The Hands That Quilt

A Story {and Collection} by Pat Houck

Local quilter, Patsy Houck captures the unique relationship of quilter with the quilt by photographing quilts with the hands that have made them. The stories of these quilts and their creators are associated with the Lee County Quilters organization and are made with love and care. Many of these quilts and quilters can be seen at local quilt exhibits in Lee County, VA throughout the year. 


*****The photos here are of local Lee County, VA quilters and their work. Out of respect to the artists and their work reproduction of these photos or any part of this page is prohibited. ******

THE HANDS THAT QUILT- A Story by Pat Houck

Handmade quilts are a part of my life.  As far back as I can remember, quilts have been there.

Patsy's story pic 2
A Warm Morning coal stove which heated our home

Quilts have offered me warmth on cold winter nights in the home where I grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s in Ewing, Virginia (Lee County).  Snuggling beneath the quilts my Mother made, I gave no thought to the fact our home wasn’t centrally heated.  I knew my Father would let the fire in the “Warm Morning” coal stove, the one used to provide limited heating to our home, die down for the night.  He did this to provide safety for his family while everyone slept soundly, without fear of the stove overheating and burning down the house.  But, I don’t remember being cold, because I slept beneath my Mother’s quilts.

Quilts have offered me entertainment.  A quilt “set up” on racks while being quilted offers an ideal place for a child to play or read.  And, while playing or reading under a quilt which has been set up, the child has the opportunity to look up through the three layers of the quilt, the backing, the batting, and the quilt top, and observe the colored squares of fabric which have been sewn together.  Looking up through the layers to the light above the quilt is much like looking through clouded stained glass windows.  I know of what I speak because as a child I experienced this and my grandson, Theodore, experienced it too as a child - under one of my quilts.

Quilts have offered me an insight into recycling.  I observed my Mother recycling long before it became the thing to do in order to protect our world.  Scraps of fabric from dresses no longer of any value were used to make up her patchwork quilts.  Tiny scraps of fabric, seemingly of no value whatsoever, were placed with other small scraps and the result was a piece of art using fabric as the medium.

Patsy's Quilt
the quilt my Mother made for me

Quilts have offered me security.  The home where I grew up had a covered porch attached to the side of the house which faced South.  On Summer afternoons when storm clouds gathered above the Appalachian Mountain ridges surrounding our home, I would take one of my Mother’s quilts to the glider which sat on the porch.  There, beneath the soft fabric, feeling no fear, I watched as the storm approached.  To this day, I can go back in my memory to experience the coolness of the summer breeze, to see the clouds and lightning, to hear the thunder in the distance, and the rain on the metal roof.

Quilts have offered me peace.  Nine years ago, at this writing, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I’m not a very brave person.  Upon hearing the news, I was devastated.  In order to try to combat the fear that consumed me, I found, in my hymnal,  the words to my favorite hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.”  I curled up in the corner of my living room sofa and covered myself with one of my quilts.  I cried.  I prayed.  I read the words, “Fear not, I am with thee.  Oh be not dismayed for I am thy God, I will still give thee aid.  I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”  Through those assuring words, while sitting under my quilt which offered warmth and peace, I managed to come out of that dark valley, and go on my journey toward recovery.

Patsy's story pic
A picture of my grandson at the age of 4 years with one of my quilts

Quilts have offered me joy.  I’m not financially wealthy so I’m not able to bestow lavish gifts upon those I love.  However, I can make things with my hands and I have received great joy in making quilts and giving them to very special people in my life.  To know that my grandson, Theodore, sleeps under quilts I made for him, just as I slept under my Mother’s guilts, feels my heart with joy which has a tendency to spill over into my eyes.  To see my 11 year old great great niece, Hannah Rose, and my 7 year old great great nephew, Grant Patrick,  who live in Michigan arrive at my home for a visit, carrying the quilts I made for them in their hands, because they cannot bear to sleep without them, floods me with joy unspeakable.

 My Mother, Vola Elizabeth Brooks Thomas taken in 1960, the year she finished my quilt
My Mother, Vola Elizabeth Brooks Thomas taken in 1960, the year she finished my quilt

Quilts have offered me love and the memory of my Mother’s hands.  During the Winter of 1959-60 when I was a senior at Thomas Walker High School in Ewing, my Mother began working on a quilt, the pattern of which is “A Trip Around the World.”  Using scraps of fabric she carefully cut small squares and sewed them together.  When the quilt top was finished she placed it on top of a layer of muslin fabric (domestic) with a layer of Mountain Mist Cotton between the layers, and she quilted it and gave it to me.  As I have grown older and wiser I have come to realize more, the personal value of the quilt.  To me, of course, it is priceless.  It isn’t the most beautiful quilt ever made (well, to me it is) but it represents my Mother’s work and her hands.  It’s a part of her and it is and will remain a part of me.


Below are photos of other hands that quilt from the Lee County area that Mrs. Houck has collected from fellow quilters. 

Other Stories

Valerie Smith Miklozek ’s  with her family Dutch Doll Quilt
Click on the photo to read about Valerie's family tradition

Valerie's story of her families Dutch Doll quilt  chronicles another Lee County native who family and women have a strong connection to the quilting tradition.