I often call my most recently completed quilt my “latest, greatest.” That’s because the creative process is for me a kind of love affair. Conceptualizing a quilt, choosing the fabrics, cutting, sewing, watching the work take shape on my design wall—it’s an intense and exciting process. My latest quilt is the quilt I love the best.
Continuing the love-affair metaphor, my current most-beloved quilt is an old flame. It’s a quilt I did not make, and not technically a quilt since it’s tied rather than quilted, but I have adored it since I was a young quilter first learning about historic styles and genres.
Back in the 1980s, the highlight of my year was the quilt show my first quilt club, Heritage Quilters, put on each October during Madison County’s Covered Bridge Festival. One fall, we borrowed several nineteenth century beauties from a prominent local family. All had been made by female ancestors who were masters of the needle. Both the design and workmanship of the wool Windmill Blades Log Cabin* we displayed that year blew me away. I never forgot the confident broad strokes of its design, the perfect flatness of the patchwork, the tiny cotton prints the maker incorporated with the wool, the wonderful checkerboard borders (velvet) on two sides.
A few years later, when Rod Kiracofe was searching for outstanding quilts to include a book he was writing, I mailed him a snapshot of Windmill Blades, and the quilt made a trip out to California to be photographed by Sharon Risedorph for inclusion in THE AMERICAN QUILT. Now, Windmill Blades was famous not only to me!
The Winterset gentleman whose grandmother and aunts were such remarkable quiltmakers passed away, and earlier this year George’s wife died, too. Two of the daughters contacted me seeking information about Windmill Blades. Apparently I knew more about their heirloom than they. Incredibly, they consigned my love for auction with antique furniture and other items from their mother’s estate.
As if Windmill Blades and I were destined to be reunited, I located the website of the auction house in Cedar Falls, registered for online bidding, and watched the calendar as the auction date drew near, not sure I would have the guts to reach out. The morning of the sale, I was nervous. Not a collector of antique anything, I didn’t know how such affairs were managed. I called the auction house, and a nice woman named Shelley calmed me down, told me how to place both a starting and a maximum bid and pointed me to a website where I could watch the process in real time.
Nervously, still in my bathrobe, I paced the floor as hundreds of items of jewelry, furniture, and artwork were one-by-one highlighted, bid on, and sold, Lot 532 still pages away! Before long, the 300s and 400s were gone. The 500s began ticking away. And then—what??? Windmill Blades was skipped! Skipped? What could that mean??? My love gone? Or, could it be—Windmill Blades was mine? I called Shelley. Yes! Lot 532, sold to Marianne Fons! And for half of my maximum bid! OMG, Windmill Blades was coming back to Winterset!
In correspondence about payment, Shelley commented, “By the way, Donna, who is working with me today, is very happy that you won this lot. She is a big fan of yours.”
“Really?” I replied, “that’s amazing! Please tell Donna thank you, and let her know 25 Fons & Porter quilts are currently on display at the Iowa Quilt Museum. She might wish to come to Winterset to see them.” On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, workplace pals Shelley and Donna did just that. They brought Windmill Blades with them and transferred my old flame to my arms.
*Windmill Blades Log Cabin was made by Gertrude Buchner of Maquoketa, Iowa, a project of seven years’ work.