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Aunt Maggie’s Wonderful Quilt Squares

Aunt Maggie’s quilt squares traveled with the author for decades until she finally made a quilt one highly memorable night

My husband and I were fresh from the altar in those waning days of December, 1958. Before we flew home to Fairbanks, Alaska we made the rounds of his family and friends in Seattle, among them his sweet white-haired aunt, Maggie Bishop, who lived in Greenwood. We chatted a few moments and she introduced the subject of sewing. Did I sew? I said yes -- a little. She excused herself and returned with a paper bag full of white cotton quilt squares, each bearing a beautifully-pieced eight-pointed star made of patterned material from the 1920s and 30s.

She had been carrying the squares around with her for years, and she now knew she would never sew another quilt. Would I take them? Of course, thank you, Aunt Maggie!

I carried the squares with me during the 19 years of my marriage, and after my divorce they were in my luggage when I returned to Seattle. I looked at the pretty squares many times, thinking “I really must make a quilt!”

Finally the right moment came.

I had been working at Todd Shipyards as the secretary to the “Special Services Supervisor,” Audrey McMullen, whose duties included making hotel arrangements for the VIP guests of the shipyard – foreign visitors, sponsors, government officials. Favored hotels received valuable patronage from the shipyard and vied for Audrey’s attention. When Audrey retired, I was promoted to her position and accompanied her on her last trip to inspect rooms in the Westin Hotel for a shipyard guest. The Westin could not know that Todd had completed its naval contracts for the Australian and the United States governments, and that the golden days of launching festivities were over. An era ended after Audrey’s retirement. The Westin didn’t know that I would shortly join the hundreds of Todd employees to be laid off.

As Audrey’s successor, I was given an invitation to stay overnight as their guest, no doubt wishing to be remembered when I made reservations for the important people who came to future launchings. Oh, dear.

I accepted the invitation, but decided that I would not waste my time being luxurious. I would accomplish something while I was there. I would take Aunt Maggie’s quilt squares and make a quilt. I purchased yards of striped backing fabric and padding enough for a queen-size quilt. When I arrived for my free night at the Westin, the first thing I did was to call Room Service and ask for a sewing machine.

It was a wonderful night high above the twinkling lights of downtown Seattle. Everything in the room was pleasing. The artwork and artifacts -- fresh flowers -- were only some of the luxurious conveniences lavished upon me -- undreamed of in my modest lower middle-class existence. It was a movie set and I was the star!

The novelty of being there where I certainly didn’t belong energized me. I had chosen a striped fabric for the quilt so that I wouldn’t have to measure anything. I pinned Aunt Maggie’s squares onto the straight-edged striped material and slid it under the sewing machine’s whirring needle. Nothing came out exactly even, but I didn’t care. It looked almost even and I was finally getting the quilt made! Several times the sewing machine came unthreaded, and I sent for Room Service to get me started again. All night I worked on the quilt, and by check-out time the next day it was completed.

I slept under the quilt from 1986 until 2004, and during that time I loved it, looked at it appreciatively, and thanked Maggie Bishop from my heart. Eventually the quilt fabric frayed. I carefully undid the threads that secured the squares to the striped material. The squares had not disintegrated. After all these years, they were strong and usable! I gently washed them, and there they were, with their tiny, even stitches and their simple 1940s patterns, just as Maggie Bishop had handed them to me. I knew that I would never again make a quilt, so I put them downstairs on the “free shelf” in the Community Room.

They disappeared overnight and I prayed that the right person had found them and would make another wonderful quilt, courtesy of Aunt Maggie Bishop.

This article appeared in the January 2013 issue of Northwest Prime Time, the Puget Sound region’s monthly publication celebrating life after 50.

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