A Quilt Block for the Schoolmaster

by Solveig Paulson Russell

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    Hope was a little Pilgrim girl who lived in a log cabin with her family. Although she wasn’t eight years old yet, she could do many things to help around the house. She could rock the baby’s cradle. She could wash dishes, brush the ashes back from the hearthstone, and churn the cream in the wooden churn until the golden butter chunks sloshed in the buttermilk. She could do these things and more. Sometimes she even helped with sewing hems in towels.

    The sewing had to be done by hand, so Hope’s mother showed her how to hold the needle, push the shiny point into the cloth, and pull it carefully out again to make a stitch that would not pucker the cloth.

    Hope didn’t like to sew. “The needle pricks my hand,” Hope complained to her older brother, John. “I wish you had to sew. You get to be outside carrying the firewood to the shed. You don’t have to make silly stitches line up in a straight row! I hate sewing!”

    John laughed. “Wood splinters prick too. And carrying wood isn’t fun. But since you hate sewing, you won’t be making a quilt block for the new schoolmaster’s quilt, will you?”

    “Quilt for the schoolmaster? I know nothing about it.”

    “I guess no one told you because your sewing isn’t good enough. The women and some of the older girls are going to make quilt blocks and then put them together for the new schoolmaster. I heard Dame Blodget say that all finished blocks are to be put in a box at the church entry so they can be joined to make the quilt. Mother is so busy she can’t help; it’s too bad we haven’t a girl in our family who can sew well enough to make a quilt block.”

    When John left to do his chores, Hope sat still for a long time. She frowned and tapped her foot fretfully against the wooden floorboards for awhile. Then she got up, hunted for some scraps of material from her mother’s sewing box, and rummaged about for thread. “I can sew a block, even though John thinks I can’t. I can and I will! I’ll put four little pieces together, and I’ll make a yellow flower right in the middle, and it will be beautiful!”

    Each day whenever she had time, Hope worked on her quilt block. She said nothing about it to anyone. She worked only when she was left alone to tend the baby or when she was outside, perched on a log under the big fir tree.

    Hope worked carefully to join the four small pieces together. But then it seemed that the yellow flower just didn’t want to be made. She pricked her fingers, and the yellow stitches went this way and that instead of coming out smoothly and evenly from the center. Again and again Hope pulled out the stitches and put them back in. When the block was finally finished, tears ran down her cheeks as she looked at it. “It’s horrible! John was right, and this block isn’t even clean anymore.”

    Finally Hope wiped her tears, wadded her work into a ball, pushed it into a crack in the fir tree’s bark, and went back to the cabin.

    It was almost a month later when John came into the cabin and said, “Hope, the schoolmaster’s quilt is all finished. It’s spread on a table at the meetinghouse. Come see it.”

    “I don’t want to see it,” Hope answered as she turned away. “I don’t care about a silly old quilt.”

    “Mother says it isn’t kind or respectful not to admire the work of others,” John answered. “If you aren’t jealous of good sewing, you’ll come.”

    “Oh, all right. I haven’t anything else to do right now,” Hope said. “I’ll go.”

    When she and John entered the meetinghouse, Hope saw the quilt spread on the table. It was made with rows of quilt blocks joined together. It looked drab at first glance, but as she drew nearer, Hope’s eyes opened wide, and she gasped. A bright yellow glob in the middle of the quilt was all she could see. “My block,” she cried. “How did it get—?”

    John grinned. “I found it,” he said. “I found it in the tree and took it to Mother. She washed it and brought it to the church. And do you know what, Hope? The new schoolmaster said he’d rather have that bright block made with a little girl’s hands than all the rest put together. He’s proud of it.”

    “Oh, John!” was all Hope could say.

    “I’m proud too,” John added. “And I think that when you grow up you’ll probably be the best seamstress in the whole country.”

    Hope laughed happily. She tucked her hand into John’s bigger one, and they hurried home to tell their mother all about the schoolmaster’s quilt!

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch