Patchwork quilt ties family members together
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Damman Hardware.
Nearly two years after losing her husband in 2004, Paula Finkelstein attended a quilt exhibit at the Southfield Public Library. It was during the time when she was “in the process of trying to figure out” what to do with all his things.
A resident of Southfield at the time, Finkelstein was drawn to the artistry showcased in the work of one quilter in particular — Muriel Jacobs, who’d attached her business card to her quilts.
Finkelstein, who has since moved to Walled Lake, knew she wanted something made with Jack’s clothes — something warm she could wrap herself in for comfort — so the idea of having a quilt made using his ties suddenly “clicked.”
She later contacted Jacobs, who told her she’d never made a quilt using ties, but she’d been quilting a long time. So, Finkelstein gave her around 40 of her husband’s ties, which were mostly silk and cotton. “Some were ties from the 1950s, and some were from Thailand. He referred to those as his ‘Thai ties,’” she said, laughingly.
“He really favored neutral colors, so for us (she and their four children) to get him to wear these decorative colors was a real accomplishment. She (the quilter) also took his bathrobe ties, so in case I wanted to hang it over my shoulders, I could tie it on like a cape.”
Finkelstein said the quilter used the ties just as they were, without any cleaning process — undoing the stitches and ironing each flat in preparation for the project. “Then, she made her design and took the ties and put them together the way she envisioned” the quilt.
The finished piece combines hand-stitching, a small doily, fabric labels, an embroidered “J,” pockets, yo-yos, randomly pieced fabric in a variety of shapes, textures, and sizes, along with tiny three-dimensional mementos of Jack’s life. Also, inside one pocket is a ticket from a 1977 Detroit Tigers game.
The decorative quilt measures 48 by 34.5 inches, and lends itself to being a “crazy quilt,” a centuries-old patchwork covering thought to have been made popular in North America. The back is one solid color, except for a few items used as embellishments.
“It’s such a tremendous work of art. When I wake up in the morning, I look at this quilt and I just want to cry because it’s so beautiful,” said Finkelstein. “It hangs on the wall in my bedroom. We found a dowel rod and used hangers. I see it every morning when I wake up, and at night when I go to bed.”
Speaking by phone, Finkelstein enthused, “I just opened a little pocket in the quilt and found his Masonic ring and driver’s license. And, there’s a patch from his Army shirt, buttons from his dress shirts, charms, and a pin from Damman Hardware for his 20 years of service.”
And, speaking of Damman Hardware, Finkelstein may very well have been attracted to Jacob’s work at that Southfield exhibit because — as they say, — “Some things are just meant to be!”
Finkelstein said, “Her husband knew my husband! She was meant to be the one to make this quilt for me!” As it turns out, the quilter and her husband were regular customers at the Damman Hardware where Jack worked at the time of his death. Finkelstein said, “She (the quilter) said she wondered why she hadn’t seen him in the store.”
Describing Jacob’s attention to detail as a “labor of love” that took two months to complete, Finkelstein said having the quilt means “everything” to her. “It keeps him with me every single day. My kids, they were pretty grown when he passed, but it gives them comfort, as well as me. It’s such a beautiful piece of artwork. It’s just so magnificent. It’s a quilt/wall hanging. That’s how I decided to use it when I moved into my condo. It’s better than any wall hanging I’ve ever had.”
As to which of their children will inherit this treasured family heirloom when she’s no longer here, Finkelstein said, “They’re all designated as equal sharers.”
And since not all of Jack’s ties were included in the quilt, Finkelstein finds consolation in wearing the ones that were “leftover” — not only as ties, but headbands and belts, as well.
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.