After our 1968 high school graduation, several of us girls decided to make quilts to take with us to college. We all had been sewing for years, both for enjoyment and for practical reasons. There was no big budget for school clothes, but I could buy as much fabric as I wanted. The styles then were simple: cotton dresses and skirts, the occasional jacket, and gowns for the school’s formal dances. With all of that cutting and sewing, each of us had collected masses of fabric scraps, which we lovingly stowed away in bins and boxes for some unknown future purpose.
Opening up our fabric stashes was an archeological and historical project. Every scrap contained memories: favorite clothing items, successes and failures, and recollections about how easy or difficult the fabric had been to work with.
Small squares were the easiest to cut and sew, and they made the best use of so many of our oddly shaped leftovers. I didn’t consider the finished size; I wanted to use as much scrap fabric as possible. I cut dozens of squares, laid lines of them on the floor, sewed them together, and then laid down the next line, organizing the colors and designs into a harmonious whole. The finished quilt top was larger than a king bed, and I sandwiched it with cotton batting and a paisley backing.
My friend Alison and I had been pals since fifth grade, and her quilt came out very much like mine. We were so proud of our work! On the day her parents drove her to her small-town state university, Alison’s quilt was tucked into the back of the pickup truck along with her suitcases, record albums, and the boxes of stuff needed to start life as a college freshman.
Unfortunately, during the trip, the quilt blew out of the truck and landed somewhere along the agricultural roadside. It must have been a grand and colorful parachute, and yet, no driver honked or otherwise alerted Alison’s father that he’d lost part of his load. Its absence wasn’t noted until the family unloaded the truck at Alison’s dorm.
Feeling sorry for her, knowing the work involved and the personal connection to the quilt, I decided to surprise her with a replacement.
As a testament to how many scraps I had in my fabric stash, I was able to make another whole quilt in record time. A few weeks into our first semester, I drove up for a visit with my gift hidden in brown paper. We squealed with joy as she opened the package and did a square-by-square review of the fabric pieces and the memories they sparked.
These patchwork quilts are just one example of how handcrafts are woven into our lives. We choose and feel the colors and textures. We transform the flat material into dimensional goods that decorate, warm us, or speak for us. The things we sew are an extension of ourselves and souls in the world, as others see and feel our work. Within each scrap of fabric are interwoven memories that can take us in many directions.
Ms. Everett has been sewing since 1963, when junior high school mandated a home economics class for all girls. She continues to sew and crochet, and she still keeps a box of leftover fabric, just in case.
Originally published May 10, 2021; updated April 27, 2022.