Saturday, May 11, 2013

In My Mother's Footsteps

My dear mother, Etta Bower Davis (1910-1964), taught me how to applique when I was 20 years old. In the early 1960s when she was battling breast cancer she was also making applique pictures that depicted our immediate family. I started following in her footsteps by trying to recreate some of those same images and eventually went on to incorporate figures in several of my quilts in the early 80s.


This is mom's picture of me (in pink) and my sister-in-law replacing the toys in my hope chest with quilts. I was about to be married.

And this is my version of her picture. When mom taught me how to applique she said to think about sewing in layers. If I was working on a figure then I should applique the neck before the head, the hand before the sleeve, the feet before the pants, the blouse before the skirt, and the dress before the jacket. I added my canopy bed, my gr-grandmother's rocking chair and a window with curtains made from my wedding gown lace. The plate on the shelf is embroidered with the date I became engaged.


Mom and dad with their names embroidered on the front of the farm stand along with their engagement and wedding dates. Mom's pictures were done on purple ground while mine were done on an old linen tablecloth that once belonged to my gr-grandmother.

My husband and I standing under an arbor of embroidered vines and flowers. My second applique picture. 

Mom's picture of my husband, our son, and me on the Appalachian Trail traveling from Georgia to NJ. Our son was born at Fort Benning, GA, when my husband was in the service. Two months before Mom died in 1964 she wrote us a letter to go along with this picture:

Dearest Children,

Most people spend their lives searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. To many, this means money and to others, adulation and prestige. Neither of those ever interested me too much. . . 

Be happy, content, and, cultivate peace of mind and 'Life' will prove to be a wonderful adventure. Since I have used symbolism in all my pictures, Dad has become the strong pine tree and I have become Princess White Cloud hovering over you! Which just means that our love is always with you and you are always in our thoughts.

This picture was made with a great deal of special love just for you.




The year following her death, I made this picture of my mother as I wanted to remember her--sitting in a chair embroidering flowers with a quilt draped over a trunk that symbolized the quilts she made. Her yellow wicker sewing basket is on the floor and a grandmother's clock is in the background because she was a new grandma. 


In 1968 I made this picture of our daughter in the carriage and our son skipping down the driveway to our house--well, not exactly OUR house. We had four rooms in this 16-room house in Suffern, NY, that was once owned by Van Alan Clark of Avon fame. It came with my husband's job. :) I also included a pine tree and a cloud--symbols for my dad and mom.

Moving on . . .

In the early 1980s my appliqued figures focused on sporting events. Olympics won an honorable mention in McCall's Needlework & Crafts 1980 Olympics contest.

And, Skier's Mountain represented our ski trips to Quebec when our kids were in high school. It was featured in Lady's Circle Patchwork & Quilts in 1983. The ski outfits are ones we wore at the time. 

My husband--

I'm on the chairlift with our St. Bernard, Puzzle

Our daughter--

Our son. 

In 1984 I made Summer Serenity after seeing an Amish family at the Jersey shore. I will never forget that day. This quilt was juried into the first American Quilters Society show in Paducah, KY, and was published in their Quilt Art Calender in 1987.

Here is a detail.

When my son became engaged to a Swedish girl on her birthday in 1996, I made this picture based on "Aunt Brown's Party" in the book, Old Swedish Quilts. 

My mother and her appliqued pictures have inspired me more than she will ever know. Thank you, Mom!

You can see more of her pictures here.  

Copyright 2013, Barbara Schaffer


  1. What beautiful work and what a wonderful legacy of mother and daughter.

  2. Thanks so much! After all these years I'm still in awe of my mother's applique work, her use of symbolism, and especially her attention to details:)