The advent of registries has taken a lot of the hassle out of buying wedding gifts, but also a lot of the charm. Sure, the happy couple isn’t going to end up with three toasters, but registries leave little room for the handmade, the heartfelt and the personal. A wedding quilt is one way to bridge the distance between sentiment and practicality.

“How often do you go back and look at a wedding guest book?” says Susie Freese of Susie Sews in Eureka. “You use a quilt every day.”

Freese spreads one of her creations out on the living room floor. Designed in a star pattern, it contains messages and well-wishes from the guests in each of the squares. Freese uses a special technique where the messages — written on slips of paper at the wedding — are photocopied onto fabric and then sewn into the quilt. She says she gets a kick out of reading them.

“A lot of times there are inside jokes and things that are special to the couple.”

On the back of the quilt there’s a copy of the wedding invitation, sewn like a tag into one corner. Freese, who has been quilting professionally since 2005, says that she creates wedding quilts for friends and family as gifts, but charging for the fabric and labor would be cost-prohibitive for many couples. A hand-made quilt can easily sell for $600.

click to enlarge Wedding quilt. - AMBER AND PAUL WOODWORTH
  • Amber and Paul Woodworth
  • Wedding quilt.
“It’s easier to make them and give them away,” she says, adding that she swaps advice and fabric with other would-be quilters. Patterns for wedding quilts can be as unique as the couple themselves: wreathes, clouds, squares, flowers. The traditional Double Wedding Ring pattern is rarely seen today, Freese says, as it’s a time-consuming process. To illustrate, she brings out an older quilt, sewn by hand half a century ago. The stitches are tiny, sewn by hand in loops that bind and circle each other, echoing the cut of the contrasting fabric.

“When people tell me they’re going to sew a Double Wedding Ring quilt for their daughter’s wedding I usually laugh,” says Freese. “It’s a long process and a lot of people get frustrated and stop. Also, it doesn’t usually lay flat on the bed.”

She tugs at the corners of the quilt on the floor. The fabric is slightly humped around the stitches, a hazard of this particular pattern. Freese adds that sometimes couples will want pieces of their wedding dress in the quilt pattern, which also tends to make the quilt buckle instead of laying flat. Using bits of fabric that are personal to the quilt’s recipient is a nice touch, she says, as long as they’re aware that that fabric might not hold up as well as the kinds professional quilters usually use.

Ultimately, Freese says that while wedding quilts can be beautiful and meaningful, they’re meant to be used, not just looked at.

“A quilt should die a slow death,” she says.

Paul and Amber Woodworth, who married in 2000, fall asleep under their wedding quilt every night, and it’s slowly starting to show signs of wear.

The quilt was organized and pieced together by Paul’s mother Rosalind (Lyndi) Woodworth, who recruited family members and fellow quilters to sew each of the squares. The quilt was a surprise gift. The couple were living with their extended family in Dinsmore on the year before their wedding, and Amber recalls coming home from work every evening and asking her mother-in-law to be what she’d done during the day.

click to enlarge Detail - AMBER AND PAUL WOODWORTH
  • Amber and Paul Woodworth
  • Detail
“She would say, ‘Oh nothing,’” says Amber, laughing. Meanwhile, Lyndi and relatives across the country were busily stitching away at the pattern, which consists of 35 unique pictoral squares from an antique applique pattern. On the back of the quilt Lyndi sewed the names of who had contributed each square. Once the quilt was finished she took a picture and made notecards on which the quilt’s contributors could write messages for the couple. She presented the quilt and the notecards to Paul and Amber just after their ceremony.

Amber says they were touched beyond description.

“It was a total surprise,” she says. “And we use it every day.”

The quilt is especially precious to Paul and Amber as Lyndi lost her battle with cancer in 2009.

She was busy, Amber says, right up until the very end, sewing quilts for her children and grandchildren.

Trousseaus, wedding gifts and registries serve a common function: to prepare a new couple for a united life. In marriage, possessions are merged along with last names and family histories. But in an era where we increasingly have more and more stuff, and where couples often have everything they might possibly need for a new household, gift-giving can be a challenge. We want to give a new couple something that speaks to our best wishes for their marriage. We want them to feel warm and sheltered, and supported by the love of their community. A wedding quilt is something tangible that embodies all of those wishes. Like marriage, it’s an everyday art.
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About The Author

Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry was a staff writer of the North Coast Journal from 2015 to 2018. She is a frequent contributor the the Journal and our other publications.

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