Yesterday, I saw a posting by a cousin announcing the birth of his grandson. He boasted about there now being four generations of men in his family that were alive. That announcement made me think about the family tree quilt.
This year my mother’s side of the family had a family reunion. I made a family tree quilt that was part of our opening night activities. I started the quilt during a week I spent in South Carolina and it was a conversation starter. Each branch of the tree is embroidered with the name of one of my great grandfather’s children. Yes, there were 15 children so this tree has 15 branches! I tried to put the branches in birth order, but that posed a problem. No one knew the birth order for two of the children who had died during their childhood. All those who might know the birth order had passed away. All that is known is that one had died falling off a wagon. Although the branches are not in the proper order, the appearance of their names on this quilt signifies that they did exist.
At the reunion each member in attendance wrote their first name and birth year on a green piece of fabric. The piece of fabric was then cut into a leaf shape and tacked on the quilt on the appropriate branch of the family. It was an exciting activity! Leaves were created for members who couldn’t attend. Young teen cousins cut the precious green leaves. My elderly aunts and other cousins helped me tack the leaves to the quilt. My favorite moment was looking over and watching my first cousins with their nieces meticulously arrange their family leaves around my deceased aunt’s leaf and tack them on the branch belonging to my grandmother.
This quilt has triggered so many conversations, bringing forth so much family history in hilarious stories and sad stories. I cut 200 scraps of fabric for the reunion and we ran out of leaves! It was so important to those at the reunion to create leaves for their family members who couldn’t attend or who had passed away. I will be having conversations over the next year with cousins to make sure to create a leave for each family member. Some branches on the quilt will be bare. One of my great aunts did not have any children of her own, but she helped to raise many nieces, nephews, and great nieces and great nephews. We all adored her, so her bare branch does not represents emptiness because her life was filled with love.
My last remaining great aunt will be the keeper of the family tree quilt. We have so many leaves to add to the quilt and I will take time to quilt the layers together. Although I constructed the quilt by machine, I am thinking about actually doing the quilting by hand because that is the way my grandmother did it. We have a family reunion every two years and the quilt will appear at each reunion so that new leaves for the babies born since the last reunion can be added. A new family tradition!