Staff Stitch + Show: Dorothy’s Appalachian Applique

“It took three women to do this, but by God, we got it done,” Dorothy, a Martingale Account Manager, tells me with a laugh. She’s recounting her experiences creating quilts from inherited blocks. She’ll be the first to tell you that our foremothers were not all mistresses of the needle. Despite the wonkiness of these blocks, they’ve evolved into treasured heirloom quilts.

The quilts began sixty years ago, in the Appalachian hills of North Carolina. Dorothy’s grandmother-in-law, Millie Gibbs, appliquéd free-form flowerpots entirely from fabric her friends had given her. Eventually Millie had dozens of blocks, all featuring a polka-dot flowerpot holding three blossoms.

In the seventies, Millie gave these blocks to her daughter Gertrude, whose hands were too arthritic to quilt. Gertrude passed them along to Dorothy, charging her with making a quilt for Dorothy’s daughter. But Dorothy knew better: all three of her children had met Grandma Gibbs, who was “the essence of a mountain woman.” They all loved her, and each would need a quilt.

Preparing the blocks took much head-scratching. Petals flicked off the corners of blocks, the mixed fabrics seemed impossible to unify–and how to tame those hot-pink polka dots? She started by removing the blue sashing and paisley cornerstones and then eliminated blocks whose petals strayed too far off the background. Nine Patch blocks stitched from low-contrast fabrics provided a calm backdrop for the flowerpots.

Dorothy made the first quilt, for her daughter, three years ago. Last year she gave the second to her oldest son. She’s just finishing the third now, to give her youngest son for his wedding in April.

She feels satisfied to have created heirloom quilts for her children that remind them of their saucy grandmother. She was also able to show one of the quilts to her mother-in-law, Gertrude, three months before Gertrude passed away. Gertrude’s emotional reaction showed Dorothy how important it is to complete endeavors like this, even if posthumously. “Somebody spent a lot of time on these blocks,” she tells me. “We need to finish projects and give them to somebody who really appreciates them.”

No doubt her children, and Grandma Gibbs, would agree.

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