Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Internet Signature Quilt for a Tough Guy

Eight years ago, when my Dad turned 80, I wanted to do something special for him. He and Mom lived in Massachusetts - I'm in California. It was long past time for them to move close to us, but Dad resisted. He had his pride and his routine, devoted to two passions: writing books on American ethnic history, and caregiving for Mom, whose dementia was advancing. A birthday party was out of the question.

Fortunately, several years earlier, I had purchased a couple of yards of presidential fabric.  
It's monochromatic, in uninspiring shades of brown, but the greatness of it is that it includes most (but, inexplicably, not all) of the presidents, up to then-president George W. Bush.

Despite his advanced age, my father had mastered the Internet well enough for flourishing correspondence with far-flung friends. Along with discussing history, politics and religion, they traded corny and/or appalling jokes, many of which only men of his generation could find funny.  

I thought about making him a "post office" quilt. But sending out pieces of fabric and asking for their return with signatures and decoration is not only a monumental amount of work, but also didn't seem right for his crowd. He and his friends reveled in words and  ideas.

The solution struck me in a flash: Use the Force, i.e. the Internet! Collecting wise and wiseguy words from Dad's crowd could conceivably take microseconds instead of months!  It helped that I had complete access to his email list (because he hadn't learned about 'BCC' yet.)

(And this was well before Twitter, which might have made the project even faster, and the contributions even more succinct!)

So I did a mass e-mailing. I explained about the presidential fabric. I asked people to either write a short birthday message that had nothing to do with any president; or, if they wanted to play the game, they could pick a historic president and I'd literally put their words into that president's mouth! 

When the messages flooded in - within minutes, hours, and days, for the most part, I was blown away!  
A grandchild commandeered Lincoln to sing Dad's praise.
Dad's friend Jeff, a political writer, claimed a whole bunch of presidents, and he did his homework. "They'd never have impeached me if I'd had YOU on my side...." Jeff put into Andrew Johnson's mouth, above right. Jeff also used historical facts and quotations to channel Coolidge:  
John Adams,
 and Teddy:
 Another friend took advantage of President Ford's sporting reputation:
 
For Millard Fillmore, a niece wrote a little quiz about the eerie parallels between Millard's life and her own. I set the answers upside down. ("They're both suspicious of both Democratic and Republican parties."]
Two different people claimed Nixon, one  a conservative, one a liberal. So I had him speaking out of both sides of his mouth! Perfect!

Grandkids colored in numerals: 
Without further ado, here's the finished quilt: 
 
It measures about about 30" x 40". Although it had none of the hassles of a post office quilt, it was a lot of work to identify each president. (The fabric didn't name them, and pre-Obama, let's face it, they all looked alike!)

To applique the heads, I fused paper-backed web to the back of each, then cut close around.  Then they were pressed onto a gorgeous deep navy-blue fabric.I stitched them down with gold metallic thread, in a three-step zig-zag, giving each head a golden aura of charisma and power which some of them may have enjoyed in life (or not). 
The quotations were printed onto 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of fabric that I had hand-painted green, blue, red, or yellow (with translucent Setacolor paint), fused to sheets of freezer paper, and sent through my permanent ink printer. (Everything you ever wanted to know about using an inkjet printer to print on fabrics is summarized by Gloria Hansen, here.) 

I raw-edge appliqued the word balloons to the navy background with invisible thread, also using a three step zigzag.

The top features a photo-transferred picture of Dad: 
The 'Congratulations' banner is printed out on white fabric (two sheets stitched together.) In the bottom lower corner, I added a symbolic representation of Mom, plus Uncle Sam (saying "Read our Lips") and a medal. 
I added quotes that weren't particular to any president into random spaces near the lonelier heads: 
Dad loved it.

It hung in their house in a prominent place, until they finally moved to California 3 years ago.

Last winter, Dad died unexpectedly, at 87. This quilt happened to be on my living room couch - I'd hand-carried it back from packing up their Boston house, and was planning to hang in their assisted living apartment.

I was so distraught that I actually considered burying it with him. But after a few moments of thought, I dismissed that idea. My Dad was one tough cookie. He had faced down poverty as a child in the tenements of Williamsburg, NY; he'd survived abandonment by his father; combat in WWII as an infantryman; and, most difficult of all, in his senior years he bore daily witness to Mom's heartbreaking decline. That was the only situation that ever defeated him. Dad didn't need a security blanket. Dad WAS a security blanket for all of us who loved him.

So I still have it. Even though none of the quotes are actually from him, it captures his essence.
He didn't drink, but Dad knew more than anyone else around about Grover Cleveland.  
LBJ was known for his love of cursing, and so was my Dad.
So I have two questions for you: Have you made an Internet quilt? A Twitter quilt? I'd love to hear about it !
And second, what do you do with birthday quilts when the celebrant is no longer around?

Update: Shared on Nina Marie Sayre's 'Off the Wall Friday.' Find more art quilt eye candy there at http://ninamariesayre.blogspot.com/2013/07/renewal-of-fall-project-off-wall-friday.html.

29 comments:

  1. Love the quilt Cathy...it's so unique!

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  2. Your dad's quilt is fantastic! I made a quilt for my mother's 80th as well. It was a family tree quilt - an actual tree with photos of family members on the branches - my mother & her parents were on the base. Guests at the party signed the fabric that eventually became the back of the quilt. My mother passed away this past January, 3 months before her 89th birthday, and that's the only quilt I took back. Family members took the other wall hangings I had made her but that birthday quilt was so poorly done that I didn't want others examining it! It's currently sitting on a shelf in my closet.

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  3. I hear you, Corky. I'm so sorry for your loss (my dad died the week before your mom). Your quilt sounds wonderful. I hope you can dig it out one day and display it. A family tree quilt is such a great idea. Just pulling off a family tree is a huge accomplishment! (Speaking as someone who has yet to do it!) Maybe if you frame it, you won't notice the insignificant 'mistakes'?
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

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  4. I made a 90th birthday cake wall hanging for my mom so everyone could sign it at the nursing home and all the family members that came for her 90th birthday barbeque. She loved it......I hung it on her door at the nursing home for the whole week before her birthday. That was in 2010 and she died on April 2, 2011. I have the wall hanging and whenever I go thru my projects I have made and see it; brings back such great memories of her last birthday.

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    1. Mary Ann, that's wonderful. I'm so glad your quilt brings back happy memories! What a great project! Thanks for your thoughts.

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  5. This is priceless! It's one of the best birthday quills ever. Lucky for you to have people come through with some fabulous quotes. I wish I had made an 80th quilt for my mother. I was new to quilting at that time (about 25 years ago) and didn't feel as though I had the skills, but I'm sure she would have love it.

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    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Norma. You can still make it for her! I do believe in an afterlife!

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  6. Annabell SamuellJuly 21, 2013 at 6:59 PM

    Cathy, I just love the quilt you made for your late father's 80th birthday. It is just fantastic (as usual). My Phil willbe 80 in 2016, so it has given me some ideas, but how to do this with an Australian slant?

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    1. Hmmmm Annabell - is he political? Is there Australian Prime Minister fabric? There must be historical Queens/Kings of England fabric? Seriously, though, with Spoonflower.com (which wasn't on my radar 8 years ago, if it even existed) you can now design and order your own novelty fabric with faces of whoever you want on it! Of course, there might be copyright issues for the photographs you use, if you didn't take the photos yourself....Let me know what you decide and thanks for the comment!!

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  7. Dear Cathy,
    What a wonderful quilt! How much your Dad must have enjoyed it!!

    Keep up the good work,
    Linda

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    1. Linda, thanks for being so supportive! Much appreciated!

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  8. Best birthday quilt I have ever seen because it includes friends as well as family and the spirit of a man who never quit learning. Yea! for you all.

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    1. Lyn, I'm so touched. Thank you for your kind words.

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  9. This is the best birthday quilt I have ever seen because it includes friends as well as family. Yea! for you all and especially a man who never quit learning.

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  10. This is one of the cleverest ideas I've seen in a long time. I know your dad loved it and you.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.


    LeeAnna Paylor

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    1. LeeAnna, thank you so much! I appreciate your kind thoughts.

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  12. This is really amazing. Naturally, I have never made anything like this, but I am truly impressed. This is such a lovely tribute too. I want you to write about this somewhere else as well.

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    1. Your vocational insights are always cherished, Margaret! I appreciate it so much!

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  13. This quilt is so "Cathy" and I mean that in the most positive sense! Very creative and I am sure that it was much appreciated. Glad that you didn't bury the quilt along with your Dad--it is too special not to continue to have it around to appreciate!

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    1. Vivian, thank you so much! I'm glad you voted to not bury it. I think I made the right decision. Your comment is much appreciated!

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  14. This quilt is so "Cathy" and I mean that in the most positive sense! Very creative and I am sure that it was so appropos. Glad that you didn't bury the quilt--it is too special not to continue to have it around to appreciate!

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  15. What a touching story, I'm so glad you didn't bury that quilt. It is such a wonderful memory of your Dad. I made a quilt for our family reunion. we had started 4 years ago when everyone came to our home in GA. they signed small squares. this year I finally got the quilt top put together, added B & W photos of the family living & dead,and brought it to our reunion up in N.Y. Many more names were added as we found some long lost cousins thru Ancestry.com They all came and signed the quilt and I'll be putting a group photo of them on the quilt also. The quilt will go to future reunions and hopefully continue to gather signatures. this quilt became even more memorable as 2 of my Aunts passed away within 3 weeks of each other, one, the day before our reunion. My Mom's generation of 7 siblings is now all gone.

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    1. Joan, thanks for the story! That quilt sounds like a real treasure. How great that you were able to dig up long lost relatives on Ancestry! It's a forever heirloom.
      Thanks so much for your insights!

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  16. Such an amazing quilt for a history buff. Love this fabric and the family heirloom it created.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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  17. What a wonderful post and an amazing quilt. So much humor and love. That's what we need to get through life.
    best, nadia

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    1. Nadia, thank you so much for truly understanding this quilt!

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