Piece and comfort for the eyes, heart, and soul.

Highlights from my ‘Quilts of Friendship’ lecture

Even though I’ve quilted since my early 20’s, truth be told, I’m first and foremost an artist. Over the years I’ve explored many different mediums, but fabrics: their designs, colors, textures, look, and feel, always call me back to quilting.
I’m not what most would think of as a ‘typical quilter’. I like to think of myself as an artist who’s ‘medium’ of choice is fabric.
My quilts run the gammut from traditional to modern, functional to fashionable. Whether for a bed, lap, table, or wall, my quilts add accent to a home and are thoughtfully, skillfully created to provide beauty, warmth, and comfort for the eye, heart, and soul.
When talking about quilts of friendship, though, I have to return to my more traditional quilts.

A quilter’s quote: Friends are like fabrics – you can never have enough!

As far back as the early days of our country, quilting has brought women together in friendship. Quilting ‘Bees” were a time of fellowship as well as a time of creative collaboration.
The tradition of giving friendship quilts dates back to the 1840’s, when members of social groups signed their names in indelible ink with sentimental phrases like “when this you see, remember me”. These quilts often traveled with brides to their new homes, reminding them of family and friends they left behind.

06 - Preoccupation - A Friendship Quilt with Nancee Groh-WM

I started my first friendship quilt in January 1991. I was living on base at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, TX.
We’d just returned from Walter Reed Hospital where my first husband had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and the Persian Gulf War had just started.
My neighbor’s husband was involved in the conflict as we watched it all unfold live on TV.
As stress levels rose, my neighbor asked me to teach her to quilt.
Together, we designed a sampler quilt featuring traditional blocks representative of the months of our years.
In those days before local quilt shops, we hunted far and wide for fabrics enough to make our quilt and we started piecing our blocks by hand.

The war was ending and the soldiers coming home and my neighbor’s husband had gotten orders to move by the time we were done with our blocks. She took my blocks and I took the ones she had made and we separately completed our quilt tops with sashing. I put a yellow ribbon around her blocks as a symbol of support for our troops and hope that my friend and I would one day see each other again. Since her departure, we stayed connected with a phone call every month on the 15th. It is a tradition we continue today.
When my husband was medically retired, we relocated to Lake Holiday in Cross Junction, Virginia.

Another quilter’s quote: When life goes to pieces – Try Quilting!

This is exactly what three of my new neighbors did that winter in Cross Junction. Snow started falling in the middle of December and continued to fall off and on until the middle of March. Kids were out of school and all were going a bit stir crazy. I was honored and excited when asked to teach my new neighbors how to quilt.

Friendship quilts have also long served as a way of commemorating a shared experience.

08 - A Long Winter for Neighbors & Friends - Lake Holliday Winter 1993 -WM

For this quilt I designed a house block, a tree and star block, and used a traditional log cabin block in the center.
We each fashioned four of our own house blocks.
We used fabric to represent each of our house, roof, and door colors. Some of our homes had chimneys, one didn’t.
We kept one block for ourselves and gave the other three, in friendship.

Other quilter’s quotes: Quilters make great comforters.  A quilt is a blanket of love.  What I make with my hands, I give of my heart.  And, Quilters affect eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops.

01 - Nordic Comfort 2 (For Dana) 8-2010-WM

Like many quilters, I’ve made quilts for friends with cancer. Prayers were stitched into these and they were given with love.

Green Ribbons-WM-sm

Some of my quilts have also supported charitable causes. While I didn’t know the recipient, I like to also think of these as quilts given in friendship. When I gift my quilts, I get to share my ‘creative gifts’ with others.

08 - Fundraiser for James Foundation - Winchester Trade Winds-WM

One of my favorites was pink and green in honor of Apple Blossom and was raffled, and subsequently auctioned off, in benefit of the widows and orphans supported by the James 1:27 Foundation, of which my 2nd husband and I served on the board.

Freedom Forever

Two different red, white, and blue quilts were given: one to a chemotherapy patient at Winchester’s Medical Center and another to a wounded soldier through Operation Homefront. 


Another of my quilts was given to a teen mom and her young child through Young Life’s Young-Lives camp in Virginia.

Another quilter’s quote: Quilting is a gift you give yourself.

This is definitely true for me for two reasons!
First, I’ve been gifted by my Creator with creativity. To not create is to deny the gift He placed in me. Suffice it to say, I’m in a very happy place when I’m quilting!
Secondly, I’ve taught quilting to others in most every place I’ve called home in my adult life. In doing so, I’ve made new friends in the process.

In 2017, The Quilt Show offered an International Quilt Exchange in which American quilters were paired with an international quilter. Each quilter was to make a miniature quilt based on a theme shared between them. I was partnered with a relatively new quilter from Poland and we picked as our theme the traditional Friendship Star block. Since it wasn’t possible for me to teach her at a distance, I suggested this block because she could easily watch and learn from online tutorials.
In the process of emailing back and forth over the course of a year, our friendship grew.

Lucja's quilt for me with Polish folk lowicki fabric

When it was time to exchange our quilts, I was awed by the colorful, modern interpretation of the block she created.


In my quilt, I used traditional American fabrics and redesigned the overall quilt to incorporate a large Friendship Star behind all the miniature ones. I put blue stars in the upper left-hand corner and had rows of red and gold stars throughout the rest of the quilt to represent an American flag with hopes that when she sees it, she will remember her new American quilting friend.
I so loved this quilt, I recreated one for my BFF from military days, with whom I’d made my first friendship quilt and another for myself ‘just because’.

Another quilter’s quote: In the crazy quilt of life, I’m glad you’re in my block of friends.

On International Women’s Day in 2017, the American Quilter’s Society posted a “Women of my Life” project. Along with a pattern for a signature block, the writer noted, “As we journey through life, there are many people who touch our hearts in dear and special ways. They give us a little part of themselves to carry with us. This quilting project is created to memorialize these people, remembering the love and strength they give us each and every day. This month is National Women’s History month, and as I think back on the women throughout history that have influenced my world, I’m reminiscent of those that are not so famous, but have impacted me and changed my life. As my mind thought on these things, the desire to wrap myself in their love and support manifested itself in the idea of this quilt.”
And, as the writer encouraged readers to do, I took her idea and made it my own.
Having long shared my home with my husbands and sons, I’ve commented more than once that mine was an all male household. Even our dogs have been male. It wasn’t until my boys grew up and married that I gained daughter-in-laws.
Over the years, I may have been outnumbered at home, but I was never ‘alone’. God richly blessed me with the gift of women at every stage of my life and at every place I’ve called home. As I pondered who might respond to my request, I emailed out the following:

Hi there!
You are receiving this because you ARE a special woman in my life!
On this, International Women’s Day – I’m working… and in my creative way, I’m thinking about a quilt for ME honoring those special women in my life… namely YOU.
To participate in this project, what I’m asking each of you to do is to simply take a piece of white paper. On it, draw (with a pencil) a straight line three inches long, on which I’m asking you in your most beautiful handwriting, to sign your name in black ink.
Don’t think small… your signature ideally would be about one inch high. I will transfer these signatures onto fabric that will be worked into, what I hope will be, a beautiful quilt.
I promise to share the completed quilt with you all, though, with what’s on my ‘schedule’, it could be much later in this year before it is finished.
How many of you are able to send your signature will determine how BIG this quilt will be.
OK… lastly, simply place your signature in an envelope and mail it to me… and for today, please know I’m thinking of YOU with a grateful heart for how you’ve touched my life!

If I didn’t have an email address, I mailed the request and some I called by phone… and I waited for the responses.
The first one I received was from a quilting student who had recently taken a class with me. As each signature arrived in the mail, my heart was warmed with the special memory attached to the name and the memories we shared.
It saddened me to realize I’d lost touch of some dear friends as a handful of emails were returned, address of the sender unknown. Some computer savvy friends signed their names, scanned their signatures, and returned them to me attached to emails. Some non-quilters were curious about the concept so I shared an informative link with them entitled Friendship Quilt – Precious Remembrance.

Though I had high hopes to complete this quilt and snuggle under the love of dear friends after my bi-lateral knee replacement later that year, it didn’t work out that way.
It was during recovery that I decided ‘how’ I’d layout these signature blocks.
Rather than a random placement, I decided the inner square would feature family members starting with my Mom in the center and circling clock-wise, I decided to place each person’s signature relatively in the order in which they came into my life.
In January of 2018, I was finally fully recovered and back into my studio. As I transferred signatures to the blocks, I noted two areas lacking: those special women who had gone before and those who I couldn’t reach to get a signature. It just didn’t seem right to complete the quilt without either, so I added those myself. I identified those who had gone before with a different red fabric on the corners of their blocks. For those I couldn’t reach to get a signature, I printed their name on their blocks.

Women of my Life quilt - Sue Hickman - 3-6-2018 a

Around the center block I wrote my full name and who I am to the women on this quilt in order.
Missing from this list are three very important titles by which I’m known, those being wife, Mom, and Mimi. These are missing because I fill those roles in relation to the very important men in my life and this quilt is dedicated to the Women of my Life.

My quilt contains 136 pieced signature blocks and two rings of solid fabric. Each corner of my quilt is anchored by a border bracket of blue fabric that are not unlike photo corners that used to hold photos onto their pages in albums ‘back in the day’
I was thrilled to complete this quilt one year from when I started it, on International Women’s Day. I then had blank notecards created featuring this quilt on the cover and wrote personal notes to each one who had shared their signature with me.

In closing I have two final quilter’s quotes: Our lives are like quilts, bits and pieces, joy and sorrow, stitched with love.   And, Friendships are sewn one stitch at a time.