Two years ago today my friend Lee Fowler died, succumbing to a rare form of cancer called leiomyosarcoma. Lee was a nationally recognized quilt artist, designer, and teacher who also loved to knit, craft, hike, garden, and travel.
The first quilt blog I ever followed was Lee’s. It was called The Polkadot Debutante, so named because she absolutely loved polkadots and because she actually had been a debutante — in the true Southern tradition in which a young woman on the threshold of adulthood is formally introduced to society at a ball or cotillion. That experience was decades removed from the woman with the hearty laugh who collected ceramic monsters, loved the color orange, and dressed up in outlandish Halloween costumes she made herself.
Lee was also a professional longarm machine quilter. I met her in 2009 when she was recommended to me as a longarmer especially skilled in free motion quilting. I didn’t know it at the time but she was already fighting cancer. She quilted three quilts for me before the progression of the disease forced her to retire from longarm quilting for clients. However, she continued to quilt, knit, craft, and enjoy the great outdoors right up to the end of her days.
For the last two years of Lee’s life, she was a member of our small quilt group, the Quisters (short for Quilt Sisters). Lee and I represented the Portland contingent; Peggy, Deborah, Vickie, and Vivienne were the Salem contingent. Every month or two, the six of us would get together at one of our homes to sew, chat, laugh, eat homemade desserts, and share our latest crafty and quilty creations.
I well remember the last time all six Quisters were at my house. It was June 28, 2013, two weeks to the day before Lee died. A few weeks earlier, with time running out, Lee had put out a request to her many quilting friends asking for help in creating a quilt she had always wanted to make: a Pickle Dish quilt.
Now, this pattern is not for the faint of heart. Take a look at the basic block:
A block is made up of four quarter blocks, each usually featuring nine rings made up of wedges (trapezoids). The rings are joined to other curved pieces. One block typically contains 88 pieces.
Lee had seen a Pickle Dish quilt made by Australian designer Kathy Doughty in the Fielke/Doughty book Material Obsession 2 (STC Craft, 2009). The quilt pictured in the book hung in the 2013 Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show:
Lee started planning her own version. She figured that if enough friends agreed to make a ring or two using fabrics from their stashes, she could combine the rings with fabrics from her stash and create a scrappy Pickle Dish quilt in reasonably short order. Her request was that those of us making blocks choose fabrics with bright colors and – of course – polkadots.
Before long Pickle Dish units by the dozen were flowing Lee’s way and she was at work putting the blocks together. With a bit more help from a close cadre of friends working at her home, she completed the quilt top in June. Janet Fogg quilted it and finished the binding the day before the gathering at my house.
The Quisters were among the very first to see Lee’s finished quilt. The big reveal:
Isn’t it stunning? Lee took a vast array of blocks made by 25 different people and created a colorful, cohesive quilt that sparkles with the kind of energy and vibrance that characterized her quilting – and her life, for that matter.
The ring I made for Lee’s quilt is the fuchsia and lime green one in the top center of this picture:
At the service in August 2013 celebrating her life, Lee’s Pickle Dish quilt was on display. Most of us who worked on it were at the service, and Lee’s husband Rick LePage managed to round us all up for a photo:
Rick dubbed us the Pickle Dish Gang. Then he announced that Lee’s quilt was going traveling. Each one of us would have Lee’s Pickle Dish quilt in our own home for a month. Can you imagine how thrilled we all were?
Ever since then, I have been patiently waiting my turn. And now it has come. Lee’s quilt was delivered to me last Sunday when I arrived in Sisters, Oregon for a weeklong getaway with my Quisters, and it will have pride of place in my home until it’s time to hand it off to the next member of the Pickle Dish Gang.
A small park at the east edge of Sisters served as a backdrop for some pictures of Lee’s gorgeous quilt. Here’s my favorite:
I treasure my memories of Lee and will always treasure the time that her Pickle Dish quilt was mine for a month.