Friday, January 10, 2014

Gifts of LOVE

My friend Pam shared an amazing story with me about her brother-in-law Brad.  I contacted him and with his permission I would like to share his story here. Most of it will be in his own words and I will put quotation marks so you can tell :)

First I need to explain what "home teaching" is for those of you who don't know.  In our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have a program called Home Teaching.  Each of the men in the congregation are asked to look out for several families in the congregation, checking in on them, helping them when needed,
encouraging and giving them inspirational messages.  The women do the same with the other women and that is called Visiting Teaching.  It is just a way to look out for one another and it helps us all feel loved and needed.  So, on with the story in Brad's words: (Oops, I also want to mention that Brad and his wife are both quilters!)
"For Christmas 2012, I made a Christmas mouse ornament for our seven home teaching families. I wanted them to have something that was made just for them....The families were gracious about the gift, but I felt they deserved more.  I resolved I would make each of them, as well as my home teaching companion, a Christmas quilt for the following year.

I spent the time around Christmas thinking about what type of quilt to make.  I wanted something that would reflect the spirit of the season.  I ruled out Santa Claus or snowmen.  I wanted it to be about Jesus.  As I thought about the blocks, I decided to have a large center block depicting Jesus' birth.  I would have the other items we associate with Christmas in blocks around the nativity scene and call the quilt, "The Symbols of Christmas".  My thought was that it could be used to teach the children that all the things we see at Christmas time can be used to remind us of Christ.  I talked to people about what they associated with Christmas and searched the internet and quilting programs for ideas.
 I decided to have twelve blocks surrounding the center block, each with a different symbol.  The twelve symbols would be: candy canes, angels, snowflakes, a star, holly with berries, a Christmas present, Santa Claus, a wreath, Christmas bells, a candle, a snowman, and a Christmas tree.  As I searched for how to make these into different blocks, I found some patterns that were appliqué and others that were pieced.  Some, like Santa Claus, I created myself.
Once I had the patterns for the blocks, I looked for fabric.  I tried catalogs, quilting stores, Walmart, any place that had fabric  I found some fabric with panels of the items: the Nativity
scene, Christmas trees, and snowmen. For the other blocks I ended up buying a lot of red and green fabric.  The snowmen had sky backgrounds.  I tried some stars I had found on a brown background, but they didn't look good.  I decided that some things, like the stars, snowflakes, angels and holly would look better with a sky background  The Christmas trees came from a panel that had them radiating out from the center.  After cutting them out, I found that I needed to add a triangle block on each side at the top to make them square.  After also adding siding to make them 12 inches square, the trees looked like there were in a house.  I made
eight blocks of each symbol for the eight quilts.  I wanted them to be big enough for a queen sized bed, and for the blocks to be separated from each other by borders.  I also needed to add a larger border to the center panel so it would be two feet square.  These would be red or green from the fabric I had bought.  I would make the principle feature in each block to match the color surrounding the center block to tie them together and this resulted in each quilt being unique in its color combinations.
For the outer edges, I decided to make a piano key border.  I would use the reds and greens from the borders and principle features.  In addition,
I would use the browns and sky blues from the backgrounds, and the whites and golds from the snow and stars to make the keys.  This worked well and after making eight of each block as well as eight center pieces, I began sewing them together with their borders.  I sometimes had to add extra fabric to the blocks so they would all be the same size (12 inches)...I found that I ran out of some of the fabrics (especially reds, greens and sky blue) and had to search out fabrics that would match.  This was not always easy as I would comb the area, Delta, Montrose, Grand Junction, until I found a match.  As I worked on the quilts, I found myself thinking of
Christmas, its meaning and the families I was making the quilts for.  I found the backing fabric on sale at Clubb's and bought enough for two red backs, two green and four tan or light brown...When I had finished all of the tops, I took one with backing to Diane at "Sew many Quilts" to have it quilted.  She provided the batting.  We decided to use a variegated red and green thread.  I wanted a simple pattern, and she had a snowflake pattern that went well with the theme.  It cost $100 to have that one quilt quilted.  When I got it back, the thread did not look good on the brown and blue backgrounds.  And the faces of the individuals were lost in the
colors.  She apologized, but said to have done anything else would have required specialization of the quilting and would have been more expensive.  I decided that I would quilt the rest myself.  For my birthday, I got a 13 inch long arm quilting machine from the internet, complete with a Gracie queen size quilting frame.  I painted the frame and put it all together in the shop.  I got some practice material and attempted different quilting techniques.  I found the only one I felt comfortable with was a simple meandering stitch.  I would use different sizes of meanderings for the different parts.  I would also change thread colors, variegated red/green for the more complex or red or green features, where it blended in; light beige for the brown and sky blue backgrounds.  I would also quilt the individual features of the blocks, like the Santa Claus, wreath, holly or candle.  This had a pleasing effect on the backing where you could make out the features of the different blocks. At one point I ran out of variegated thread and had to order more from the internet (none of the local stores had any).  While waiting for that to arrive, I quilted my most colorful quilt (the one with the brightest reds and greens) using red thread for reds and green thread for greens and light beige for everything else.  I estimated that each quilt took about 100 hours to complete.  I also stitched labels to go on the backs of the quilts with my name, location and year.  When I finished the quilting and cut off the excess batting and backing, Lola (his wife) would put on the binding and the label.  Although this was only my second attempt at quilting (or second through ninth depending on how you count) I was pleased with the outcome.  I finally finished at the end of November.
The first of December I asked Greg (my home teaching companion) and his wife, Carlene, to come to our house.  When they arrived I showed them the quilts and asked her to pick which one she wanted and which one should I give to each of our families.  They took their quilt home and hung it on the wall and were very pleased  Over the next two weeks, Greg and I visited each of our families and presented them with their quilt.  They all seemed happy to receive them as I explained their meaning and how I thought they could be used to teach children and grandchildren the true meaning of Christmas."
I just can't tell you how impressed and inspired I am by this story.  What a labor of love each quilt is and Brad made EIGHT in one year.  The families he looks after and cares for must indeed feel his love and THAT is the true meaning of Christmas.  Thank you Brad for sharing your story!!

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