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Reviving Grandmother’s Quilt – Around The Frame

Born Again Quilts started out the New Year with a visit from Bob Kokovay who brought in a quilt wondering if there was any way for it to be “Born Again”. As I looked it over and he remarked on the damage, he gave the impression that he thought there was little hope for it. I could tell the quilt meant a lot to him, so after completing the “quilt autopsy” I looked at him and asked, “so do you mind if I give it a haircut”? He was taken aback by the question, so I showed him that if the four borders were removed, 90% of its issues would be resolved. I asked him if it was important for it to be as original as possible and he said “Yes, because my great-grandmother made it for my mother.” That was good to know because the blocks were made of now faded shades of purple and pink, and it would be nearly impossible to find fabric to match. The borders were not very wide and out of proportion with the rest of the quilt. They looked more like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the quilt. Bob left his quilt in our care to remove the borders leaving about a half inch behind that would be covered up when the new binding was applied.

Sylvia (Huett) Kokovay Weston’s quilt made by her Grandmother Irene Cora Johnson for her 1966 graduation from Concordia High School.

By the end of the month, Bob was back with his girlfriend’s young son Elliott. First, I showed Bob and Elliott the border pieces. They were amazed at just how ugly they were, and Bob couldn’t get over just how beautiful the quilt looked without them. He wondered where the binding fabric came from because it so closely matched the original. He learned that sometimes we get in comforters that are knotted too far apart and when they were washed, the batting would shift and ball up. We would need to take them apart to replace the batting and back fabric. We inspect the back fabrics and use them to create vintage bindings!

Bob explained to Elliott and me the significance of the quilt: It was made for his mother, Sylvia (Huett) Kokovay Weston by her grandmother Irene Cora (Rapp) Johnson. Irene was born in 1901, in Arcola, Ind. She was married to Fred Johnson in 1920 and they raised three children Mary, Robert and Gerald. A traditional homemaker, Irene loved to crochet, embroider, and quilt. Sylvia was the oldest grandchild and in the Spring of 1965 Sylvia and her grandmother had a casual talk about her high school graduation; Sylvia jokingly asked for a quilt as a graduation present. Since she wouldn’t graduate until Spring of 1966 her grandmother would have the time to create it. Grandma Johnson allowed Sylvia to choose the fabric colors and design from her various quilt pamphlets but was not allowed to see the quilt in progress. A year later after graduating from Concordia High School, she was presented the quilt at her party by her grandmother. Sylvia was amazed with its beauty and hand quilting. Grandma Johnson not only gifted Sylvia the quilt, but also gifted her with the love of needlework by teaching her how to quilt baby blankets and crochet.

In 1968 Sylvia married her high school sweetheart Bob Kokovay, and the quilt found its way to their bed. They were blessed with two children Robert Jr. and Karen, but their joyful union was short-lived, as her soulmate died of a massive heart attack in 1979 at the age of 32 when her children were 9 and 7 years old.
For many years the quilt was on her bed until the early 2000s when it was faded, stained and torn, so she decided to put it away while it still had some life left in it. In 2006 Sylvia found love again when she met Rick Weston at the funeral of her brother Robert. Robert was a barber and Rick was a loyal customer: they married in 2008!

Four years ago, Sylvia gave her son the quilt. Robert Jr. didn’t know what to do with it in its present condition. In late 2021, he was at Parkview Hospital for some tests and struck up a conversation with a woman. Somehow, the conversation turned to quilts, and he told her of his mother’s graduation quilt made by her grandmother and its woeful condition. She told him he needed to take it to Born Again Quilts and let them restore it for him and that’s exactly what he did! Although the quilt is much better, it still has numerous stains. I explained to Bob, that they could be removed or at least lightened, but the process calls for strong sunlight. Hopefully soon the days will be sunny and I will see this beautiful quilt again with Sylvia in tow!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mothers and Mother-figures we hold dear and Congratulation to all the Grads!

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