I grew up wrapping my baby doll in this soft, little quilt, made with scraps from dresses my mom and grandma sewed for my sister and I and themselves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There’s a bit of the dress my mother made for her first class reunion and some of her curtains, too. My Great-Grandma, Mathilda Jensen Paulsen, from Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, stitched it together, along with a big quilt that matched. Later, when I was old enough to sew but still young enough to play with dolls – Barbie dolls instead of baby dolls by this time – my grandma and I made doll clothes out of more scraps from some of these same fabrics.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love quilts and the memories and history woven into them – or when I didn’t embrace the concept that nothing should be wasted – not the extra fabric after a pattern was cut out, or the few inches of lace or rickrack left over from a project, or the odd button on the button card, or even an empty feed sack. Waste not, want not. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
And thanks to my Grandma Victoria, who scraped out her bowls so clean that you couldn’t tell they had been used, I know that the batter that lingers in the pans of people who don’t scrape out their bowls is enough to make a whole extra muffin or two cookies – very probably the ones you will get to eat!
I grew up in a family of thrifty, hardworking, creative, and yes, stubborn Danes with a dash of Bohemian, German, English and Scottish thrown in for good value. And I mean that literally. The melting pot that was my family tree produced a bumper crop of large-boned, freckle-skinned, hardy folks who could do most anything they set their minds to – unless it was sports related. We weren’t athletically inclined, nor were we ones to waste time or energy on things that weren’t essential, necessary, or needed.
When later generations grew up wanting to dabble in the arts – make pretty quilts from calicos bought from quilting shops instead of scraps (because they were in colors that matched a room or enhanced a decorating scheme), eyebrows were raised, prayers were said, and people wondered what the world was coming to. I was a part of the younger generation – I loved certain colors, and it was very important to me that everything matched. One year, my Grandma Victoria made rag rugs for us for Christmas, I dug through the pile until I found one with no red.
Bright red didn’t match the pastel pinks and roses I used in my house. To satisfy my artistic eye, even the threads the rugs were woven with had to be blue or green instead of red – or heaven forbid, orange. (Thankfully, someone had put an old pink bathrobe in the rag bag at some point, so I did get my color-coordinated rug.)
It was clear. The writing was on the wall. Never ever would I sew a quilt out of old dresses or wool suits (or whatever leftover fabrics happened to be in the mending pile) in a mish mash of helter-skelter colors. I was a colorful prima-dona, a quilting artiste.
Something else had changed over the generations. The hodgepodge, crazy quilts we slept under and covered our beds with and used to keep the dust off of the furniture were replaced by quilts that were so perfect and pretty that we didn’t want to ruin them by putting them on our beds or actually using them.
We hung them on the walls, put them in our hope chests, and lovingly guarded them for posterity’s sake so we could pass them down to future generations. We took them off our beds and put them in our cedar chests.
We collected old quilts at auction and estate sales and revered any family quilts that had survived said family. Sometimes people made numerous pillows or even teddy bears out of a grandma’s quilt so each grandchild could have a small piece of it. But we didn’t snuggle under them or swaddle our children in them, or cuddle in front of the fireplace wrapped up in them, or throw them on the ground and spread a picnic out on top of them.
So, how does this pertain to my books, Night & Day and Daybreak? Jensen Marie Christiansen comes from a long line of quilters to whom a quilt meant nothing more than something to keep you warm on a cold winter night. Jensen is a designer and creator of art quilts. In Night & Day, Ed has a pilly old bedspread in drab tones. Anders sleeps under a sailboat quilt in bright blues and yellows that his mother made for him.
Quilts become the catalyst for the conflict of a family, generations of hopes and dreams, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead – a solid, predictable, convenient future with Ed or a wild ‘trip around the world’ with Anders?
In Daybreak, everything has changed and Jensen is searching for order in a world that has become all too crazy. The freeform, artistic quilts she has always designed are suddenly too flighty and fancy free to meet her needs. As her hopes and dreams swirl out of control, she needs the precision of perfectly aligned corners and points that come together the way they’re supposed to. When her family starts to fall apart, and she needs the constancy of her heritage. She even starts a quilt in a red and white Danish design (well, a pretty cherry red, almost burgundy in hue.)
The imagery of quilts – a doll quilt that a young Mathilda wrapped her baby doll in, and then gave to Leif to wrap Maren’s newborn baby in, a quilt made by Jensen for the daughter she feared she would never have, a great-grandmother’s quilt that was Jensen’s most cherished possession – the tapestry of a family’s life, patched together in a way that unites the generations of my family for all times.
My life – I skipped a generation in Night & Day, so in real life, Maren was my great-great grandmother, Mathilda was my great-grandma, and baby Victoria was my grandma – but it’s all there.
The scraps and memories, pieced together with bits and bobs from my imagination, all joined together in fiction form, misunderstandings and conflicting perceptions of the world – a completely different world than existed back then – smoothed out in a colorful pattern and stitched with love.
Jensen and her family are very close to my heart, and I hope once you read Night & Day and Daybreak, you’ll feel the same way. I chose the design and colors for the quilt on the front cover of Night & Day to coordinate with the color palate in one of my guest rooms – On the Banks of Plum Creek – at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn.
I wanted to use a Trip Around the World quilt – it would have matched the theme of Night & Day so perfectly, and if there’s anything I love more than coordinating colors, it’s perfectly synchronized symbolism – but my publisher liked this one, so that’s what we went with. If you come to stay at the Blue Belle one day, you can still snuggle up under this quilt and dream the night away.
I saw and fell in love with the lovely quilt on the front cover of Daybreak online, which has a unique symbolism in and of itself. The colors were perfect, and the design, with sunrise and sea, spoke to me of oceans and time, and seemed perfectly suited for Jensen and Anders’ continuing story. I was able to weave the design into the story in ways that brought the whole tale to life. I hope you agree. (The cover art quilt for Daybreak is by Elena Stokes, and was photographed by the artist. You can visit her website to see more of her work at www.elenastokes.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/elena.stokes.art.)
I’m sure some folks wonder why I would put a quilt on the front of a fiction novel instead of a character or a sketch of Maren’s old house, Peter’s bonfire, or any one of the beautiful scenes from Minnesota or Denmark that unfold in the course of the book. But to me, the quilts say it all. Quilts were the inspiration for these stories. The plot revolves around them. The characters are defined by them and shine because of their existence. In both Night & Day and Daybreak, the quilts connect the generations across oceans and time through each precise stitch – a miraculous labor of love, and the gift of a special artistry known only to quilters.
Even after all these years, when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark, somewhere, a night owl like me is quilting.
Someone else is fast asleep under a quilt stitched by a mother or grandmother who loved them. Someone on the other side of the world is crawling out from under the covers, ready to face the dawn of a new day, and someone else is sitting cross-legged on a quilt, writing in her journal, and falling in love. Crazy quilts of life – God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces, leftovers and scraps. So do the hands of quilters.
Now off to bed, sleepy heads.
(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, quilt, decorate vintage homes, and travel. Her new release, DAYBREAK, is the long awaited sequel to her very first book, NIGHT & DAY. Both books are full of quilting imagery and sage sayings.)