A fake fur hat, an apron covered with musical notes, a pair of pants embroidered with
Simple things that trigger a lifetime of memories. Evidence left after a life ends.
When Beverly Magley’s mother, Dot, died in January, Magely and her three sisters had a closet of clothes to sort through. Scarves, dresses, coats, bath robes, hats. Each item meant something special.
“Oh, this is the jacket she wore at weddings. This is the apron she wore endlessly. This is what she wore in New Zealand. These are the wool pants she wore cross-country skiing,” Magley said.
Not wanting to part with some of the details of her mother’s life, Magley set aside some of her mother’s favorite things and some of Magley’s favorite things about her mother. She had a plan.
Magley’s friend, Tim Speyer, had recently lost his father. One of the unique things about Speyer’s father had been his affinity for loud pants.
“They were just really amazing pants,” Speyer said. “He had pheasant pants for Thanksgiving, holly and ivy pants for Christmas, golf club pants for golfing. He was really a very poor dresser.”
But when his dad died, Speyer didn’t want to part with the pants. He gave them to artist and quilter Linda Parker of Montana Quilts. Parker cut the pants into scraps and turned them into something beautiful — quilts and pillows. The loud pants became functional art and a quiet memorial to Speyer’s dad.
“It’s a very cool idea in terms of remembering people to take clothes you strongly identify with them,” said Speyer.
Parker also had a good time working with the fabric.
“Tim’s project was especially fun,” Parker said. “His dad had divine wool clothes from Ireland, England, Italy. Then he had other interesting fabrics. My conclusion was Tim’s dad was a remarkably interesting human being.”
Speyer shared the idea with Magley and offered to underwrite the project for her. He had also been close with Magley’s mother. Magley decided she wanted her friend and artist Ann Wilsnack to work on the project.
“I took Mom’s clothes to Ann’s and dumped them out on the table and thought, good grief, there is no theme here. No color theme. Mom didn’t wear the same colors,” Magley said.
But Wilsnack saw a theme. She described it as “the sentimental value of comforting things.”
“It’s a brilliant memorial for people,” Wilsnack said. “It’s just so tangible, something you can keep close to you.”
Magley gave Wilsnack a few parameters — she wanted strips of the particularly poignant pieces of clothing to be included in each item.
“An apron with musical staff — Mom was a church organist for 45 years, so I wanted that on every one,” Magley said. “I also wanted something from New Zealand (where the Magley family lived for several years) on every one.”
“Ann has such an interesting mind herself — I just turned her loose,” Magley said.
Wilsnack stitched together pillows and lap throws — something for each of Dot’s offspring — on a 115-year-old treadle sewing machine. What she couldn’t finish with the treadle, she finished with her own mother’s 60-plus year-old Singer.
Wilsnack sewed from March to May, and when she finished the project, which she called “More than Memories,” she boxed up the items and included a note to the Magley family.
It said: “The fabrics that you chose for me to work with from Dot’s clothes are wonderfully diverse in color, texture, and design. My hope is that each of you will find a piece that you love and that it will bring you comfort, happy remembrances of Dot, and handmade art to tickle your senses.”
The items were distributed while several members of the extended Magley family were gathered at a wedding.
The fake fur hat, which Wilsnack turned into a pillow, was instantly claimed by Dot’s great-granddaughter who is 6.
Magley kept a lap throw, which she intends to turn into a wall hanging.
“It’s so unusual that no one just walks by it,” Magley said. “And it’s wonderful to tell the stories.”
Lifestyles Editor Peggy O’Neill:
@helenair.com, or on Twitter.com at IR_Peggy O’Neill