The Bedquilt

“Of all the Elwell family Aunt Mehetabel was certainly the most unimportant member,” began Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s story called The Bedquilt.

Aunt Mehetabel had never been married, and as the official old maid of the family, she lived with her brother’s family to help take care of the children, clean the house, grow, cook, and preserve food. One day an idea for a quilt came to her from out of nowhere At first she thought she’d dreamed it. Or maybe it had come during the weekly prayer meeting at church. One thing she never seriously considered was that she thought of it on her own because it was “too great, too ambitious, too lofty a project for her humble mind to have conceived.”

Before she could forget the image, Aunt Mehetabel sketched it out, then used the drawing as a pattern, a guide. She began work immediately, working feverishly throughout the days, finishing her chores quickly to give herself more time to work on it in her small, secluded attic room. Just thinking about the quilt during the day as she worked filled her with joy, brought a smile to her face, washed away any weariness.

As the quilt began to take shape, Aunt Mehetabel found it even more beautiful than the image and the drawing. One night as she worked on the quilt downstairs by the fire while the family ate, a quilt square fell to the floor. Picking it up, sister-in-law Sophia could not contain her surprised admiration for what she held in her hand. When Sophia wanted to know where she’d gotten this particular pattern, Mehetabel said quietly, hesitantly, that she’d, well, she’d thought it up herself.

After that, the entire family showed an active interest in the quilt – even the brother mentioned the possibility of a blue ribbon at the upcoming county fair. The family completed Aunt Mehetabel’s chores, giving her more time to work on the quilt. They set up a table for her in the family room and invited friends and neighbors to drop by and see the incredibly beautiful quilt Mehetabel was making.

It took five, almost six years to complete the quilt, and when she put in the last stitch, it was to an audience of the entire family. She was anxious about parting with the quilt to send it to the fair, but family and friends insisted, so off it went.

Missing her quilt, Mehetabel arranged a ride with family friends who were planning to spend a day at the fair. She was up and off early for the long buggy ride, and when she got back home, everybody gathered around to hear about her trip. There were a lot of other quilts in the room, she said, but – and she knew she ought to be ashamed for saying such a thing – none of them could hold a candle to hers.

Her brother, anxious for cattle news, asked what else she’d seen at the fair, but the only thing Mehetabel saw at the fair, the only thing she looked at all day long, was her quilt. No livestock, no preserves, no woodworking – she hadn’t seen anything the others wanted her to see. She’d spent the entire day sitting in front of her quilt, delighting in the comments she heard and the sight of the judges pinning the First Prize ribbon on her quilt.

“I tell you it looked real good,” she assured them in her quiet voice as she sat staring into the fire, on her tired old face the “supreme content of an artist who has realized his [sic] ideal.”


3 Responses to The Bedquilt

  1. jude says:

    now this is such a nice story.

  2. Jeanne, this is a lovely story. I think many people deserve more credit than we ever give them.

  3. monkey photoshop brushes » Blog Archive » The Bedquilt

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