Quilts Are Wild Things

Sometimes humans help them find the way home


This story begins many years ago, when my best friend forever, Yolanda, and I were in grad school. She was a single mom with two young children whom she would bring to seminars. Olivia would house herself under the enormous conference table, doing homework and soaking up the conversations. Kim was in high school, struggling with teenage growing pains.
Skip ahead 20 years. Olivia has graduated with her master’s degree, and Kim also has her master's degree, but importantly for this story, she gave birth to a very tiny preemie, Liliana, 10 months ago in September, nearly four months early and in the depths of the pandemic. Lily is smart as a whip but physically challenged, and at 10 months old, she is still small and is just now starting to crawl. When the call came for teachers to return to work, Kim quit her job to stay home and help Lily develop her muscles and motor skills.
When all this was happening, I decided that a tiny quilt, with flowers and bright colors, was just what she needed. I had ordered a yard of Jane Sassaman’s Spring Fever Tulips-Rainbow and that seemed perfect. Three Kona cotton reds, watermelon, chili and red were shipped on March 12 from the Fat Quarter Shop. Chili turned out to be the perfect backing.
I couldn’t bring myself to cut up the Spring Tulips, so I assembled it and the backing as whole cloth, and quilted curvy lines between the flowers. It sat for a while waiting for other quilts that were supposed to go with it, especially one for Olivia’s graduation, to be finished. Then, on the spur of the moment and quite out of the blue, I decided to mail just Liliana’s quilt. I got the priority mail envelope at the post office, folded it up, sealed it and raced to the post office, so happy with my accomplishment. As I was filling out the address card, I felt a little niggling, telling me something was not right with the address I had for Yolanda. But so full of exuberance was I that I told myself that everything was OK, that I had gotten the correct address from Yolanda, everything was cool. Off it went.
By the following Wednesday, when I had not heard anything about its arrival, I called: No, no package yet. But the tracking said the package had been delivered on Saturday, overnight – to the wrong address. I had failed to update the address in my contacts and it still had the wrong one.
Time for web magic. I looked up who lived at the wrong address, looked further and found his phone number and called. Yes, he remembered the package and strangely enough, his wife’s maiden name was the same as Yolanda’s. He said she was working to get the package to my friend.
But I couldn’t leave it alone. So, I looked up his wife, again using web magic, and called. No answer. Mailbox was full. Stumped. Then, out of the blue, a text arrives. It’s from the lady who lives at the wrong address saying she can’t answer but how can she help. We chat and it turns out that she had had a deep need to help this little lost quilt get home. She had put the information on Facebook earlier in the week and one of her former colleagues at the local university recognized the name. They had already made arrangements to meet and get the little quilt one step closer to its intended home. By now, we might say that this little quilt had a very clear idea of where “home" was.
Without considering the inherent magic of quilts, their trickster, shape-shifting nature, this story might be just another entry in the annals of web magic. But, there is a similar story of a quilt finding its way home through the kindness of strangers.
When I lived in Tularosa, my across the street neighbor was a quilter. Helgi and I became friends and I soon knew her whole family, becoming close with her daughter Elva, when I moved to Las Cruces. She told me of a quilt Helgi had made for Elva’s dad, Norbert. Elva hadn’t even known that Helgi had gifted Norbert with one of these amazing wild things.
Norbert lived his quilt with the Star of David in the center. Norbert took that quilt everywhere: To the supermarket where it rode in the top basket of his cart, to visit friends and with him to the dialysis center. But here Norbert’s constant companion went left while Norbert went right. It seemed the quilt might be lost forever. But Helgi had sewn a label into the quilt and this would prove providential.
Last year “out of the blue,” Elva received a Facebook message from a man in Connecticut asking if she might be related to the “Helgi" on the quilt's label.
Norbert lived in Connecticut, and he was deeply upset because he had lost the quilt and didn’t know where. He was so pleased to know that the quilt would be coming back to him.
Another curious thing was that the man had contacted Elva, although Helgi was also on Facebook. Then, strangely, two months ago, the message the man had sent to Helgi a year ago, showed up in her messages.
Mary Foss calls quilts wild things in her chapter in Thomas Knauer’s “Why We Quilt: Contemporary Makers Speak Out About the Power of Art, Activism, Community, and Creativity.” She says they “cannot be contained,” that they are tricksters that occupy spaces “outside of time.” Personally, I think it’s possible that sometimes quilts just need to get out into the world a bit, see what’s out there, enrich their horizons, before coming home to whisper their secrets to those in their care.
But sometimes they might need a little bit if a helping hand to get home. In the same book, Victoria Findlay Wolfe reminds us that yes, quilters are artists, and just like other artists, we should always sign our work. But those labels are also like bus tickets for the more adventurous wild things so now I make sure to label my quilts, especially because one of my wild things has already been exploring. My labels have my Instagram handle @Joe’sRoomQuilts, and the town where they are made, tiny San Miguel deep in the southern New Mexico pecan country.