A Prize-Winning Quilt
With the war going on, she was surprised there were enough men left in town to even get the fair up and running, but thanks to the persistence of the Taylorsville Women's Club, the fair would go on as usual. The amusement company would arrive at the last of September, just as it always did, but instead of every men's club in town running all the booths and exhibits, the women would be in charge. Before Charles had gone off to war, she usually ended up helping with many of his county fair duties anyway, so she felt very comfortable in that regard. She sure did miss Charles. She missed her brothers, Lou and Lee, too, but in a different kind of way.
"So Myrtle Mae, which quilt are you going to enter this year?" Charlotte Perkins had asked a few weeks ago. Charlotte was one of Myrtle Mae's neighbors—and some of her prime competition in the quilt contest at the county fair. In fact, Charlotte had won blue ribbons the past three years, a fact she did not hesitate to mention if the topic of quilting came up in conversation. And when Charlotte was around, somehow, it often did.
"I haven't decided yet," Myrtle Mae said. "I've finished a half dozen new ones this past year, so I imagine it'll be one of those."
"The judges seemed to like star design quilts last year," Charlotte said. "In fact, now that I think about it, I believe I got a blue ribbon for my Feathered Star quilt at last year's fair."
"That was truly a gorgeous quilt," Myrtle Mae said. She didn't deny that Charlotte was a fine quilter; she just wished Charlotte weren't so inclined to toot her own horn.
Myrtle Mae didn't see any need to tell Charlotte, but she was pretty sure she was going to finish her new appliqued teapot quilt made from flour sacks, and that would be the one she entered in the fair. Like a lot of women who sewed during the war, Myrtle Mae used flour sacks to conserve the "good" material for other uses, and the challenge was to use the colorful, cheerful flour sack prints in new and interesting ways. Myrtle Mae had seen flour sack appliques of baskets, flowers, and stars, but she'd never seen one made with teapots.
She'd looked through her quilt books for a teapot pattern but couldn't find one. Finally, one night after she put Raymond, Harold, and Gloria to bed, she looked at the small cream-colored teapot on her kitchen counter and drew a freehand version of the pot onto a paper grocery sack. When she cut out the template and transferred the design to fabric with a pencil, she was fairly certain she'd discovered a new quilt pattern she would enjoy stitching.
Like her mother, who was from England, Myrtle Mae had grown up drinking brisk black tea rather than coffee. Some of the women in her coffee klatch thought that was just plain odd. Too bad for them and more tea for her, that was Myrtle Mae's philosophy.
Most evenings, she prepared herself a nice hot cup of tea while she worked on the teapot quilt. Myrtle Mae enjoyed selecting the most colorful of the flour sack fabrics to add to her quilt. As she stitched each teapot into place, she whiled away the hours thinking and praying. She thought about her young family, and she prayed for her husband, brothers, and all of those serving overseas, praying the war would soon come to an end so they could all be together again.
As the teapot quilt came to life, Myrtle Mae found her worries and cares slowly slipping away, just as if they had been absorbed by the pretty cotton prints at her fingertips. Before she knew it, she'd created one hundred of those blocks and began stitching them into ten rows of ten each. The effect, she had to admit, was rather striking. She hoped the quilt judges at the county fair would agree with her.
When the fair opened and all the quilts were judged, Myrtle Mae eagerly entered the quilt exhibit building and was thrilled to see that her teapot quilt had earned the coveted blue ribbon. To her astonishment, the quilt had also received the Best in Show Award, and the judges' comments made her beam with pride: "To Myrtle Mae McDaniel, in recognition of beauty, creativity, and workmanship, and also for patriotism in the creative use of flour sack fabrics, wisely conserving material at this important time in our nation's history."
The other quilters had flocked around Myrtle Mae and congratulated her on the award. Even Charlotte offered congratulations, although she had added, "You know, I almost entered an applique quilt this year, but I went with another star quilt instead. You just never can tell what will strike the judges' fancy each year, can you?”
Before leaving the exhibit building and going in search of her children—who were no doubt riding something that would make them dizzy and eating something that would give them a stomachache—Myrtle Mae looked at the teapot quilt, remembered the thoughts and prayers that had gone into all those stitches, and wondered when Charles and her brothers would get to come home.
A blue ribbon was nice to have, but seeing all her family safely home again? That was the best prize she could ever imagine.