Stitching Family Stories

Outlook September 2020 - Stitching Family Stories

The value of a family’s hand-pieced quilt is measured by memory. Martha Sparks specializes in helping people restore these important heirlooms so that the story can carry on for future generations. With a thirty-year background in the museum field, Martha’s work goes much deeper than that of a skilled seamstress—she does detailed textile restoration in her home studio.

“Right now, I’m working on a quilt made of various feed sack patches from the 1920s,” Martha said. “Two of the fabrics have become so fragile that they’re almost non-existent, so I’m restoring those patches with pieces from my stash of original period fabrics.”

Martha spent six months on a 1950s butterfly-block quilt in which a family member had cut up the bottom two-thirds to make teddy bears. Luckily, another family member rescued remnants of the original fabric, so Martha is reattaching the missing portion. 

Martha’s goal is to make the quilts look whole again, in a way that no one can detect her work from the creator’s work. It’s a technique revealed to her in the basement of a museum. “An elderly gentleman, working amidst shelves of liquids and tools, had a small-