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Barb Vlack’s mourning quilts

October 28, 2011
Dave's pall quilt

Dave's pall quilt, as rendered in EQ7, courtesy of Barb Vlack.

Quilt making is very therapeutic, especially when a loved one is battling a serious illness. Barb Vlack discusses her mourning quilts and in describing them, it’s obvious a great deal of thought and processing of feelings goes into each one.

I hope that my mourning quilt could be uplifting rather than mournful in attitude. …I was hand-piecing a quilt as I kept my husband company during his short bout with cancer. The quilt is a continuation (hopefully to completion) of one my mother started in 1988 and left as part of her legacy of works in progress. It has a lot of open spaces around scrappy 8-pointed stars. I intend to machine embroider sentiments I find comforting from sympathy cards, hymns and Bible verses we read at Dave’s memorial service. There will be memories of my mother and of Dave stitched into this quilt. I recently got a few ties that were my dad’s, so I will probably piece one of them into the quilt as well. I lost these three people so very dear to me within the past three years.

As an extension of this quilt project, I made a quilted pall to cover the urn containing Dave’s ashes at the memorial service. I used a variation of the LeMoyne Stars I had hand-pieced during his illness and made a Morning Star block for the center. Dave was an electrical engineer, and I used quilt fabric that had a circuit board design. I used a silk tie that Dave often wore that also had a circuit board design. The background of this 24” square piece was cut from Dave’s monogrammed silk shirt, and the  monogram is centered on one of the patches. I made composite beads from resistors from his extensive stash/collection and glass beads from mine to make a fringe around the perimeter. The backing fabric had phrases from our wedding  vows (and everyone else’s, since this was a widely available fabric at one time). The quilting had some personal notes in it. I had six weeks from the time of Dave’s death to his memorial service to make this piece, but I didn’t think of doing something like this until a week before the service. All of a sudden it became a must-do, and it was a sad, though comforting, activity.

I want to sleep under my mourning quilt because it will remind me of ways to be positive and move on with good memories and bright hope.

Barb also discusses the meaning to be found in antique mourning quilts.

I don’t know the sentiments of those who made mourning quilts that we view now as being dreary. An obituary quilt may be a way of recording lives of people of a certain congregation, where otherwise we may lose track of them as headstones fall or gravesites are scattered away from a central meeting place of a congregation. Well-meaning ladies of the church might think it a wonderful gift to their minister (though that minister’s wife may think differently). Especially in the Victorian era, black and very dark colors were used to denote mourning. Our interest now in doing searches on the names on a particular obituary quilt speaks well for the continuing remembrance of those who have passed on. Isn’t that the point?

This quote in particular speaks to why quilting is so helpful during stressful times.

If I hadn’t been piecing while keeping Dave company during his treatments, I probably would have been trying to read a book. But during that time and even still, it’s difficult for me to concentrate and retain what I read. I’m getting better, but the handwork was much easier to do, for me.

Thank you Barb for sharing your story.

Barb Vlack
is an expert in the EQ6 and EQ7 computer software for quilt making and has authored books on the subject.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nancy Robinson permalink
    January 7, 2012 10:51 pm

    My husband died 16 months ago just three months after being diagnosed with cancer. I made two Tee Shirt quilts from his shirts for our grandsons who were 11 and 14. The boys have seen me quilt all of their lives and they were both appreciative and awed. They were close to their grampa and discussed his cancer and treatment with him. I told them these gifts were theirs for whenever they needed a Grampa hug.

    The first healing quilt I made was actually a pillow using a 1940s Dresden Plate block that I bought at a yard sale and hand quilted during a Vietnam War Search and Rescue Mission for an F105 pilot and his navigator. Several of us squadron wives sat vigil with their wives. Both men were captured and then released when the POWs came home a few months later. Since then, I’ve felt compelled to make healing pillows or quilts for many friends and family members, Quilts for Kids, The Linus Project, and Quilts of Valor. Each one is a healing and affirming process for me and I pray that the recipients feel that too. Nancy Robinson

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