By Patricia Belyea
OTTAWA CA As I grew up, my mom Jane Belyea sewed dresses for me and my four sisters. When we were teens, she switched to needlepoint and knitting. Ten years ago Jane made two colorful twin-bed quilts and since then she hasn’t stopped. “It's just something I do,” Jane stated.
Not one to take classes or gather with a guild, Jane learned to make quilts by doing. She had no idea of how to piece a top nor sandwich a quilt but that didn’t stop her.
Her first quilts were made with the stitch-and-flip method on white squares of cotton. For each block, Jane centered something of interest and then added random strips of color or pattern. Once she’d filled the square, Jane would trim away any excess fabric. She would then decide on the arrangement of the squares and add sashing.
Once I started quilting, I took pleasure in bringing my mother piles of bright fabrics and handy sewing tools. In late 2009, while visiting my parents at their winter condo in Victoria BC, I suggested we make a quilt together.
Also self-taught, I’d dreamed up a completely different way than Jane for making quilts. She declared my approach was “counterintuitive.” Although somewhat exasperated by my improv style, Jane worked alongside me. The final piece, Maple Stars, included hand-dyed, marbled and batiked cottons.
Jane credits the production of Maple Stars with giving her a fresh direction in her quilt designs. Now she happily composes her quilts with assymmetrical elements. Her creativity and joy of piecing shine through in her newest projects.
This week I’m visiting Jane, now 87, at her Ottawa condo. Her sewing room, filled with family pictures, was set up with two machines (thank you, Kathy!) when I arrived. That way, Jane and I can sew side-by-side.
Jane's sewing room, organized with many drawers and shelves, holds everything tidy and in its place. I love that she grouped her glass-topped pins by color in her pin cushion, like continents won in a Risk game!
Neatly tucked into one drawer were stacked boxes and tins of buttons—mother of pearl, vintage Lucite, military brass and more. Jane explained that many of these buttons came from her mother and mother-in-law, and she didn’t know what to do with them. The ones strung together on threads tell their stories of being saved from discarded clothing many years ago.
“Take whatever you want,” my mother offered. I’m thrilled to be returning home with four petite baggies of buttons, inspired to embellish a future quilt with them.
I’ve always been proud of my mom—as a caring homemaker; as the director of Ottawa’s Better Business Bureau during her business career; as my father’s ally in his long fight against cancer; and now as a gray-haired mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who knows how to enjoy life.
What a blessing to still have my mother. And, a double blessing that we share the bond of being quilters.