Life Is a Quilt

by Greg Quinn

April 10th, 2024

In a couple of large plastic storage tubs contain some of my most valuable possessions.  These containers hold old hand-made quilts.  It’s not the monetary value that makes them important, but the real value which lies not in fabric and thread, but in the stories behind the quilts, and in the love in which they were made.

When my mother went on to be with the Lord on October 11, 2020. She left behind 3 boys (my brother Jeff had already went to Heaven 3 months prior), daughters-in-law, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, one sister, and many memories.

Mom loved quilting.  She loved piecing together scraps of material that ended up becoming a beautiful and functional quilt.  Mom loved taking what some would consider useless articles of clothing or other cloth material, cutting them up, sewing them together in a pattern, and then with help from others, making these scraps of material become a beautiful quilt. 

These quilts were more than just bed cover on a cold night.  They were more than just an inexpensive way to provide warmth for herself, her husband, and her children.  They were more than the beauty that the finished product yielded.  These quilts were more than function or beauty. 

Within each piece of cloth, within each stitch of thread, within each block of material, within each quilt backing, and within each finished quilt, lies the true value of the product.  The memories within.

It is with love that the scraps of material become functional, beautiful, and valuable items of great benefit.

Some of the greatest times I had with my mother over the past 20 years or so of my life shared with her was when I visited home, and Mom and I would get together and sit on the bed and go through some of the old quilts that were finished, or parts of unfinished quilts.  Some of my fondest memories of Mom come from those times.  It wasn’t just observing the beauty of these quilts, and Mom’s quilts were all very beautiful, but hearing the stories behind the quilts, the stories behind the scraps of material.

I learned from Mom about quilts.  They start with scraps of material, cut into pieces.  These pieces are mixed up into various patterns and sewn into blocks.  These blocks are positioned into a pattern for the entire quilt and are sewn together within this pattern into the quilt top.  Then these tops, when finished, are quilted together, consisting of a middle layer of “quilting” material for density and warmth, and a backing sheet of material into which all of this is sewn together making the inside of the quilt.  The best quilts are hand-quilted, meaning the quilt top pieces and blocks themselves are sewn together by hand, and then they are all quilted together by hand by a number of people working together into what they used to call “quilting parties”.  The end result was a beautiful and functional product that would keep the family warm on cold winter nights.

I remember as a child these “quilting parties”.  Mama Kent’s (my mother’s mother) kitchen would have a quilting rack set up.  This rack would be about waist high to the ladies standing or sitting around the rack.  The quilt back (a sheet of sorts) would be stretched onto the rack, the middle layer of quilting material would be placed on top of the backing, and then the quilt top with all its pieces and blocks would be stretched on top of the quilting material.  Then each of the ladies would stand or sit around the quilt rack and sew together the quilt pieces and blocks into the backing of the quilt.  It took a lot of time.  Us kids would love to run under the quilting rack and experience rebuke from getting in the way.  And all the while much conversation would take place for hours, sharing thoughts and memories.  The love of family and friends came through every stitch, and memories were sewn into every piece.  How could the finished product not become more than a cover for warmth but instead a labor of love, evidenced in each stitch.

Mom could point out whose stitches were those were within the quilt, as she knew each person intimately, and knew how they sewed.  “Those are Mama’s stitches”, she would say, “Those are Christine’s, those are mine, those are Rita’s, those are Mary’s, those are Patricia’s, those are Bettie’s, those are Aunt Georgie’s, and so on”.  She could tell about how the other participants sewed because she knew them.  Some stitches were slow and neat.  Some were tight.  Some not so tight.  Some were tied off in a certain way.  Some were very regular.  Some were very irregular.  Some skipped places (especially Aunt Georgie’s) and some were so neat and concise that they could be mistaken for machine-sewing. 

So when Mom reviewed the quilts with me, she would tell me who quilted this part, and who quilted that part.  Mom would tell me the time in which the quilt was made.  She would laugh and tell me stories about each quilt.  Who worked on it.  Who pieced it together.  Who quilted it. 

She would tell me “Mama and I pieced these tops together” and as she told the story, I could see the hands of my mother and Mama Kent working together to piece scraps of fabric, “pieces” they are called, into the “quilt blocks”, which are the pieces sewn together in a particular pattern.

Each piece had a story.  Sometimes Mom could point out little pieces of fabric sewn together into the blocks and tell me the story behind the piece of fabric. In one quilt, there are pieces of fabric that started life as a flour sack.  The flour sack, then it had concluded its intended purpose, became a dress for Christine (my Aunt Chris, Mom’s sister), sewn by my grandmother, Mama Kent.  When Christine outgrew the dress, the flour sack dress became a hand-me-down dress for my mother.  When the flour-sack dress was outgrown by Mom, then it was just set aside for another purpose.  This purpose was to be cut up into pieces, and these pieces sewn into quilt blocks, and these blocks sewn together into a quilt top, and this quilt top quilted with love on a quilt rack by a number of ladies in the family, and becoming a finished product, a beautiful and functional quilt.  So what began as a flour sack became a dress for a child, and the dress for a child when it had completed its purpose at that time, became part of a beautiful quilt which 80 years or so later, I can now use and look at and remember the story behind that little scrap of material.

There are other quilts which have pieces cut from mine and my brother Jeff’s matching Buster Brown outfits.  There are pieces made from dresses I saw Mama Kent walk around in when I was a teen.  There are pieces made from old aprons (I bet these could tell stories).  There were pieces from Mama Quinn’s dresses. There were pieces from shirts of Dad and Uncle Dalton and others. There were pieces cut from Mom’s outdated dresses, or dresses or shirts of other people she knew. There are pieces cut from fabric Mom got from so-and-so, or that she bought from a fabric store in Clarksville that closed in the 70’s.  “Here’s a piece cut from Anthony’s little outfit”, or “here’s a piece cut from Jimmy’s pajamas”, she would say.  She remembered the stories surrounding a great many of the pieces used in the quilts she made.

Some pieces were not that pretty.  Some pieces were downright ugly in themselves.  Dull of color or black or gray.  But sewn together into a block of other pieces, the pieces that were ugly became part of something very beautiful.  To Mom, there were no ugly pieces, because she saw in her mind the finished product.

Each little piece told a story.

Mom had some quilts that were unfinished lying in her closets.  She would tell me the story behind these as well.  “Christine and I worked on these tops and when Burris died (Aunt Chris’s husband) we never got them finished”.  Or “Mama loved to sew these blocks containing these little girls with the umbrellas”.  Or “Aunt Georgie stitched these; see, you can tell her stitches”, with an affectionate laugh.

The finished quilts are in my mind masterpieces within themselves.  Beautiful and sewn together into definitive patterns, the pieces and blocks come together in such a way that, especially knowing the history behind each piece or block, they tend to have a life of their own.  So that now, when I see the quilt, I don’t just see the end result, but see the effort, past-use, and love in each finished quilt.

When looking at the total quilt, the pieces in themselves become lost in the total.  The beauty and the pattern of the whole quilt overwhelm the small seemingly insignificant pieces that make up the whole.

While the blocks in themselves were very interesting and very beautiful, the end result was never known until the quilt was spread on top of the bed, and we could stand back and see it all as a finished product.

And the patterns of the quilts together were interesting, there was the Log Cabin pattern, the Double Wedding Ring pattern, Jacob’s Ladder, Cross and Crown, Bethlehem Star, Star of Eden, Sunbonnet Sue, Flying Geese pattern, and others. 

So these pieces, perhaps insignificant or of little value on their own it seems, come together into magnificent blocks and patterns to yield a finished product that is as much of a work of art as it is a functional bed covering to warm a family on a cold night.

And I see in my minds eye, not only the fabric, not only the thread, not only the patterns, not only the material, not even only the pieces and blocks and tops.  I see in my minds eye the hands of the quilters.  Those old hands of my grandmothers.  Those hands of my aunts.  Those hands of old family friends.  Those hands of my Mom.  And in those hands of love these little pieces of material become a finished product of functional beauty.

These quilts have become some of my greatest treasures.  They are much more than little pieces of fabric sewn together.  They share the life and purpose of those who created them.  They share the memories associated with each little piece.  They evidence how something so beautiful can be made from some little pieces that many see as of little value. And they show the love of the hands that made them.

Such with our lives.  Our lives are a quilt.

In our lives, we piece together scraps of life; moments, days, months, years.  These pieces of life, like pieces in a quilt, are sewn together into blocks of time, sewn together into other blocks of time, sewn together into relationships with others, each piece and block containing memories, into the hopes of one day these pieces and blocks of time yield a beautiful and functional life.

We have moments in our lives that are not beautiful.  Downright ugly pieces.  We have moments in our lives that seem insignificant.  We have times in our lives that seem too ugly to be part of something that could ever become beautiful.  We have moments that are knit into days and sewn into years that we think have absolutely no value or purpose or function.

But like the pieces of material in the loving hands of my Mom or grandmother or aunts become something of beauty and function, the pieces of our lives in the hands of a loving God; each second, each moment, each day, each year; they all have purpose. 

There are times in our lives where the minutes are ugly and painful and apparently without any value.  But these pieces sewn together by the hands of Almighty God, our Creator, somehow become lives of beauty and great value.

The value of our lives are the stories behind the scraps of material that make up our lives.  It’s the finished product in the hands of the Creator that turn the scraps into something of great value. Because of His love for us.

Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So if we put our lives in God’s hands, he will create in us, through his love, the purpose who which He has destined for us.

To me, when I pull these old quilts out of their containers and look at them, or when I see them lying out on a bed to fulfill their intended function, I see more than just bed covering, more than just function, more than just pieces of material sewn together in a pattern to complete a purpose.  I see a thing of beauty.  I see the hands behind each stich.  I see the story behind each piece. I see the memories that scream from each quilt top.  I see the person, the creator, behind the product. 

When God sees our lives, He doesn’t just see our failures.  When God sees our lives, He doesn’t just see our successes.  When God sees our lives, He sees the purpose in which we were created by His loving hands.  God never sees our lives as of no value.  God always sees in us a thing of beauty, something He created on purpose, with intention.  God sees us pieced together in a particular pattern, for an intended function.  God sees us as an end product that He loves.  God sees us as a finished quilt, a patchwork of memories and moments and times of good and bad, sewn together with love, to make a life with a function of being a benefit to the world and people around you.

Life is a quilt.  And you are God’s treasure. 

To God, there are no ugly pieces, because He sees in your life something of beauty not yet finished.

Our lives become some of God’s greatest treasures.  Our lives are much more than little pieces of moments in time sewn together. Our lives share the life and purpose as our Creator intended. Yes we fail.  We somethings show ugly pieces.  But God stitches together a beautiful end product of great value.  Only God can show how something so beautiful can be made from some little pieces that many would see as having little value.

When we look at our lives as a whole, the ugly pieces in themselves become lost in the total.  The beauty and pattern of our whole lives overwhelm the small seemingly insignificant pieces of individual time that makes up the whole.  And while the blocks of our lives may have been bad or good or just interesting, the end result of our lives is never known until the quilt of our lives is spread out, and God could stand back and see it all as a beautiful, finished product.

Just as my Mom never saw a little scrap of fabric as ugly or of no value, our God never sees us as ugly or of no value.

How much does God value us?  The Bible tells of Creation of mankind to have a relationship with God, the Creator.  The Bible tells us about how we sinned and disobeyed Him, and because of this we would have trials and hardships in this world.  But even so, at that moment of our failure, God was providing a plan to redeem us to Him, to save us, to create in us something of great value.

John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whomsoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

God loved us so much that He gave his very Son to save us from a life of sin, and redeem us to a life of great purpose, and to give us eternal life in Heaven when we breathe our last breath on earth.  And all we have to do is but receive this free gift through believing in Jesus and accepting Him as our Savior and Lord.

Jesus saved us to make us, each of us, one of His most beloved quilts.

When my Mom passed away at the age of 83, from her Sewing Room, we collected 36 large black 30-gallon trash bags crammed full of scrap material.  Some were just scraps of fabric that Mom never got around to cutting into pieces.  Most was already cut into pieces, ready to be sewn into quilt blocks.  Some were quilt blocks partially completed.  36 30-gallon bags full.  My wife and I heard of a charity of women in Nashville and Lebanon Tennessee, the Music City Quilt Guild, and how they sewed child-sized quilts that they gave to the sick children at the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.  We carried these 36 30-gallon bags of quilt fabric to one of the lady’s homes in Lebanon one evening in October 2020.  They were happy to receive the fabric and this fabric was distributed among many ladies in the Guild.  This quilt fabric, Mom’s pieces, were used to make over 100 quilts for sick children in the Nashville area and donated to them by the ladies of the Quilt Guild. 

Mom’s pieces, her unused scraps of material, were not wasted.  A piece that might have come off an old dress of my grandmother’s was now used to provide comfort to a sick child. 

No pieces of our lives are wasted.  Times in our lives that we think have no value, can be made into great value in the hands of our God.  The scraps of our lives God can use to make something beautiful and functional.  If we let Him.

So today, can you allow the pieces of your life, even the ugly ones, even the ones you think have little value, be placed into the hands of our loving God, and allow God to use these pieces of our lives to create something of great value to Him and to those around you?

Our lives are quilts.  And our loving God is the quilt-maker.

Pray this prayer with me:

“Dear God, I know at times my life seems like nothing but scraps of worthless cloth.  I know that on my own I have made many mistakes.  But I believe God that with you, nothing is wasted.  I believe that you can take my mistakes and help me make them into something of great value.  For me, for my family, for those around me.  And I believe, God, that you are the only one who can do this.  I believe you love me enough to make of mine a great purposeful life.  Regardless of my ugly pieces.  Today, Lord Jesus, I trust in you.  I believe you came to Earth to save me from my sin, I believe you died in my place, I believe you arose from the dead to create for me eternal life with you in Heaven.  Today I accept you as my Savior and the Lord of my life.  Create in me, Lord, from the scraps of my life, something of great value, and something that will please You, God.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.”

God bless you as you become the beautiful quilt that God intended you to be.

Greg Quinn