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Preserving Catholic Traditions for Tomorrow's Faithful

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Prayer Quilts

Works of Art - Works of Faith 

Prayer Quilts ê Where to Find Christian Themed Fabric ê Jesus and Virgin Mary Fabric

Angel Fabric ê Cross, Scripture, Christian Motif Fabric ê Children's Fabrics

Some Quilts I've Made for Family and Friends  - Quilting Fabric for Sale

December 26, 2008 - The day after Christmas is an odd day to start a new web page on prayer quilts. Perhaps not. This is a year tailor made for simplicity in all things, particularly gift giving. Yesterday was not only Christmas, but also my sister Joan's birthday. My oldest sister, Lillian, will celebrate her birthday on December 28th. My idea of simplicity was to give gifts of quilts that I made.

I've always loved textiles and fiber art. My fascination grew as a small child sitting near my mother, Mary, exploring colorful scraps of fabric and embroidery while her Singer sewing machine hummed, spinning out dresses and aprons for her four daughters and some for our dolls, too. She created drapes and slipcovers. She knit and crocheted endless afghans and baby buntings for a growing roster of grandchildren. Except for a single Cathedral Windows pillow cover, she never really quilted. A prayerful Catholic woman, I know that countless Hail Mary's were prayed for each child with every stitch. God knows we all needed them. I suppose, in a way, all of her creations were a version of the prayer quilt.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Quilt 

See Artist's Quilting Journal

About a year ago, I was searching the internet for  ecclesiastical textiles. The returns on my search didn't yield exactly what I was looking for, so I tried different words - religious fabric, Catholic fabric, Christian fabric. A new world opened.

I discovered the most beautiful Our Lady of Guadalupe panels (shown above). Anxious to find more, I started searching for Virgin Mary fabric. I found more and soon started building what is called a stash - as I learned from my friend, Diane.

These prints would make beautiful banners for prayer rooms and Marian processions. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of the Pro-Life Movement and these panels seemed perfect for making baby quilts for women who have the courage to say yes to life. And why not make a small quilt for the mama's-to-be? I searched the internet for images of Virgin Mary quilts. Women all over the world were creating magnificent works of art and faith.

Below is a small sampling of what I found.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Pillows

Adoration of Our Lady of Guadalupe Picking Daisies - Click to see details

Our Lady of Guadalupe with Chilies Visit the Artist's Studio Here

Our Lady of Guadalupe Quilt from Fine Line Fiber Arts

The Search for Prayer Quilts - The designs I found were beautiful, but with very few exceptions, they were primarily wall hangings. I knew there was a movement for creating prayer shawls and lap quilts for the sick and elderly.  My friend Sharon, who served as our parish secretary before moving to South Carolina, ran a Prayer Needlework Group. They primarily made crocheted afghans for the nursing homes in our area, praying the Rosary as they worked.

What about those who are suffering from other crises, I wondered - the death of a loved one, an illness, a personal trial that shatters one's belief? The comfort of curling up under a cozy quilt covered with symbols of faith and made by someone who was praying for you had to bring God's love and great healing power into the most broken heart. I began searching for Prayer Quilts.

My search brought me to the ministries of Church women throughout the nation. What I found underscored something I've known for a while - we can learn a lot from our Protestant sisters.

Prayers & Squares is an interfaith outreach ministry that combines the gift of prayer with the gift of a hand-tied quilt. Unlike many other organizations that make quilts for charitable causes, the purpose of Prayers & Squares is not to make and distribute quilts, but to promote prayer through the use of quilts. I love their motto: "It's not about the quilt; it's all about the prayers."

As I looked through their site, there was much to learn about giving - aspects that we should know intuitively but perhaps we might have missed. Another nice site is Visit Our Simple Life  which offers a description of a prayer quilt ministry that reads like it was written by an old friend.

Sharon and the members of her Needlework Prayer group knew that it's all about the prayer, but I wondered why it wasn't possible to combine the best of both worlds: Prayers and Quilts with Christian symbolism like the Cross and Our Mother Mary.

               

Finding Christian Fabric - You certainly don't need to make an entire quilt from fabric with a religious theme, but I think it's nice to try to incorporate at least some designs into your quilt. Religious themed fabric goes in and out of stock quickly. If you find a design you like, get it before it's gone. Some of the fabric houses do reprint designs, but not too often. For example, there are only a few varieties of Our Lady of Guadalupe fabric available. I've created a separate page to help you find religious themed fabric so this page doesn't load too slowly. View it here.

My Quilting Journey Begins

The day before Thanksgiving 2007, my family and I stopped at Kohl's to look for warm jackets - and I ended up coming home with a Singer Sewing Machine instead.

My husband rolled his eyes.  He's good at it. He gets lots of practice living with me, poor dear.

The day after Thanksgiving I started to quilt - a fitting day since it was the anniversary of my mother's death.

I had no idea how to quilt, but as is the case with just about everything I do, it didn't stop me.

I started snipping away. Then I stopped.

It might not be a bad idea to take a look at quilting patterns and instructions online.  My first stop was Janet Wickell's About Quilting. Here you'll find tons of great information on quilting techniques and lots of free quilting patterns. There is also a forum with many helpful and encouraging members.

I learned about rotary cutting - a boon for those of us who were made with the "just do it" mind set and a great time-saver, too. I saw the possibilities for creating diagonal strips - resulting in the rainbow border in the quilt at the right.

I purchased my first rotary cutter and self-healing board. Ah, ha! So that's how squares and strips look when they're even!

I started sewing away. Oblivious of how the end result might look. My first quilt (right) was a riot of colors - and very uneven borders with some of the batting sticking out here and there. Not to be discouraged, I cut out little hearts from Corazones fabric and covered up the mess.

My First Quilt - Click Image to Enlarge

Details - Click to Enlarge

First Lesson Learned - When it comes to rotary cutters and self-healing boards, you get what you pay for. I didn't want to spent a lot of money when I started out, so I picked up a little starter kit at Michaels for under $20. I soon learned (a) the board was ridiculously small, (b) while it healed, it caught threads that stuck out all over, (c) the cutter was dull in no time. I ended up buying a new board and cutter by Olfa at Joanne's and they are still giving good service. Click the link below to see the set I use now. Enter the promotion code APRFSA625 for free shipping.

Olfa® Deluxe Limited Edition Rotary Cutter Set

40% Off the Regular Price of One Item at Joann.com (Code: DECA840)

 

 

About Cutting Mats and Rotary Cutters - When your grandmother and mine made quilts, they didn't use cutting mats or rotary cutters which hadn't been invented. You certainly don't need to use them either, but they help. There are some quilting books and sites that suggest that you can actually rip your fabric into strips. But using the right tools will make things neat and protect your furniture, too.

Cutting mats come in many different sizes. If you are just starting out, you don't need a huge one, but one that is at least 18" long is a good idea. Make sure it has pre-marked grids to line up the fabric for correct measurement.  If you can afford it, a larger one is better than a smaller one since you'll probably graduate to a larger one anyway. The Omnigrid Fold-Aways comes in many sizes to stow away easily and there is also a carrying case if you go to classes or a prayer quilt meeting. The opposite side is a non-stick ironing surface! The 24''X36'' Puzzle Mat Set is a simple way to tailor the size you need for your project, but it's not self-healing.

Rulers - There are lots of types of rulers in many shapes and sizes. If you're a beginner, like me, look at Omnigrid® Rotary Ruler Set . When I've gone to quilt shows there is such a dizzying array of rulers with lots of shapes. Who knows what they're for? Not me! Eventually, I'll pick up the Fons and Porter Unique Ruler CD to help me figure it all out.

Rotary Cutters - As I mentioned, you get what you pay for. This isn't a place to skimp. Joann has lots of Rotary Cutters . There's even one with a light - although I can't imagine why anyone would want to wield a razor sharp blade in the dark!

Saving Money - If all this is starting to look expensive, think about cutting the cost in half. It's easy. Use coupons for 40-50% off their purchase price! Where do you get these coupons? Most come in the flyers with your Sunday newspaper and you can easily find them online. Sign up with Joann.com to receive coupons in your email. Just type the word coupon in the search box. You can use them online or at your local store. Most coupons have the proviso that you can only use them on non-sale items and for only ONE item. We found that the local Joann's scanned the coupon and it took off 40-50% on everything! Mats, rulers and rotary cutters are almost never on sale, so your coupon will always be good.

Our local Joann's a little bit of a drive from here, so I purchase some items at Michael's. Sign up here to get coupons in your email. Just be aware that Michael's you'll only be able to buy ONE item with their regular 40-50% off coupon, so print out more if you need them and bring a friend - or just get on line again.

My second quilt

I used a different panel from the Our Lady of Guadalupe fabric. Still working with black on black for the borders, this time I used tiny crowns to represent Our Lady's Queenship, surrounded by another border of Corazones. My husband liked it, but remarked that it was awfully black for a baby. Maybe he had a point.

Detail below - click to enlarge

First Baby Quilt

I always listen to my husband (even if he doesn't think so). My quilts so far were pretty small and if they weren't going to be used as wall hangings, they were the right size for baby blankets. I selected a panel that was lighter in color and decided to add background panels of a sunrise and tossed roses. I thought I'd also add a diagonal stripe edge with a combination of roses and yellow to match the roses. The end result didn't work out as I hoped.

Clearly I had a bit to learn about color. The beautiful and cheery hues that looked so terrific in my head, somehow didn't translate too well into reality. There are a million books on color theory, but for this "just do it" brand of quilter, I needed something simpler -

"Pick, Point & Match Rainbow Color Selectors"

 

 

Three Days 

Oh. I should mention that these three attempts at quilting were completed in as many days. My wonderful husband, Rod, stopped his eye rolling. Our son, Blaze, murmured kind words.

Tentatively they asked, "What are you supposed to use these for? They're awfully small."

"Lap quilts! Church banners!"

"Hmmmm," Rod said. "Oh," said Blaze.

They both seemed glad when the quilting marathon came to a halt. I think they wanted dinner. Maybe on the dining room table - which was now my sewing area.

I was just about ready to put them away for a while.

But first, I brought them to our Pastoral Formation Institute group and got some wonderful advice from my friend, Diane, who really knows how to quilt and appliqué.

Diane is a truly kind woman. She was encouraging beyond belief. She showed me her work which was amazing. Diane does hand-quilting and is meticulous. I felt like a child, proudly showing off a scrawled crayon drawing.

Diane invited me to a Quilt Show in Freeport. I was excited and dragged my husband along. Looking at real quilts, I thought, "Wow. I have a lot of nerve to even call my mess quilting." My husband, who I thought would be bored silly, was fascinated, and  spent hours looking at these masterpieces. It was he who pointed out that the fabric pieces were only half the story. The quilting was another unique element.

The women's work at the show represented an amazing array of art and I came away inspired again - if somewhat humbled. Well, actually a LOT humbled.

One of the pieces at the show featured a design that rather looked like a stained glass window. Before I was able to return to take a photo, someone purchased it, but the idea stuck. My fourth quilt was longer and had hanging loops. The design was intended to look like stained glass. Someone liked it and purchased it! He even liked it after he received it!

Mary Queen of Heaven Quilt - Detail below - Click to Enlarge

 

Divine Mercy Prayer Quilt

Before the Blessed Sacrament and Detail - Click to Enlarge

 

 

Rod and Blaze were happy to eat at the dining room table again. Their enjoyment was short lived.

As I continued to search for panels other than Our Lady of Guadalupe, I came across some on eBay - an icon of Our Lady and Saint Jude. When they arrived, I was very disappointed. The seller merely printed them out on Colorfast Printer Fabric . The resolution was poor. I can do better than that, I thought. Soon, I did.

Dawn, a classmate of ours who ran a Divine Mercy holy hour, was going through a rough time. She was moving to a new home, and I knew it was a hardship for her to leave the place she had been living in for so long. I knew she loved Jesus under the title of Divine Mercy, so I decided to make her a gift to bring comfort and hope.

It was the first time I made a quilt specifically for someone and prayed for that person as I sewed. My first true prayer quilt.

At about the same time, I had finally convinced the pastor of our former parish to allow Eucharistic Adoration. It started at 3:00 pm in the afternoon, and so the Divine Mercy chaplet was incorporated into the time for worship. Before I gave it to Dawn, it hung before the Blessed Sacrament.

This quilt featured a central panel that I printed on fabric at home. My stained glass effect was getting better, but the sparkly red cross at the top didn't work too well. She loved it anyway.

 

Soon, there was another friend, Jeff, who lives in the desert. He loves the Blessed Mother and is a manly kind of guy.  He asked me to make him a quilt with the colors of the desert and in exchange, he would make me a special rosary. I prayed for him as I sewed. My second prayer quilt.

Still not knowing exactly what I was doing, I decided to make a Virgin Mary Quilt using faux leather of different types with rocks and desert plants centered under a Cross. This was my first attempt at patterned quilting. I used a variety of cottons with rocky type designs and sewed them on with a tan/brown variegated thread.  It wasn't exactly the way I hoped it would come out, but he is a kind man and liked it anyway. I was still on a steep learning curve.

  Details - Click to Enlarge

 

Virgin of the Desert - Faux Leather Quilt

 

Spring was about to slide into summer. I learned that two of our most prayerful friends in PFI faced grave illnesses. I started to think about quilts I wanted to make for them, but the time wasn't right. Soon it was summertime, and I put the quilting away for a time in favor of my other "addictions" - fishing, teaching Church friends to fish, and enjoying crabs and a cold beer on the porch with friends and family.

 

But more on that elsewhere ...

My husband and I continued to travel to estate sales and garage sales in search of religious artifacts. Sometimes we found some - sometimes not.

But I did find tons of fabric.

I was now officially what my friend Diane called a fabriholic.

 

My friend Jho with her first fish

My friend Marilyn with her first fish

 

 

In the meanwhile, my wonderful fishing friend Ramsey, who is from Trinidad, told me that his daughter was having a baby.

There were some issues. Serious ones. It was not simply a time for family happiness. While Ramsey is just about the happiest and most easy-going man I have ever known, he wasn't now.

Normally, I would approach a situation like this one from the starting point of my Catholic faith. I am very comfortable with speaking to others about how Our Lord and His Mother are ready to help us if we just ask.

But Ramsey and his family are Hindus, and in fact his mother founded the local Hindu temple.

We were invited to the baby shower. Funds were short since my husband was hospitalized twice that summer. I would make a quilt. I would be lying if I claimed that I didn't have a problem with this one, for the obvious reasons. I even spoke with my pastor about it, and when he saw that Mary had taken her place in the center, he said, "You really do know how to evangelize." I placed my faith in Mary to intervene for this family at the feet of her Son, and I prayed Hail Mary's while I sewed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hindu baby quilt was the start of a series of "hidden Mary" and "hidden cross" prayer quilts made for those who would probably reject an overtly "Catholic quilt". 

The first one, at right, was sewn for my sister Joan, whose birthday is on Christmas day. Joan is the next to oldest of four sisters.  She has a kind and generous heart, has an amazing abundance of creative talent and energy (the Martha Stewart of our family), and enjoyed a very successful career life. Life dealt her more than a fair share of tragedy and for reasons I don't understand, she turned away from the Church. I've been praying for her return for years.

When I saw the fabrics that make up the quilt at the left, I knew I wanted to make a quilt for her sunroom - something for her to curl up under and read a book or work on a project. The flower boarders and leaves were chosen because she is a Master Gardener. I wanted her to know that I loved her, and that I was thinking of her as I made it. I hope she does.

It is tied with ribbon instead of quilted. If you look carefully, you'll see that the pattern is made up of crosses.  I prayed for her with every stitch.

 

I'd read a lot about prayer shawls, but they always seemed to be knit or crocheted. Why not quilt one?

The next "hidden Mary" quilt was in the form of a prayer shawl for my sister, Lillian. Her birthday is on December 28th.

She is the oldest of the four sisters and a gentle soul. Having spent her professional life caring for the dying in hospice, she is now retired and is now studying to become a non-denominational chaplain. Like Joan, she has had a successful professional life, and also more than her share of tragedy in life.

Lillian has an open, world view of life and spirit-uality. While she still calls the Catholic Church "home" - she is also a Reiki practitioner and teaches yoga. 

I know that she meditates every day and wanted to make her a quilted shawl of brilliant colors and in patterns that are as complex as she is. More importantly, I wanted her to feel hugged - by me and by Our Creator.

This one has a Virgin Mary panel in the center -"Mary's got your back," I told her. It closes with a filigree heart button.

Click below for detail of hidden Mary

 

   

 

Lillian in her prayer-meditation quilt

 

Ken's Grateful Dead Quilt

AKA Mary in the Middle

At the left is Lillian's son, Ken. He is also a kind and gentle soul who has had many trials in this life. He is a huge Grateful Dead fan and a talented guitarist. His quilt has elements that reflect those two elements of his life.

At the corners of Ken's quilt are Crosses, and in the center is Mother Mary in a Cross of light pastels.

To Ken's face, I refer to this as his Grateful Dead Quilt. Privately, I call it Mary in the Middle. Lots of praying going on while this was made!

 

The last quilt I will show here today is truly a prayer quilt. My petitions with every stitch were intense on behalf of the recipient and his family.

It was made for a wonderful Catholic man who it has been a great blessing to know.  He is a man who loves our Catholic faith and who is voracious about learning as much as he is able about it. He is the father of four children. 

Last year he shared with me and my husband that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It was one of those awful private "thud" moments for me that filled me with inexplicable sadness - but also the knowledge that this was a strong soul who had been given the gift of a heavy cross to bear for the salvation of souls.

The "thud" didn't come just from hearing of his diagnosis, but from intimate knowledge of the disease that took the life of my sister, Maryanne.

I immediately knew I wanted to make a quilt for my friend and I knew exactly what fabric I wanted to use. The time wasn't right. He was still walking around, although slower this year, still vibrant and smiling. The months passed and I could see clearly that the symptoms were settling in bit by bit. One evening, when we were speaking about the Rosary, he said that he prayed the rosary with his family each night and that the two littlest ones fought to see who could get the closest to him in bed while they prayed. It was time to make the quilt.

The main panels are Virgin Mary Holy Cards entwined with Rosaries. There are borders of light and dark blue that pick up the colors of the panels, and squares of pink on pink rose blooms. The border and parts of the back are an old fashioned rose print with borders of thorns. I added bits of lace and other elements of interest for the sake of the girls and to indicate the path of Rosaries that Mary leads us on if only we will follow.

The colors in my photos aren't true, but the real beauty in this quilt is found in the prayers and the knowledge that Mother Mary will be a constant companion on his journey.

Our friend told me that he will have it blessed.

We invite you to share your Catholic prayer quilts with our readers

Email your photos and share your stories.

Lots More to Follow Including How to Make Your Own Blocks and Celestial Backgrounds

Top of Page ê  Prayer Quilt Page ê Where to Find Christian Themed Fabric

Jesus and Virgin Mary Fabrics ê Angel Fabric Page   ê Celestial and Stained Glass Fabrics

Cross, Scripture, Christian Motif Fabric  ê Children's Fabrics