Susan Vollenweider: A patchwork of memories, collected with love

Several years ago I saw a colorful quilt proudly displayed by a party buffet, but not close enough to get barbecue sauce splashed on it.

“Are those sneaker prints?” I asked the mother of the graduate.

“Yes, his cross-country running shoes.”

I leaned closer to admire the border stitching of shoe prints running around the edge. The top of the quilt was a collection of T-shirts worn by her son over the years. It was a roadmap of his path to this milestone; a map that would cover him while he dreamed. The symbolism didn’t escape me.

It was very impressive.

I wanted my kids to have such a thoughtful keepsake.

But I didn’t sew.

The true and painful irony is that my mother was not only a costume designer but a seamstress of the highest order. Did she try to impart some of her skill set on me? Yes, often. Did it stick? Not at all.

Sewing and I are not friends. It is an activity for detail-oriented perfectionists, not big-idea creatives (she says, flattering herself). It requires precision, patience and the ability to follow specific instructions to the letter — all characteristics that I have on my “Need To Work On” list.

I wanted my daughter, Bekah, to possess the know-how necessary to take a thought like, “I want a pair of pajamas made out of this really funky owl-printed fabric” and turn it into something wearable. Mom was half a country away, but I sent 8-year-old Bekah to my quilt-making, sneaker-reproducing friend for sewing lessons. Would Bekah make our memory quilts?

No. The Hows of sewing stuck, but the only needlework Bekah really enjoys is embroidery. She didn’t like quilting or pajama making at all.

While I may not be a great seamstress, I am a terrific collector. I was determined to provide a memory quilt for the kids and saved outgrown T-shirts and uniforms that marked my own children’s paths through school. The plan was to have a quilt made (by someone other than their mother) when they were seniors. It didn’t take long for them to learn that the plastic bin in the basement marked with their name was where shirts go to become memories.

When Bekah, the oldest, was a junior I pulled out her bin.

It was a little light.

She never participated in any activities that had shirts except marching band, Girl Scouts and a couple of years on Student Council. There were not nearly enough to make a bed-sized quilt.

I failed. It was the first opportunity to provide my child with a practical symbol of her past, present and dreams — I blew it.

“Mom, what if I embroidered something?” She asked as I was moping about my failure as a mother.

So she did.

It took Bekah the better part of a year to design and create embroidered squares that represented her life thus far: books and fairy tales; activities and fandoms. She encircled a number of them with a favorite doodle pattern: a vine with leaves. She selected fabrics that she thought would inspire a good night’s sleep and we sent everything off to a detail-oriented, perfectionist quilter friend.

One day Bekah came home from school and I had made her bed ... with her memory quilt.

Words failed her as she saw her work — her life — carefully mapped out in fabric and embroidery floss lying across her childhood bed.

The stitching that twined around the border? Her oft-repeated vine doodle.

As it should have been all along, and with symbolism not escaping me, she helped to create her own keepsake road map.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.