While We Wait

By: Millie Kehrli
Johnston, Iowa

Esther Carlson Evans, an Iowa farm wife, pieced a quilt during the winter of 1933 while pregnant with her second child. Confident she carried a girl, Esther selected Mountain Star, a Home Needlecraft Creations (HNC) kit, and appliquéd tulip bursts in pastel solids on a white background. HNC kit designs are common and the fabric typical of the period. Esther probably purchased the kit from Sam Raizes’, a dry goods store in Mason City. “They sold everything,” recalls Jodi Evans, keeper of the inspiration quilt.

Quiltmaking was a typical diversion for women of Esther’s time while waiting to give birth. Since Esther was not a seamstress or quilter, the all-inclusive kit freed her from decisions about color and design. “Quilting was not her hobby. She would rather play cards.” Jodi explained.

As a young woman, Esther made two quilts—a Sunbonnet Sue during her first pregnancy, and the Mountain Star kit during her second. Both quilts were intended for girls; both children were boys. Esther’s quilts awaited the birth of granddaughter Jodi to find their home. Later in her life, Esther made one more quilt, something to occupy her hands while recovering from a mastectomy.

Inspired by Esther’s work, I drafted a Tulip Medallion motif, incorporating elements from the inspiration quilt and my own whimsies, during a retreat at The Quilted Steeple in Northcentral Iowa, not far from Esther’s farm. I drew gently curving edges rather than duplicating angles I do not care to bind. Working with a kit gave Esther the freedom to create, but I thrive in design choice and scrapwork. Being limited to solids was challenging. Creating this quilt during a transition time in my life reconnected me with Jodi and her accounts of Esther’s handwork while waiting. Esther’s stories, and mine, are stitched into this study.