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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

Letter to the Editor: "Stories of the Stitch"

Photos by Charlotte McPherson, Galax, Va.
Photos by Charlotte McPherson, Galax, Va.
Additional photos below »

"Put your story on the line"

By Penney Mosley | January 31, 2007

Dear A! Magazine,

After reading the "Quilt" story in your December 2006 magazine, I'd like to tell you about the clothesline quilt show that I coordinated in Galax, Va. for the last two years.

"Stories of the Stitch...put your story on the line."

Installation Art! Concept Art! Storytelling! Clothesline quilt show! Call it what you will, but this project is more than just quilts hanging on clotheslines.

Imagine the continuous serpentine zigzag of quilts flapping in the wind on a beautiful day, mimicking the lines of the stitches composing the works of art. The juxtaposition of styles was synonymous with the juxtaposition of life stories represented in each quilt.

On Sunday, August 14, 2005 and again on Sunday, September 10, 2006 the Matthews Living History Farm Museum in Galax was transformed into a living art museum. The owner and the quilt were the art.

The goal was to have no less than 100 quilts displayed. I have enjoyed Christo Javacheff's work for many years. When he installed "The Gates" in Central Park in February 2005, I was again inspired by the saffron-colored row of sheets. My creative juices kicked in thinking about a Southwest Virginia equivalent of "Running Fence" (California 1972-76). I couldn't think of a better example of the cultural heritage of our region than our beautiful quilts. And what could be better than the beauty of the exhibit than hearing the story behind the scene?

But the most profoundly moving experience was standing in the pasture in Galax and seeing 60-plus quilts simultaneously being clothes-pinned to a line stretching long and high past the cows and sheep. The cowbell rang and the quilters, waiting patiently in their assigned space, took their cue, instantly transforming the bucolic green of the pasture into a kaleidoscope of color.

Stories pinned to the quilts were read by all. Photographs of all the quilts and the stories told will eventually be published as a coffeetable book. The book will be available for sale with a percentage of the proceeds to benefit the Arts Council of the Twin Counties and the Matthews Living History Farm Museum for decades to come.

This is the story that I pinned to my "Rainbow" quilt:

I was 12 years old and struggling with the growing pains that all pre-teens struggle with. One day I would be playing with dolls and the next day I would be begging for a pair of high heels. One day I wanted to make mud pies and the next day I wanted to learn to cook and sew. Boys were looking pretty good. Trouble is I didn't know if I wanted to kiss them or give them a bloody nose.

Life was simple in the early '60s, so simple that trips with Mama and Daddy were downright boring. They were always going to, what seemed like at the time, far away places to visit with friends and attend those Old Primitive Baptist Association meetings.

I wasn't old enough to be left home alone and too old to be happy as the extra baggage on those trips. Their friends tried to help by pandering to my inquisitive mind.

Once I made the mistake of being interested in a quilt Mama and Daddy's friends were making. They knew that I had been sewing doll clothes on Mama's old pedal machine since I was five years old. They even knew about the fur coats that all my dolls wore, compliments of Mama's once beautiful and stylish full-length raccoon coat.

The next time the friends came to visit in Mt. Airy, they brought all the makings of that Rainbow quilt that I had admired a few months before. They had pieced the first three rows and gave me specific directions on how to drop a color on each end of the center and just where to begin the pattern all over again to make each color of the rainbow radiate from the deep red center.

Remember, I was 12! It was hot that summer and my favorite tree began to call my name. There was nothing I liked better than to sit high up in that tree and watch the world go by below. Instead, I cut those tiny little squares from what seemed like a mountain of cloth. I oiled the old pedal machine and began to sew. The quilt squares began to grow like Jack's beanstalk. Everywhere I looked there were little cloth squares begging to be attached to the last one.

After about two more rows were added to the quilt, I had had all I could stand! I threw all the pieces in a sack and headed to Granny's house. She was happy to have a project and gladly took up where I left off. Granny didn't fully comprehend the concept of dropping a color block at each end of the next row. And while the quilt didn't exactly turn out perfectly, it is nevertheless a wonderful memory of Granny and those saintly West Virginia women who thought they could help me become a lady. Ha! The trees are still calling me.

Penny Moseley
Galax, Va.

A! ExtraTopics: Crafts