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.
What a beautiful tribute to your friend who sounds like a Superwoman! I love the quilt and its playfulness. I can only imagine how happy the Quisters and the Pickle Dish Gang made Lee.
What a wonderful tribute. Lee spoke at my guild a few years ago and I remember thinking how talented she was. I regret I never took a class from her. Her Pickle Dish quilt is even prettier than the original.
What a wonderful post! And how special that you all continue to share in Lee’s legacy in your own way. A beautiful way to honor a beautiful soul.
Your tribute to Lee brought tears to my eyes. That quilt will always bring wonderful memories for you Pickle Dish gals. Thanks for sharing the beautiful quilt and the beautiful story of love that goes with it!
Beautifully said, Dawn.
Thank you for sharing such a touching story of a beautiful friendship.
What a gift and tribute to each of you. I can only hope that a group of my closest friends will contribute such a gift of love . Then to again welcome me and share their memories and homes long after I am gone! Wonderful!
Lee was an incredible lady who also happened to be an incredible quilter. After a show & tell presentation at quilt camp, I was firmly convinced that the secret to successfully choosing fabrics and colors was to just follow Lee through a fabric store and buy exactly whatever fabrics she put in her basket!
Among quilters she knew, I still hear comments beginning with “Lee said…” as an assortment of fabrics are being discussed and chosen. I am quite certain that Lee had no idea how many lives she touched. Her take on her life seemed to be that she was so lucky to have the very best of friends. And Rick’s gift of sharing the quilt they all made with the Pickle Dish Gang was the perfect memorial for their dear friend.
She will be lovingly remembered.
Thank you, Dawn, for sharing about Lee and your friendship and her beautiful quilt. I kept staring at her photo, because her face was familiar, and I re-read “Vivienne” one of your quilt sisters from Salem. And the pieces fit together now. I shopped at, and then worked at, Thimble Creek in Walnut Creek, CA. It’s many moons ago–15+ years. I took several of Vivienne’s miniature quilt classes and have made several of her miniature quilts. And I think Lee worked at Thimble Creek as well. If not, she was around there, perhaps teaching? I think of Vivienne often when I see a new miniature quilt by a current designer. Vivienne was ahead of her time and her miniature quilts beat them all, hands down. I live in Albuquerque now, and Thimble Creek has closed their brick-and-mortar doors, but many, many wonderful quilt experiences were had with wonderful quilters. Thank you for sharing about Lee. It’s wonderful to ponder the special quilt friends who surrounded her when she needed them most.
Beautiful post for such a beautiful lady. Thanks for sharing.
Very poignant memory, Dawn. Thank you for sharing with your blog followers.
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dawn. Lee will be remembered by all of us as the extraordinary woman she was. Her laughter and ever present smile always made me chuckle as I was always left with the impression that she was about to jump into something completely mischievous! The Pickle Dish Quilt looks just like her! I’m so glad you get to enjoy it for an entire month. How amazingly generous of her amazing husband.
Such a wonderful and touching story so skillfully told. My heart is singing! I’m sure Lee’s is as well.
I hope when my time comes I have friends like you who remember me as lovingly. I didn’t know Lee, but her quilt is amazing….inspires me.
Thank you for sharing the story and in such a beautiful way. Lee was certainly well loved and is certainly missed by her friends.
Thank you for sharing the gorgeous pics of the Pickle Dish quilt which I was honored to be a part of! Lee’s spirit lives on in all of our fond memories of a great gal!!!!
what a beautiful and heartfelt tribute, i can feel the love coming from your words…
Dawn, what a beautiful tribute. I didn’t know Lee, but feel like I did, from reading what you wrote. That is an amazing story, and how sweet of her husband to share the quilt you helped her make! I love the name of your group and the quilt is gorgeous! Happy! Thank you for sharing this story of love for each other.
What a sweet story. I too have wanted to make a Pickle Dish quilt for myself. It’s been on my list for over 20 years and is my favorite pattern! Because I know it is a difficult pattern, I have always been scared to start. Thanks again for sharing this tribute to your dear friend.