Finding therapy in quilting projects

“What you are is God’s gift to you; what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” ~ George Washington Carver

As we ring in 2005, one of Gilroy’s most well-known quilters, 94-year-old Annabel Sawyer Kropff, has a very vivid memory: “I remember where I was sitting the first time I had to write the year ‘1920;’ all my life the date had been in the teens, and then suddenly it became ‘1920;’ it was a strange feeling.”

She began quilting at the age of 10, using leftover scraps of cloth. Tiny block patterns were printed in the newspaper in the 1930s and ’40s. There were no copy machines back then for enlarging an image, so Annabel would cut the designs out, and then calculate how to enlarge them from one half inch to four inches or more by using a grid system. The quilts were made of a hundred different patterns, colors, and designs – different memories and different stories all woven together.

Quilting took on new meaning in her life when Annabel broke her arm in a bad fall in July 2001, and the doctor put it in a cast that stretched from above the elbow all the way down her arm and encased part of her right hand. At first all she could do was wiggle two fingers, but she couldn’t move her thumb. There would be no quilting without the use of her thumb. She began to experiment, and although she couldn’t put two fingers together, she found she could run a sewing machine with her left hand.

Little by little, she began to get movement back as she worked on the squares for her next quilt. It was very painful, but she knew that with arthritis and her badly damaged arm and hand, the only cure was to keep moving.

The movement required by scissors was very therapeutic and began to strengthen her hand. She worked diligently for more than a year, and when she was done, she had created a quilt for each one of her beloved great-grandchildren – 21 beautiful quilts in all. In the one year it took to create the quilts, her hand had healed, movement had returned to her thumb, and she had regained her dexterity.

Last year Annabel quilted individual lap robes for each of her 13 grandchildren. Then she made a special signature quilt. Seeing it as a way to draw people together, she asked people in her church to bring signatures and squares of cloth, and she sewed each name into its own panel on the quilt.

The last time I wrote about Annabel, I was surprised when she called me over to visit and made corrections to the article. For example, I assumed in the article that she had used a copy machine to blow-up quilting patterns in the 1930’s-the only problem is, commercial Xerox machines were not available until 1960.

I’ve always wanted to update her story and get it right. Now, due to a compression fracture of two vertebra in her back, Annabel is in a lot of pain and hasn’t been able to enjoy her usual activities. Her family hopes that once again, a quilting project will be just the therapy she needs. I think this time I’ve gotten my facts straight – I imagine Annabel will let me know.

I hope she does.