Postings and ponderings of a quilting and knitting addict!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Coffin Quilts and Honoring Mr. E.

OK... I know that sounds weird, but there has been a recent discussion on the MQP List about coffin quilts. These are quilts used to drape over the coffin of a loved one(in place of the floral spray, if you wish), and the quilt may become part of the ceremony with folding of the quilt and presentation to a family member at the end of the service, similar to what you would do with a flag. Now WHY am I thinking of this?

My dear FIL (age 89) is quickly going downhill. His recent hospitalization and the decision of the family to follow his wishes and not do a feeding tube means that there will most likely soon be a funeral. The coffin quilt discussion really caught my attention... HOW NEAT! HOW UNUSUAL!! HOW JUST RIGHT FOR HIM!!!

You see, his mom was a quilter (and we still have quilts made by her, mostly utility quilts), and his wife was an avid quilter (we have lots of beautiful and wonderfully-stitched quilts that she made). Mr. E. was always a great supporter of MIL's quilting habit. He took her where she needed to go, sat with her at quilt shows, built things she needed for quilting stands or display purposes, etc. And of course he socialized with her other quilting friends and their hubbies, too.

(DH David, DGD Katelyn, and Mr. E.)

But 15 years ago when she passed away suddenly, it was as if part of him went with her. He never was quite the same. The slow and steady decline of his memory and physical ability to get around began. The quick wit and gentle laugh, the twinkle in his eye when he told a funny story (perhaps for the umpteenth time, but he still laughed just as hard) began to decline. Three years ago he decided to go to a nursing center, and the diagnosis of small strokes and Alzheimer's was made. The steady decline of his awareness and participation in life seemed to quicken in the last 6 months, and so here we are making difficult decisions, but wanting to honor his wishes.

So back to the quilt... about 2005 Mr. E asked me to repair a quilt his Mom had made about 1940 (shortly after he and Mrs. E. married). I had noticed the quilt on his bed when we visited, but never was in his room long enough to look at its condition. It was a 4-patch (mostly feed sack material) with print sashing, tied, with a cotton bedspread used for batting. To say it was in tatters is an understatement! There were many large, gaping seams where stitching had given way. There were rips and tears along the edges... there was no repairing it, but I did offer to "re-make" it, with the understanding that it would not look like the original, but it would be a means of preserving some family history.

After taking the layers apart I realized that EVERY block in the quilt had open seams, holes in some of the fabrics... it was literally falling apart. I took it apart down to the blocks, repaired holes, replaced some pieces with fabric taken from the sashings, purchased a buttery yellow 30's reproduction print for new sashings and binding, quilted it on my longarm, and presented it back to him.

He smiled... I think getting this piece of the past back pleased him. And he used it. That was how I knew he enjoyed having it.

When he moved to the nursing center a few months later I made him another quilt to have for his bed. I knew this one would never hold up to the hot-water-washing they would have to do, so "his" quilt was packed away in the chest. I really had not even thought of it much until I saw the posts about coffin quilts.

After running this suggestion past my hubby's siblings, I think Mr. E. will use this quilt one last time when the occassion arrives. What a fitting way to celebrate his love and support for quilts and quilters! I wish I had a digital "before" picture to show you where we started with this quilt, but I love the finished result. I'm sure quilt historians would cringe at what I have done to this piece of history, but we changed it from a pile of unusable fabric into a trip down memory lane. We were not interested in the fact that I had "devalued" the quilt by making modern repairs.. the value of this quilt is in Mr. E's heart!

We know the days ahead will be difficult, with more hard decisions and preparations to be made. But we also know that he is heading to be with his Lord, and his wife of 52 years, an avid quilt-maker with nimble fingers, a quick step, and a sparkle in her eyes. What better way to honor him when we gather to celebrate his life?

Have a wonderful, quilty day. And tell someone you love them today! We never really get around to saying it enough, and we all need to hear it from time to time.



  1. I have always told my family that I wanted a quilt draped over my coffin instead of flowers. I've even shared with them that once they chose which quilts they want to keep that the others either need to be given to a worthy cause or auctioned off to pay for my funeral services (no joke here, that might be a necessity). Anyway, enough about me -- I think what you have done to repair this quilt is wonderful, it doesn't matter what the "quilt historians" aka "quilt police" have to say about it -- quilts don't have rules, they have feelings. The emotions tied up in this quilt are far more valuable than words can even describe. More importantly than the honoring of all involved, it's good to read that your family focuses on eternity with the Lord. I pray that these last days together as a family are very memorable and when the time as come for this dear saint to be welcomed home to the words of "enter in my good and faithful servant" that you and other family members can wrap yourself up in this quilt and still fill the love and joy it brought throughout it's history. Remember, the passing of a believer is only a temporary separation!

  2. Beautiful, Aunt Kat. Thank you.

  3. What a beautiful story, Kathy. I felt the tears in your heart and in your eyes as you wrote of the love of this dear person. My prayers are with him and his family. I know he must be getting more and more excited about what his future holds for him. I cherish each moment on this earth, but I believe that there is an everlasting life waiting for us.

  4. Oh Kathy,
    Thank you for sharing this story, you brought tears to my eyes. I think it is a wonderful idea to use the quilt. And I agree with Karen, the value of a quilt is the memories it holds not in the fabric used. Bless you.

  5. Kathy,
    This is a beautiful story and a beautiful quilt. May the Lord be with all of you at this special time.

  6. All I can say is a deep sigh---How beautiful, and how blessed he is to have such a caring DIL!

  7. Wonderful story....wonderful idea of draping the quilt....wow....still thinking....just lost my dad in December.

  8. Kat,
    This "memorial" is so sweet. So glad David has had a Dad this long. I lost my Daddy when I was age 12.

  9. What a wonderful story. When my grandma died (1985) she was working on a beautiful turquoise velvet lone star quilt. My mom and I finished binding it before the funeral and it was draped over her coffin. It was a more powerful statement of her love of flowers, color, and life than a bouquet of flowers.

  10. Kathy,
    You are loved... thank you for sharing your stories and allowing us to become a part of your family. We are praying for you and David and for the family. Mr E. is the lucky one... being with Jesus and with his beloved bride.

    Song of Solomon 2:10-13
    My beloved spoke, and said to me: Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
    For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth;
    The time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
    The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell.
    Rise up, my love, my fiar one, and come away!



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