By M. Scott Morris
Blood stains are a real hazard when hand-sewing a quilt.
One finger on the back side of the fabric tends to get abused by needles. The sticks usually aren’t deep enough to draw blood, but it happens.
“That finger gets stuck pretty good, but finally …,” Dorothy Dailey, 82, said.
“… it kind of gets dead after a while …,” added Norma Grissom, 77.
“… so it doesn’t hurt anymore …,” Dailey said.
“… then when you get through with the quilt, it gets back to normal,” Grissom said.
Normal is relative because Dailey and Grissom move from one project to the next, grabbing whatever free time they can to sit in their recliners – Grissom’s is in Corinth and Dailey’s is in Burnsville – to sew away.
It’s relaxing and enjoyable, they said.
It’s also a consuming passion.
“I don’t clean house. I don’t do anything whenever I’m quilting,” Grissom said. “My husband, I’ve heard him say, ‘I do not talk to her. She might miss a stitch.’ He says that, but he’s just kidding.”
Dailey said fixing dinner is something she does after she finishes a quilt. These days, she tries to finish one a year, though she’s put as much as three years into a single project in her drive to get everything just so.
“You work hard to be perfect, but you can’t hardly make it,” she said.
Grissom has worked up to two years on a single quilt.
“I was quilting on it every spare moment,” she said. “Sometimes I’d work until 10 or 12 at night, and put in 6 to 8 hours a day on it.”
The type of dedication Grissom and Dailey devote doesn’t go unnoticed. The Mississippi Quilt Association created a Mississippi Quilt Legacy Committee to honor the work of great quilters.
Two quilts by Dailey, including the one she spent three years on, and two quilts by Grissom, including the one she spent two years on, will be on display at the Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum in Jackson until October.
“The first quilt hanging and facing the new entrance was Dorothy’s ‘Bluebird Garden’ quilt,” Grissom said in a press release about the exhibit. “If you go in from the left, my ‘Hearts & Flowers’ was the first quilt hanging and facing the entrance.
“You could see both of them before you entered the right or left. I thought that was quite an honor for both of us and it was more special since we were from the same guild.”
They’re members of the Needle Chasers Quilt Guild of Tishomingo County, and Dailey is a founding member. Grissom is also a member of Cross City Piece Makers in Corinth.
Finding the time
Dailey’s introduction to quilt-making began when she was a child by her mother’s side. But working and raising a family didn’t allow much time for hobbies.
The same goes for Grissom, who focused her efforts on practical matters.
“I was always sewing,” Grissom said. “I made everything my daughter and I wore until she got a job and started buying her own clothes.”
They found their time in retirement, and the two took different paths to acquiring their skills.
Grissom studied patterns and books, and took classes to learn new techniques.
“I take classes all the time,” she said. “You always learn something. I think they’re fun.”
Dailey certainly checked patterns and books, but trial-and-error was her teacher.
“I mostly learned by myself,” she said.
Their stories show how different roads lead to the same destination. They’ve both reached a point of mastery, with first place and best of show awards from quilting contests around the South and the Midwest.
“There are people in Mississippi who know our names, if not us,” Grissom said.
Both have had their work appraised, with numbers ranging from $3,200 to $3,800 – not that they expect to get people to pay such amounts.
“Nobody understands how much it takes to get a whole quilt finished, how much time and money we put in,” Grissom said.
“I never sold them,” Dailey said. “I’ve given mine to nieces and nephews, my children and grandchildren.”
“I give them away, too,” Grissom said.
She keeps photographs of those quilts in a journal, while Dailey has a package of photos that she hasn’t gotten around to putting into an album.
Not all quilts go to others – theoretically, at least.
Grissom loves bright colors, so she made a multihued quilt that really popped.
“I thought it was going to be mine,” she said. “My son walked in and said, ‘Who’s quilt is that?’ I said, ‘It must be yours.’ I named it, ‘It Once was Mine.’”
Dailey’s daughter came with a request that turned into a challenge and something of a mother/daughter project.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you make a quilt of a peacock?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a pattern for a peacock,’” Dailey said. “She went to a library and ran off a bunch of pictures of peacocks.”
The resulting piece is a well-planned dance of purples and greens, complete with the kind of attention to detail that stops just short of perfection simply because Dailey is only human.
Grissom also strives for a personal standard, and she’s bothered by inevitable mistakes.
“I told my husband, ‘There’s a error,’ and I pointed it out to him. He said, ‘Don’t tell anybody because they won’t notice,’” she said, “but I knew it was there.”
To the finish
A reporter at a quilt show in Des Moines, Iowa, once asked Dailey to describe her favorite part of quilting.
“I told her, ‘The best part is getting one finished,’” she said.
When the women get rolling, it can seem like a race with the devil, especially near the end.
“The last two weeks, you can’t wait to be done,” Grissom said, and Dailey nodded along with her.
Toward the end of their projects, significant others know to tread carefully, and their much-abused fingers become numb to the pain of thousands and thousands of tiny sticks.
“You really have to watch out,” Dailey said, “or you’ll end up with blood on your quilt.”