Scouring antique shops and flea markets it is a real find to unearth a friendship quilt. Popular in the 1800s these autographed quilts are a snapshot of the women who made it and the woman the quilt honors.

Friendship quilts were often presented to parson’s wives off to their next parish or family members leaving for a new opportunity in another state. Knowing they may never see each other again, the friendship quilt becomes a memory piece for the recipient.

A few years ago contemplating turning 40 (November 7!), I decide to make a friendship quilt to mark the milestone. Instead of having friends and family ply me with the usual BIG 4-0 gifts: gray-be-gone, gut-be-gone etc.; I sent them an invitation to the longest birthday celebration ever! I request each friend and family member to “present me” with a piece of 9” x 9” cotton fabric. Their contribution would become a part of a quilt I would fashion over the winter and unveil at a celebration the following August at the Eubank lake cottage.

The fabric pieces start to pour in. Some in the birthday cards, others in the Christmas greetings. All sorts of novelty prints-shoe fabric from the podiatrist, teddy bears from the teddy bear collector, piano fabric from the composer, a scrap of fabric from a dress worn on a first-date over fifty years ago… And the cat fabrics!

An elongated octagon pattern is designed. I refer to it as the “brick of life/the stone of death.” The long sides butt together with small purple diamonds to give the eye relief. Dark, light, bright and dull fabrics need to be balanced to bring the quilt to life. Even in May pieces of fabric find their way into the quilt. 113 friends/family two woofers and our two fur children are forever memorialized.

My son Robert assisting in the arrangement comments, “This fabric has a fish bowl, put it next to the cats so they can watch the fish.”

The hand quilting becomes a marathon. The quilt frame is set up at the lake for weekend quilting. The two fur children can’t contain their excitement-lake nature and their favorite hammock-what more could one meow for?

The day of the celebration arrives. The quilt is sandwiched between sheets on the clothesline. My quilt friends speculate: Is it done? How big is it? Everyone gathers the quilt is unveiled to gasps! To the casual observer the double-size quilt is complete! Father Edward Erpelding blesses the quilt and the people gathered.

Then it is my turn to speak. I reveal a long thread hanging from the border. The quilt is unfinished. Like all of us gathered we have perhaps someone we need to forgive, or someone we need to reach out to. Birthdays serve as a milestone that life is short; don’t take it for granted.

During the celebration between eating and swimming everyone writes their name and the year of their birth behind their piece.

Today we gather and celebrate a friend. Sometime soon Bob will write “2010” on his dear Nancy’s block. Her block complete, her spirit lives; memory eternal!

This article is dedicated to the memory of Nancy Jo Gorman and all the Friendship Quilt friends and family members who no longer walk the earth.

Do you have a quilt story you would like to share? Contact Lois at 515-9446 or on the Web at

Lois Levihn

She is the author of the "Around the Frame" quilting column. She is a graduate of Wayne HS. Quilts have always been important to her, she loves the stories surrounding them, the techniques used in making them, & restoring them. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer