wonderful book, now only available in an electronic version online. But I have a stash of the beautiful hardcovers if you are interested in making a purchase. (Email and I’ll get one out to you.)

Here’s one of my favorites among the tales. It’s by Renie Morse of Two Harbors, Minnesota.

*** Momma’s Yo-yos  ***

My husband and I both volunteer as historical interpreters at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, a preserved nineteenth-century village in Petersburg, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln lived here for six years when he was a young adult and it’s the place where he started studying the law. We dress in 1830s costumes and demonstrate the skills appropriate for the time. My husband makes shoes and brooms while I make baskets and quilts

One July day, I was working in the Samuel Hill home, where I was demonstrating the technique of making yo-yo quilts. Yo-yos are considered a novelty type of quilting and their popularity comes and goes. Yo-yos are small circles of fabric hemmed on the edging and with a drawstring, pulled tight into small, compact circles. They are sewed to one another with a slip stitch and many of them together make a quilt that looks light and airy because there is no backing or batting. But when you hold a yo-yo quilt, it’s actually quite heavy.

I had made a few dozen yo-yos by early afternoon when a couple in their sixties came to “my” house. When they saw what I was working on, the man sat straight down on the wooden floor and began to cry. Not knowing whether he had fallen or not, I raced around the table to assist. Lots of other people rushed up, and I was just telling a nearby teenager where to go for help when the man assured us that he was quite all right. In fact, he felt wonderful. Well, by that time, he had our undivided attention.

He went on to explain that he was one of ten children and that when he was growing up, his mother would bathe the children and then sit them down with needle and thread to make yo-yos. With that, he picked up a needle and thread from my work table and proceeded to prove that he did, indeed, know how to make them.

No one left the house as he started to tell Momma-stories about his childhood in rural Alabama. Momma had them each make ten yo-yos each night and then she would make them into quilts that she sold to buy extras for her children, like shoes. She read to them while they sewed. Some of the stories were Bible stories and some were from magazines given to her by her employer. The man told us he preferred short stories because he liked to know how they ended before he went to bed. He had forgotten all about the yo-yos he’d made as a child until he walked in and saw me sewing.

The man and his wife were returning to their home in Detroit when they stopped at New Salem. They had just been to Alabama, where they had buried Momma. While his wife went on to see the other buildings, the man stayed with me and made yo-yos for the next four hours. He told me that none of Momma’s children had any of her quilts because she had sold them all.

I learned that his mother raised all those children by herself, that she made apple butter and the best corn bread he’d ever had. He said her pork roast was never big enough to feed ten hungry children but he had shoes most of the time as a child. He still loves to listen to books read aloud to this day.

Mostly he talked and sewed without even looking at where the needle was going. He thought maybe he should buy some fabric and make a yo-yo quilt of his own. I told him to take the ones he’d made that afternoon but he said I should put them in a quilt to remember him by.

I did—and I still have that quilt and I still remember him.

Spending the Day on Comfort Quilts

Disappearing nine patch quilt by Joanne Shapp
Disappearing nine patch quilt by Joanne Shapp

The Parkinson’s Comfort Project keeps growing with wonderful donations from some very generous women. I spent the afternoon with the organization’s executive director, Jesse Davis, creating our new brochure.

And last night, at the holiday potluck celebrated by the Northern Lights Quilt Guild, I was given three more beautiful quilts to add to the Parkinson’s comfort quilt inventory. There will be pictures later.

Just wanted to spend a few minutes sharing some of the quilts donated in the past that are now providing comfort on a daily basis to someone with Parkinson’s disease.

Quilts are hugs made manifest in fabric.
2013-003 quilt for web

Disappearing nine patch by Lynn Wheatley
Disappearing nine patch by Lynn Wheatley
Four patch quilt by Mary Hardy
Four patch quilt by Mary Hardy

The Disappearance of Color

Red Cardinal at the Bird Feeder in January by Sonja Hakala
Red Cardinal at the Bird Feeder in January by Sonja Hakala

Several members of the Northern Lights Quilt Guild—the most talented group of women you will ever meet—put together a smallish quilt show at the Aging Resource Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. It’s been on display since early October.

We covered the walls of the ample lobby, decorated a largish space over a computer bank and put color on the walls of a hallway with a large quilt at the end of it like the dot under an exclamation point.

This morning, we took it all down.
And it was a if you’d washed away the surface of a watercolor painting. The place suddenly seemed so drab.

The director of the center told us that the quilt show attracted more attention than any other exhibit they’d had there and how many comments (all positive) they received.

It’s sort of like how dark it feels in early January when all the Christmas lights disappear.

Which just means you gotta enjoy the beauty when it comes your way.

It’s Gotta Start Somewhere…

Goldie covered with snow for web
Winter, that is.

And by the looks of things outside, it’s starting today.

So far, the flakes are light and we haven’t seen a snowplow yet.

But the Eye on the Sky guys up in the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury (the best local weather reports in the area) are forecasting 4 to 5 inches by the time this crystallized precipitation moves on.

This stuff’s gonna stick! And Goldie will be happy because snowball chasing season is about to begin!

Win, Win, Win

Most of the time, it’s difficult to tell where a great idea originates. But once in a while, you get to see one at birth.

And it’s exciting when you do.

About two weeks ago, a woman who was shopping in what’s arguably one of the greatest general stores on the planet—Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, Vermont—started up a conversation with a man named Dan Fraser. Dan is part of the family that owns and runs Dan & Whit’s.

The woman obviously has a good heart because she had just been at the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, one of the angel nonprofits that make this region so special. The Haven is a homeless shelter, food shelf, after-school program, etc. Great place, great people.

The Haven’s food shelf was nearly bare, the woman told Dan as she filled a grocery bag. As fast as food comes in, it goes out.

Dan was obviously one of those right people in the right place at the right time with the right idea. It wasn’t long before he was announcing on the Norwich listserv that Dan & Whit’s was prepared to donate 1% of its profits on sales in the store for the first 19 days of December to the Haven. And he hoped other businesses in town might want to do the same.

As the saying goes in this day and age, the idea went viral. Except in this case, it’s locally viral.

Soon other businesses in town pledged to do the same.

They started an online raffle on Dan & Whit’s FaceBook page and folks and organizations and businesses started donating prizes (including books from yours truly). Raffle tickets have been bought by folks from as far away as Hong Kong!

There’s been a food drive in town every weekend since, including the one pictured here by Boy Scout Troop 253 of Norwich.
Scout troop 253 for web
Two of the banks in town are preparing to make breakfast (Mascoma Savings Bank at the Norwich Grange) and lunch (Ledyard Bank at the Norwich Congregational Church) on December 21. Breakfast is free but since this is a fundraiser for the Haven, they will be asking for donations at the door. Lunch is $5 for kids & seniors, $10 for adults with all proceeds going to the Haven.

Graphic designer Doug Lufkin created the great yellow stickers that have sprouted all over town (see the picture above) and the idea of shopping local to support a local nonprofit just keep spreading.

Dan’s great about keeping us all informed about the spread of this incredibly good idea, about shopping and eating and using the services of the wonderful local businesses in Norwich while supporting a great nonprofit that’s working hard to help folks who have hit a rough patch in life.

It’s a win-win-win situation.

Doing my best to make sure it spreads.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.