Labors of love

The Nevada Quilt Odyssey proves that quilt-making is still alive and well in the American West

A Moon Glow quilt made by a member of the Truckee Meadows Quilters.

A Moon Glow quilt made by a member of the Truckee Meadows Quilters.

Quilting was my mother’s art. She was fervently creative, but also careful and exacting as she cut, pieced, traced, basted and stitched. She was a purist, always quilting by hand. She labored for months and, after the Log Cabin, Saw Tooth Star or Ohio Star quilt had been born, it was always given away.

What I discovered early on is that quilts are artifacts—testaments of their makers’ passion and frustration. Fabrics, sometimes scraps from old clothing items or from other quilts, tell a story. Stitches tell a story. I remember spending hours reading a book of my mother’s called Remember Me, which told stories of pioneer women and the quilts they made—memory quilts for lost loved ones, quilts to celebrate births, quilts made for couples who had just been married and were traveling west. I was captivated by the way those old quilts chronicled their makers’ lives.

Quilts are also legacies. A handful of the quilts now on display in The Nevada Quilt Odyssey at Nevada Historical Society are from generations past. One, finished in 1892, was made out of scraps of fabric from woolen dresses. Another, an Irish Chain made circa 1854, was quilted on a covered wagon journey from Illinois to California.

Most of the quilts on display, however, were made in the last few years by members of the Truckee Meadows Quilters, an organization founded in 1978 “to encourage and promote quilting and related arts in northern Nevada.” The quilts currently on display are the second in a three-part series, the first of which showcased historical quilts, the last of which will speculate on the future of quilting.

The contemporary quilts now on display come in many shapes and sizes, from tiny Amish Nine Patch quilts to large and stunning works like the Moon Glow quilt that hangs on the gallery’s east wall. Made of vivid greens, blues and purples, it seems almost to have the eerie radiance of a moonlit lake.

Some of the quilts are made by hand; others are machine-quilted. The machine-stitched ones are smooth and flat, but I have an affinity for the hand-quilted ones. These quilts in particular are physical testimonies of their makers’ patience and devotion.

Quilts, more than many other forms of art or craft, are truly labors of love. These time-consuming works are often given away to friends, relatives or those in need—the Truckee Meadows Quilters’ Baby Quilt Program, for instance, provides quilts for infants in neo-natal intensive care units. Quilts are beautiful works of art, but they also provide for one of our most basic needs: staying warm at night. The quilts now on display at Nevada Historical Society remind us that, even in the age of the store-bought comforter, there are few things as precious as the handmade quilt.