While this isn’t my first memory of fabric, the white rabbit fur muff I had in Kindergarten looms in my mind as an object of fascination. There are earlier fabrics, but other than my great grandmother’s quilts, nothing else really stands out. I have no idea where the muff came from, perhaps it was a Christmas present. We lived in Atlanta, and I remember winter being brown, wet, cold, with occasional dustings of snow. From our apartment I could see a little field and beyond that the school where I attended Kindergarten. The trek through that field to school was lonely and cold, and I felt so small. The white muff was extraordinarily clean and glorious in its soft comfort. When I put my hands into it I felt a warm white aura all around me, a glow of well being and perfect design. I felt cherished somehow. My arms made a complete circle when my hands were together, hidden in the muff. I could swing my arm circle up and down, reveling in the transformation to hand-less-ness. I also felt tamed by the muff. No horsing around. I was a good little girl, head bowed, hands in my lap, docile. I don’t know if my memory is correct here, but I believe there was a tiny rose somewhere on the muff, probably made of ribbon, and it was the deepest fairytale red, like a drop of blood. Its dangerous color made the white fur that much more brilliant. I remember my mother telling me that in The Olden Days ladies wore muffs to keep them warm when they rode in carriages. This notion of an ancient time was new to me. It opened a new vastness in my young mind. Blank space held together with a sense of attention and curiosity. If this sensation had to be named, I suppose it would be called “ wonderment,” although that was a pretty usual state for me. This was different because it was likely my firstawareness that somehow there were people who had existed before I did. I acquired magical ladies of elegance and mystery who rode in carriages pulled by white horses. Looking back now, it’s almost as if I held the hands of eternity when I wore that little tunnel of fur.
The other textile memory centers on my great-grandmother’s quilts. I had one of my own, white with appliqued figures and toys. I loved the texture of the quilt, but aside from the creature comfort it gave me, I was ambivalent about it. My mother told me that her grandmother had made it, but I didn’t know her, and I didn’t know where she was (she died the year I was born). The handmade stitches in that quilt were very tactile. The gap between what I could feel with my hands and what I could understand created more wonderment for me. Though I appreciated the different prints and colors, I didn’t like the white background, and I didn’t much care for the toy appliques. They were so big and forceful and “cheerful.” I don’t think I was a cheerful child. I suppose I played with all kinds of toys and liked the things themselves, butI didn’t like images of them. The quilts I preferred were the ones that appeared on my mother’s bed. One was a grandmother’s garden, all handstitched. I could get lost in its magic, the spinning variations, a massive and splendid visual candy dish. I remember once I was put down for a nap on that quilt, and I was not a nap person. The room was dark and boring and I was afraid to miss out on whatever might be happening in other rooms. I yelled and cried many tears on that quilt, a huge source of comfort.
The other quilt I admired had garlands of red and orange poppies appliqued on a white background. Again with the red on pure white—so elegant and mysterious. The shapes of the flowers, their petals and leaves, were so exotic, succulent and vibrant. I was fascinated by the way they emerged from the snowy white field, both inevitable and miraculous in their perfect design. Something about the red seemed so true and vital. I don’t think there was much of that color in my home environment or in my wardrobe at that time. I remember white blouses, lots of wonderful green things, black velveteen, plaids, and later, lots of oranges and browns. But poppy red, the red of fresh blood, was like a beacon. Of what, I had no idea. It just felt deeply real.
We didn’t treat these quilts very well as I grew up, and unfortunately they’ve suffered some damage over the years. We took them for granted. Now I’m the responsible one in the family and a few of them have come into my custody. They are too fragile to use, too imperfect to show, and they must simply be put away in archive boxes. The quilts came from purchased patterns published by Mountain Mist, and there are many similar quilts out in the world, all the same except for the quality of the hand work and selection of fabric. As I’ve become a quilter I’ve learned their intrinsic worth. I treasure them for the care and attention lavished on them as my great grandmother labored alone in quiet hours, and I understand the internal quality of those hours of making. Through my own hours of making I feel a link with my great grandmother; it’s one thing I can understand about her as a person.