Leaving Your Lasting Legacy

I want to talk about something this week that has been on my mind and in my heart for awhile now.  I’ve been blessed to have lived long enough on this quilting journey to have made some really good quilting sisters and brothers.  These people are dear to me because they are the family that I’ve chosen for myself.  We’ve shared joy and sorrow, peace and pain, laughter and tears.  We’ve cheered each other on and prayed for each other with a fervency that I haven’t found in a church in years.

However, I’ve also lived long enough to have lost some of these wonderfully dear people.  The other night as I was cleaning out some of the mess in my studio, I moved a rotary cutting mat and realized it had belonged to a quilting friend who passed away almost 10 years ago.  The ruler holder on my cutting table once was owned by a good friend that was an early member of the High Point Quilt Guild.  And I paused long enough to look around and think, “God please help my kids when I go to that Quilting Bee in the sky because they will certainly have a lot to contend with.”

Now before we all get too weepy and maudlin, let me tell you that there is a list of women’s names with their phone numbers in a box beside my bed.  The children (and Bill) know that if anything happens to me, they are to start at the top of the list and begin calling these quilting sisters.  These women are to take anything out of my studio they want (that my kids don’t want) and then help price everything else to sell because these ladies will know what my supplies are truly worth as opposed to what I may have told Bill I paid for them.

All of this really got me thinking, “What and how should quilters go about bequeathing their quilts after they’ve gone to that Great Guild Meeting in the Sky?”  I’ve read a lot about how quilters, while living, should give their quilts awayBut I was really curious to see if anything had been written about bequeathing your quilts after death.  So, I spent about a half an hour Googling the topic and found …literally nothing.  Other than a small article about donating “significant” quilts to the National Quilt Museum there wasn’t a thing.  And how many of us have “significant” quilts to donate?  In my mind, one of those would be a quilt that had won multiple ribbons and been displayed at the museum.  My quilts aren’t anything nearly that grand.

Since Google wasn’t rendering it’s normal interwebby magic answers, I did the next best thing.  I emailed a guy I graduated from college with that is now a lawyer and asked him.  Fortunately, Terry was a much better source than Google.  He did state that while he had never been asked “This specific question about quilts, I have been asked a lot of questions about similar personal items.”  He told me quilts should be treated as jewelry or a “prominent item of emotional significance” and listed as a codicil.  In other words, make a list of who those quilts should go to after your death and attach it to your will.


Well, that seemed simple enough.  Until I started thinking again. 

While quilts are like a lot of sentimental items, in that there are a lot of emotional attachment to them, they are different in a couple of areas.  First, they’re handmade.  I’m not using the term “handmade” in its strictest sense.  What I mean is they’re someone’s artwork that began as material off of a bolt of fabric that was cut, sewed together (by hand or machine), and quilted (by hand or machine).  So, they’re a little bit different than great-grandma’s wedding cameo.  The emotional and sentimental attachment may be the same, but the cameo probably wasn’t handmade. Second, it would be easy to find out how much the cameo is worth.  An eBay or web search or a trip to a trusted jewelry store could pretty much give you an accurate ballpark figure.

Quilts are different.  Setting aside all the emotional attachment and time we pour into our quilts, it’s harder to put a dollar value on a one.  If you asked one quilter how much another quilter’s quilts are worth, you’ll get varied answers.  However, there are certified quilt appraisers than can accurately state how much a quilt is truly worth.  These folks have studied quilts, fabric, and the time value put into making quilts.  By considering all of these factors, they can give you a true monetary value of your quilt or a family heirloom/antique quilt.  Appraisers are often consulted before a quilt is sold or insured. 

I had a valid reason why I was thinking these two thoughts.  I have several (okay, more than several) quilts in my possession I want to leave to my two wonderful children.  It’s my hope that those will be a continued expression of my love to them.  And while I know that both Meagan and Matt will appreciate those quilts and take excellent care of them, I can’t help but wonder if the following generations will do the same.  To be sure, a quilt is a consumable item – at some point it time they will be “used up.”  But depending on the care given to a quilt, this period of time could literally be 50+ years.  If there is a dollar value attached to the quilt, it may prompt the inheriting generations to take good care of it.

While an appraisal would certainly take care of the monetary side of a quilt, the emotional side needs to be equally represented.  It’s easy for the quilter to look at a quilt that he or she has made and remember everything from the thoughts and prayers made during the construction to the Netflix binges watched while binding.  The quilt recipient has no reference to any of that.  There are a couple of ideas a quilter can entertain to make the emotional and historical references are known to the quilt recipient. 

The first is make sure you have a label on the quilt.  In the past I’ve preached long and loud about labeling quilts.  I’ve explained how to do it and why it’s vital.  This is one of those reasons why it’s so important to have a label on a quilt you are passing down to the next generation, before or after your death.  Certain information should be on that label:  Your name, the city and state where the quilt was made, the date the quilt was finished because we all know the date we start a quilt and end a quilt can be years apart, and the occasion the quilt was made (if there is one).  That’s the minimum.  For the past several years I’ve opted to add any pattern that was used and one esoteric fact about the time frame.*  Sometimes this fact is the average price of an item, such as a gallon of gas.  If a major event occurred during the time frame, I add that.  This will help the recipient put the quilt in some perspective of what you spent your money on, as well as where this quilt is placed in history.  Those factors  can add some emotional attachment. 

If it’s a very important quilt or one that I’ve attached particularly strong emotional attachment to (such as the two heirloom quilts I’ve made my granddaughters), I actually journal the quilt.  I know this can sound overwhelming to folks who don’t like to write.  Let me explain a little about how I do this.  First, I don’t journal every time I sit down to sew.  And I don’t handwrite it.  I journal on my laptop.  About once a week I will write something in the journal about what a particular quilt block reminds me of, or if I’m experiencing some issues making a block.  If I’m creating this quilt at a difficult time in my life, I’ll write about that.  If there’s a joyful event occurring, that is included, too.  I also make sure to add a bit here and there about my daily activities.  I know what you may be thinking at this point –  journaling is tedious and what you write may be just downright boring.  Both reasons may sound valid enough to you.  But remember when those quilts are given out, you may not be around to interpret them, depending on the time frame.  The information you leave may be invaluable not only to establish an emotional attachment to the heirloom, but also let the recipient develop a bond with you. 

When the last stitch of binding is put in and the journal is complete, I print it out and put it in a three-ring binder – the kind that has pockets on the inside cover.  Inside the pockets I put the pattern.  As I construct the quilt, I make notes on the pattern.  I also put any receipts from where I purchased material or notions and the fabric swatches.  This gives a little more history about the quilt and me.  Since I plan on giving Evan and Elli their quilts at some point in the future, I’ve wrapped the quilts in acid-free tissue paper and put the quilt and its journal in a box.  The tissue will help keep the quilts from developing deep creases in the folds.  I also will refold the quilts a several times a year to help prevent permanent creases.

I can say with great emphasis that I am truly happy that I don’t have to do this to all the quilts I will leave behind.  It’s a lot of trouble.  But that’s only two quilts out of over a dozen I still have in my possession.  The weird thing about my household is that I don’t have a quilt on my bed. The reason for this is I have two sky lights in my master bedroom.  The quilts would fade all too quickly if I kept a quilt on my bed.  I do use my quilts in the winter but fold them up in the morning and put them away. 

So, what am I going to do with the rest of the quilts that are tucked in chests and hanging in closets when I do check out?  Here’s how I approached this situation:

First, I asked my family who wanted what quilts.  Both of my kids have specifically requested certain quilts and we won’t mention the near throw-down over a particular Christmas quilt…I simply made another one.  I put their names on the quilts and have them hung in a closet.  This does not mean I don’t pull them out and use them.  Nope.  They’re still my quilts until I draw my last breath. 

Second, the quilts that my children didn’t want, I designated to close quilting friends.  No one appreciates a quilt like another quilter.  I know they will be loved and cherished.

Third, if you’re not a quilter, and at sometime in the past you told me you really liked my quilts, chances are your name is on one of them.  I’m not making promises, but I’ve got some extended family and non-quilty friends that have lovingly touched my quilts and I remember that and those folks.

There is always the option of designating your quilts to a charity. There are loads of organizations that will take your quilts.  Project Linus, local hospitals, local police stations and social workers (who will use them for children they have to remove from a dangerous situation).  You can always leave your quilts to these charities. Or if your local history museum has a textile division, they may love to have your quilts in their collection.

And lastly,

Just give them away before anything happens to you.

I struggled with this one.  Not because I’m a particularly selfish person, because I really am not.  The struggle was I didn’t think anyone would really appreciate the quilt I made and take good care of it.  I had to come to the realization that when I give away a quilt, I’ve released it and all of the emotions that go with it.  The fact that I’m giving a person a quilt means that I love them, and I want them to have some tangible to show it.  The best gift I could give someone is something I spent time and energy making – from a platter of cookies to a queen-sized quilt.  This is easier said than done, too.  I’ve run across quilts I’ve given people that are now used as dog beds or worse.  I’ve had to learn to hold my tongue and not say a word.  Needless to say, that person probably will never receive another quilt from me. 

Some appreciation is warranted.

I know I can’t keep every quilt I make, nor do I want to.  I want to hold on to a few and send the rest out into the world as tokens of my affection.  However, after talking with my children over the quilts that are in my closet, one of my kids told me, “Mom, I’ll always love your quilts.  You don’t have to worry about them when you’re gone.”

I better not.  If in the Great Hereafter I find my quilt on eBay, I’ll come back to haunt you.

Until Next Week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

*The credit for this idea goes to the great and wonderful Tula Pink.  She was interviewed a few years ago and talked about how she made her quilt labels.  I thought this was genius and have been doing the same ever since I read her interview.

One reply on “Leaving Your Lasting Legacy”

I love this post. So much thought and effort in everything you do. I know one quilt you made that was lovingly taken to every chemo treatment by a cousin who was overwhelmed with the beauty, compassion and thoughtfulness behind your gift. He snuggled into its’ comfort and love as the chemo dripped into his body. Kemp loved it so much he someday wants to pay you to make another. His mother is beyond grateful for this beautiful quilt and grateful you are part of this wonderful family. Much love always.

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