Piecing a Community

By Joan Logghe
Issue 128 – January/February 2005

2003: Parents old and new assembling Amelia Knight's quilt in Chimayo, New Mexico.For three decades, a circle of northern New Mexico mothers has welcomed new babies with handcrafted quilts.

Since the 1970s, a group of women from Chimayó, New Mexico, and environs—the back-to-the-land, homebuilding, and hippie community—have been welcoming each new baby with a quilt. In 1976 I was still living in Nambe but had gotten to know this tribe by way of belly-dancing classes. In fact, my second child, Matthew Samuel, was conceived after a night of belly dancing.

I was sitting in my little adobe house when Laura Abrums pulled up. I could have been nursing, or have just carried water in, or been encouraging Corina, age two, to use the potty. Life was basic and elemental and quite happy, as I recall. Laura had baby Gabriel in arms, along with a quilt for Matt. I was stunned with surprise. I finally had arrived. I thought the Chimayó women were definitely more community-based and hip.

The women of Chimayó have welcomed at least 30 babies with funky, original, and tied (not quilted) blankets. In 1985, when I had my third child, Hope, I was invited to the quilting. We hated to lose the wonderful surprise element, like having Christmas carolers show up at your postpartum sanctuary, but we felt that new mothers were an isolated lot and would love the company and potluck lunch. The potluck is the mark of our having moved out west, away from back east, where caterers might have been called. Most of us Anglo neo-hip quilters came from a coast or even another continent—Nicole Plett still has England in her accent and the good penmanship of Europe. Robin Reider, Laura Abrums, and Barb Sydoriak are native New Mexicans. And in the 1980s I became the unofficial archivist of our quilting tradition by inviting everyone to bring their quilts to my house so I could photograph them. Sixteen quilts hung on my clothesline as I documented both our art and our kids.

Thirty years deep, we now have made six quilts for our grandchildren: Aiden Roberts, Galen Haynes, Kale Andre Rodar, Cole Hughes, Amelia Knight, and Logan Roberts, with Zen Reider Brooks in the wings. Oddly, many of our children have settled in Chimayó or other parts of New Mexico. Even the transplants—these kids I knew from birth, or taught poetry to at the sadly defunct, 100-year-old John Hyson Presbyterian Mission School in Chimayó—have taken root. They are my other kids. We built our own houses, formed playgroups and natural food co-ops, shared cider pressings and phone calls. We took walks, mourned lost marriages or a burned-down house, swam in the Santa Cruz nude, and partied every Christmas Eve at the Abrums’ house. We watched each other transform from stay-at-home mothers into working professionals—computer scientist, seamstress, journalist, nurse, weaver and Peace Corps volunteer, poet, teacher, librarian, office administrator, piano teacher, business owner, and angel. At least one of the women has passed away, but I remember her bent over the nearly finished quilt not long before her death, tying the last knots. We surfed the changes long before we surfed the Internet and met only on e-mail. Quilt squares arrived from Nicole in New Jersey, or from Kenya, where Robin Reider was in the Peace Corps. Now I find myself at the machine sewing seams all day, when I used to be the bossy, lazy one.

I think we are a success story in community. These baby quilts are a document, a manual history of our love and respect for one another. At the last quilting, I found myself beside my daughter as the main seamstress. I saw my friends showing our daughters how to do it: This is how we cut all the squares evenly. This is how we decide on the arrangement of squares. This is how we miter the corners. By the time we were sitting around Laura’s table tying the quilt, the easy silence, the depth of our friendship, and the beauty of our gift were obvious. “This is family,” new mother Dana said, and we all felt that the beauty harvested from our sixties vision was upon us.

For instructions on how to make a quilt with the fringe benefit of community, visit www.mothering.com/sections/extras/quilt.html
Allow five or six hours to gather for quilt day, and don’t forget the potluck lunch. Voilà! Be happy. Take photos!

Joan Logghe is a nationally recognized poet and Mothering’s poetry editor.

Photo by Joan Logghe.