Teacher Professor

September 6, 2011

Memory Quilt

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 9:10 am

This Labor Day, I spent an hour up on a ladder, finding four large boxes stored in the garage closet with Elizabeth, who was helping me in a project planned for a decade.

When Elizabeth was a baby and started outgrowing her baby clothes, there were some that I just couldn’t give away.  I couldn’t pack them up in the plastic garbage sacks and haul them off to Goodwill for some stranger to look at with a critical eye.  Those other people might not be able to see:

  • How precious that faded little blue jean dress was- the one Elizabeth wore when she was six months old,  and sitting next to her teddy bear who was the same size she was- and she was still wearing when she welcomed her new baby brother home.  
  • They wouldn’t understand how sweet the smell of fuzzy white footie pajamas with just a hint of sweet potato stain on the collar is- the perfect combination of Tide and Johnson’s baby shampooed little girl.  
  • And strangers definitely wouldn’t appreciate the newborn onesie with the little pink hearts on it that was the bane of my existence to snap up correctly and James never did manage to fasten correctly.  

I just couldn’t give them to Goodwill.  And since I was pregnant again when Elizabeth was six months old, maybe I would keep them for our next little girl.

Only the next baby was Ray- and onesies with hearts on them were not really considered acceptable.  And so, they stayed in their bag.  To be joined along the way by:

  • That sweet green dress in which Elizabeth hopped around the lawns of the lighthouse at St. Augustine when she was 18 months, laughing so hard that her tow-headed curls shook with her.  
  • And I just had to add the pink-and-white  Oshkosh overall dress when she was 2 -that was a larger version of the dress we brought her home in- and she wore everywhere for a year.  The original dress went in the bag, too.  
  • And the coat that she got when we visited Mamamum for a fall weekend that had little Pooh ears on the hood and she kept petting over and over.  She wore it three more times that winter in Florida- and every time the sweetness of my baby took my breath away.

The bag became a box the summer Ray was two, because we were moving, and I had to go through his baby clothes as well.  I scoured the clothes that were too small to leave behind, to give to Goodwill, to hand down to friends.  But I found myself smiling at the tiny Hawaiian shirt that reflected the blue snap in my son’s laughing eyes, and I couldn’t let those moments go.  The box metamorphed into a bin.

And so, I decided on a Project.  A Project that I would get to- someday.  Someday when we stopped moving.  Someday when I wasn’t starting a new job.  Someday when I wasn’t researching about autism, writing about autism, or presenting about autism.  Someday…I would turn all of those wonderful baby moments captured in these clothes into a quilt- one for each child- so that they could take a part of those moments with them.

I love quilting.  I haven’t quilted in 12 years because I hand-sew- each square, each whorl, each section I stitch by hand.  It takes me a year to make a quilt and I’ve only made three.  I don’t sew for the final product.  I sew for the joy of the doing.  But sewing a quilt takes time.  And time for a quilt would be something that I would have… someday.

I realized last week, that, amazingly, Someday was here.  This fall, for the first time in 10 years, I am not up to my eyebrows in some project.  My book is turned in, I know what I’m teaching and I’m merely tinkering with the classes, and the children are in the same school they’ve been in for three years.  No one is dying.  We’re not moving.  We have time to deal with small things, big things.  We have time to be.  I’ll be doing some traveling and some consulting and I can sew on the plane.  And I have time for the first time in a decade to get out the boxes- grown now to 4 large bins.

Four large plastic Rubbermaid tubs that have been dragged with us through 8 houses, 5 states, a summer in limbo in a storage unit, a tornado, and even a fire.  They take up a good chunk of a closet in our garage.  And they were brought down this past Monday with the help of my 10-year old baby who was strong enough to lift them and carry them inside the house.

I found out, that despite my good intentions, and the new sewing basket from Michaels, that I still couldn’t do it.  Elizabeth and I unpacked those dresses and those onesies and those smocked Christmas dresses and I just couldn’t lay scissors to them.  It rained hard as we got the edges of Tropical Storm Lee, and I told stories. I told stories of “Oh, you wore this when…” and “At this age, you were…”, and “Remember that picture when you were wearing this?”  Elizabeth carefully examined and folded each smock, each dress and each footie pajama and repeated like a mantra, “What was I doing in this one?”, as if each one connected her with her past- a past in which she was loved and adored and there was always laughter.  A past with no ghosts, no sorrow, no autism and no issues- a past that was only full of joy.  We reveled in the memories of her babyhood- the best parts that are all I want to remember.

I have some things for the quilt.  I have some of the baby blankets and some dresses with vivid colors and patterns.  I have a couple of swim suits.  But the yellow swim suit in size 6 months that had lemon patterns on the shoulders and the matching hat?  How on earth could a little yellow square capture the memory of her sitting in her play pool on our back deck in her bouncy chair as she kicked the water with laughing squeals?  Elizabeth pointed out that her baby doll, the original Lily (they’re all named Lily.  We just have Lily 1, Lily 2, etc.) would be able to wear most of the clothes.  So the little yellow swim suit with lemons on the shoulder went into “Lily’s Bin”.  

  • So did the red velvet dress with the white lace collar that she wore her first Christmas.  
  • And the darling pink and white gingham dress with the big strawberries on the pockets into which she would stop and put things on our walks.  
  • And the jean jacket with the red and white checked ruffles that she wore on her first airplane trip to Seattle.  

I looked at each article of clothing and fell in love with my daughter all over again.  She looked at each article of clothing and began to construct her sense of today with herself from yesterday.

I finally decided that a quilt just can’t capture those moments- small bits of fabric with the edges sheared off.  With Elizabeth’s assistance, we packed almost everything back into three of the tubs- rechristened “Lily’s Tubs”.  They went back into the closet, with the assurances that they would be used to dress up her doll, or to be worn with her own daughter.  Someday.  I can’t help but wonder where we’ll be dragging those tubs to next.  I know that my husband and my mother will roll their eyes at Elizabeth and me as we find space in our crowded house for 3 tubs of outgrown clothing.

I will still make a quilt of the fabrics that evoke memory through its pattern or its texture.  I will still work on this project that is 10 years in the making.  But I have a clearer understanding that sometimes, memory is formed by the details.


  1. Love “memory is formed by the details”. So happy you’re finally at this point!

    Comment by autismmommytherapist — September 6, 2011 @ 9:28 am | Reply

  2. […] here: Memory Quilt « Professor Mother Blog « My trip to the Baltics | […]

    Pingback by Memory Quilt « Professor Mother Blog » NancyCelms — September 6, 2011 @ 11:18 am | Reply

  3. this was such a nice story. you are a great writer. she is a beautiful girl.
    thanks, katie

    Comment by katie thomas — September 6, 2011 @ 6:16 pm | Reply

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