Monday, March 12, 2018

That One Person

Audrey Gayhart, the real treasure

I think most of us can think back to a particular person who was instrumental in setting us on a fortuitous path. As far as my quilting is concerned, that person would be Audrey Gayhart, who I recently learned had died at 81 years of age, surrounded by her pets and her quilts. Audrey is one of those friends who I exchanged Christmas greetings with, a once a year chance for us to catch up once we no longer lived close to each other. And when I didn't hear from her this last Christmas, I feared the worst. Fortunately, her daughter snagged my card and wrote me a lovely note to break the news, including Audrey's obituary and funeral card from which I've scanned these images.

Our Wisconsin "Cabin in the Woods"

Audrey and I first met at her guild's quilt show that was held in an historic home in Menomonie, WI. My husband and I had recently moved to Wisconsin, had a home built on 6 acres out in the country, and since I no longer had to work, my days were filled learning all I could about quilts and how to make them. 

The loft became my first dedicated sewing space - big enough to set up a full-size quilting frame and a ping pong table as a work table

I'd dabble enough in it before the move to realize this is what I wanted to put all my creative effort towards, sorry previously interesting cross-stitch, needlepoint, knitting and the like. I checked out books from the library, watched quilting shows on PBS, pored over the few quilting magazines available at the time. There in those magazines, I found information about quilt shows I could enter (this was prior to the availability of information on the internet that we are now so accustomed to), and as I honed my skills, I got brave enough to send quilts off to shows far and wide, gaining valuable feedback from the judging sheets. And of course, I kept my eye out for local exhibits like this guild show where I could see quilts up close and watch demonstrations. But if anyone asked me about my quilting, I'd blush and refer to myself as a closet quilter, not confident enough in what I was doing to admit to it in public.

But I was curious about this guild thing, picking up a flyer on my way out to see where this group met and when. This is when Audrey, sitting with a few other members on the porch of this lovely house, struck up a conversation with me. I believe I deflected her warm invitation to come to a meeting by saying, "I don't know, I'm sort of a closet quilter," at which I believe she said with a smile, "Well, maybe it's time to come out of the closet." I remember her as quiet and non-threatening and gently coaxing as she encouraged me to come to a meeting, assuring me that I would enjoy it and that I'd like the gals in the group. And please, she added, call me if you have any questions or need directions. Turned out she lived on a farm not all that far from me, on the way to the little town where the guild met. Oooooh, I don't KNOW, all my insecurities cried. But in the end, I made the 40 minute drive on back roads to attend a meeting, and Audrey stayed right by me to be sure I felt at home and included.

View from our property - a long ways from anywhere

I was active in this guild for probably less than a year, personal plans radically changing which required us to move out of the area. But I learned so much from these gals, had so much fun at the meetings, and probably best of all, gained confidence that I was indeed a quilter, and a pretty good one at that. Audrey and the Hearts and Hands Guild drew me out of my closet and showed me the social side of quilting which I would continue to pursue. And Audrey continued to impress me, not only with her quilting skills but her people skills, in the way she gently but firmly kept things on track during meetings and made sure no one felt slighted or embarrassed or too proud of their skills at the expense of others.

Wyoming Valley Star Exchange Block Quilt before quilting in 1995, completed December 1996

One of the activities this group introduced me to was block exchanges, an opportunity to work with a particular block which everyone else involved in the exchange was making and maybe be lucky enough to win those blocks, enough to make a quilt out of. I was nearly out the door when the last exchange was announced, and I felt since I'd committed to the exchanges for a designated period, I should take part in this last exchange even if I was gone. So I asked that they send me all the information and I'd send a block to fulfill my obligation. In this exchange, each person was assigned a color to use and mine was yellow. I wasn't happy with how it came out and remember thinking, I'd better remake this, in case I win the blocks, and so I made a better version to submit. I was very surprised and extremely happy that I actually did win the blocks. Fate or rigged? It was supposed to be a blind drawing, but I accused them of rigging it so I'd win the blocks as a remembrance of the guild. They did not deny it!

Audrey's block

The nice thing about the way this exchange was set up was that it was based on a finished quilt design, which we would not see until the blocks went to the winner. Not only did you get a set of blocks, but you would get the directions for finishing the quilt, and in my case, I think they even sent me the muslin for the sashings. All I had to do was make those smaller stars with fabrics from my stash (so fun going through all my fabric to pick just the right ones.) Each block was labeled with the maker's name, so I decided I would quilt a cartouche in the sashing under each block and ink in the maker's name, and elsewhere on the front, I added the guild information. I hadn't yet gotten into machine quilting so this special quilt got the hand quilting treatment. I've never used it, only folding it to drape over a rocking chair. But since moving to my latest digs, I've had no room for that chair, instead placing the quilt folded on a cedar chest in the bedroom, where it is often covered with discarded clothes. So I haven't really looked at it for a long time. Still, when I uncovered it to photograph Audrey's block, I knew right away which one was hers, which I find rather remarkable. I've lost touch with the others in this guild although some names do spark a memory or a face. Audrey has always been the constant link.

Audrey's Twin Brook Farm
Before moving, I did go out to Audrey's "Twin Brook Farm" that she spoke so lovingly about, viewed her quilts, her sewing room, listened as she described farm life as we gazed out the kitchen window. It would give me the visuals I'd use for years as Audrey recapped her experiences and family news and updated me on guild activities and members every Christmas. I am, understandably, sad she is gone (although she lost her husband the previous year and had health issues of her own so there's a little bit of blessing for her in her passing). I know that these last few years, she was very concerned about her UFO's and what would become of her many finished quilted items. I could relate, even though Audrey was quite a bit older than me and I theoretically have more time to work. Tick tock, time relentlessly moves on and we quilters have so many quilts we want to make, (and often so many made that we don't quite know what to do with). Thank goodness for people like Audrey, who encourage us down that path and continue to inspire and support us right to the end. Maybe someone else later on would have eventually drawn me out of my closet quilter mentality, but I am so thankful that it was Audrey with her lovely smile and gentle way, and thankful for the friendship she extended and maintained over the miles and the years. She's that one person who nudged me along when I needed it, up the path I'd tentatively started on that led me to where I am today. Job well done, Audrey, not just with me but with so many quilters' lives that you touched.   


Anonymous said...

How very fortunate you are to have had Audrey come into your life! She sounds like a lovely lady & I'm so sorry for your loss. Bring that special quilt out where you can admire it every day & think of your dear friend.
Jan in WY

The Idaho Beauty said...

You are so right, Jan. I could even sleep under it now that I don't have pets.

The Inside Stori said...

I loved every word of your trip down memory lane. It’s wonderful to acknowledge those special people who help mold us. Our group just did a little guessing game “name the person who infuenced your life the most”. As well as we all know each other…..there was laughter and tears and the stories unfolded. Yours was extra sweet given that I know the Menomonie area well….the roots of my husband’s family…though the Stori rooming house and Stori theater are long gone.

Sherrie Spangler said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend Audrey. I loved reading more about your story and especially seeing the photos of your cabin and Audrey's farm, which both look like paintings they're so beautiful.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thank you, Mary and Sherrie. It really was a storybook experience finding that piece of land in a beautiful part of the countryside and building the kind of house WE most wanted. And especially my having all that latitude to finally thoroughly explore quilting and the techniques that would make me the quilter I became. The more I think back to those first couple of years in WI before we moved away to another part of the state, the more I realize I made a LOT of quilts, both big and small, more in retrospect than I would have thought I could. And everything was HAND QUILTED, even the charity quilts I made, which I noticed I called "Penance Quilts". I'd forgotten that designation, but I now remember the thinking was since I'd been given this gift of time to quilt, I really needed to show my thankfulness by spending some of that time making quilts for those in some kind of need, doing penance. I need to get back into that groove again!