The first time Clara Buelow tried to make a quilt, she stuffed it into a box for three and a half years. She was inspired by her great Aunt Tillie, who made quilts into her 90s. After inheriting her aunt’s sewing materials, she tried to wing it.
“My great aunt Tillie, she always quilted and she made everyone in the family a quilt. I helped her before she moved into Misericordia Place and passed away, kind of based some of the quilts and put them together, and that was really special,” said Buelow.
After she had her baby Arthur, a friend re-sparked her interest during the 2022 pandemic lockdowns. So Buelow checked out Riane Elise’s Quilting by Hand from Cornish Library and used a pattern from the book. She also bought the proper tools and watched YouTube videos to learn how to do things like a binding and a mitered edge.
“I've gotten so much better with those resources. But I really like having a book and reading it because I think quilting, too, it's very much about a history. They last. I've read lots of books on it since, and I didn't realize it was also such a radical art form.”
Quilting is attaching at least three layers of fabric either through a manual stitch or by hand. As Buelow’s interest grew, she dug into podcasts and zines rooted in ways people have used quilts to spread political messages, tell different stories and provide care.
The first piece Buelow finished was a hand-quilted baby sawtooth star for Arthur. From there, she started making others for friends who were having babies and quilts for herself. She said it has become something she likes to do in the evenings after her baby goes to bed.
“It feels like a practice of something. And that's something I've always wanted in my life. I've never really thought I was that good at any of the rest of the stuff. This turns out well, and I love it. And you give it to someone, it's such an incredible gift. And it's comfort. They're meant to be used. They're meant to be seen.”
When taking up quilting, Buelow recommends investing in a sewing machine, an item that can often be thrifted. For materials, she said people can use things in their house that have holes search for second-hand pieces or buy beautiful fabric.
“I like putting colors together and patterns and just seeing it all come together. All of these scraps turn into something really striking. And it's kind of putting together a puzzle because you make all of these different blocks, and then you say ‘oh, does this color work with this?’”
Buelow said it takes a while to see the beauty in a quilt as it comes together. The practice has helped her discover a new quality about herself.
“I'm a lot more patient than I thought. It takes a lot of patience to sit there and just do something for a couple of hours. And that has surprised me, how much I like the practice of patience with making these. It’s tricky and it's tough. But at the same time, I can make these things that I've admired for a long time."
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf