Flying Geese: A Quilt Story

| August 26, 2010

I trace the short curve of the neck, crest of the head, and “s” shape of the flying geese, admiring the fine stitching and light, puffy cotton. There are alternate shades of light and dark, yellow and green — floral patterns in triangles bordered by the darker print and secured with a calico backing in complementary colors. The box containing my mother’s hand-made quilt just arrived from the Upper Michigan Peninsula — an apartment warming gift a full two years in the making to brighten my cold Brooklyn winters.

I think back to the first patchwork quilt she made for me: machine-made, but still exquisite – with patches of pale peach and light turquoise, set off by cheerful floral fabrics – familiar scraps of outworn clothing. My mother designed the quilt, a variation of the nine patch, to match my first own bedroom, and sewed a thick, familiar, white blanket to the back. To the dismay of our Greek, Rogers-Park landlady, she painted my floorboards turquoise and scattered them with fuzzy, tangerine-tasseled rugs. We placed a dressing screen with matching fabrics in front of the double windows overlooking the alley.

Appreciating the care my mother took in choosing the fabrics and sewing them together, I, the only girl, couldn’t help but feel special. My quilt went with us when we moved to the first suburb north of Chicago, and it stayed with me all through high school– ultimately finding its way through my mother’s initiative to her younger sister’s Manhattan apartment after I left for university abroad.

I pictured my mother sewing the newer, but more traditionally-designed quilt, one in a series of projects for all her grown children — an undeniable labor of love on those long, dark, snow-bound, bitter cold Michigan days – her thimbled fingers carefully working the needle and thread, the meticulous straightness of the stitch, and whimsical design – my mother in her gold-framed bifocals, bent over the fabric which kept her warm under the bright artist’s lamp as my stepdad quietly read The Economist in her company.

Flying Geese was a cozy reassurance in my ground floor apartment as I looked up at the elevated tracks across the street—graffiti trains rattling by at all times, in all seasons. It reminded me of my parents’ home on a wooded hill overlooking Lake Superior – situated in a state that I did not grow up in, but had by fortune visited a couple of times. I was certain Canadian geese passed through the Upper Peninsula in stunning formations on their way south, so close they’d be to the border, and I fancied the substitution of their loud, funny honking for that of the car alarms outside my Brooklyn studio.

My parents soon retired to England, near a hamlet not far from where I studied. Leaving their family in the United States, they made their new home in a centuries’ old stone farmhouse that gazes wistfully onto the moors and cathedral. The 14th century spire reaches high above the British patchwork of working farms, rolling green fields, and ancient granite tors — bordered by thick hedges and grey stone walls, appliquéd with sheep, cows, and wild ponies.

In New York we occasionally visit the Harlem Muir at the top of Central Park, watching the flocks of Canadian geese that live somewhat crowded and silent there– their wings are clipped and their tracks, usually visible in overlapping circles; they stitch their prints to the grimy sand and mud, and I dream of greener pastures as I quilt together the patchwork of home.

Be sure to see our exhibition, Quilting the Education Program, in the Kasser Family Exhibition Space