Stories That Shaped My Faith
One Hundred Dresses
by Deb Lindahl | July 24, 2020
My grandmother lived a faith-filled life. I know this because she wrote down her stories and passed them on to her children and grandchildren.
She tells the story of a man at church with “very broad shoulders” whom she married one Sunday after church. Widowed young with seven children, she saw all five of her sons enlist in World War II—four of them serving in active duty. Her faith sustained her as four stars hung in the window of her two-bedroom home in rural Marquette, Kansas. And she was grateful when all four came home.
My grandmother’s stories had such an impact on me that they led me to wonder how I could pass on my own stories. My answer grew out of a favorite book from my childhood. The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, is about a girl whose family had immigrated to the United States from Poland and who claimed to have a hundred dresses “all lined up in my closet.” She was ridiculed by the other children—until they discovered a gallery of hand-drawn pictures in her closet of her classmates wearing beautiful, colorful dresses.
Incorporating my passion for quilting, I began making dress blocks—one hundred of them. Like the dresses in Estes’s book, each one is unique. Each square incorporates 27 pieces of fabric sewn together using a paper-piecing pattern. Some of the materials were actual clothes—a shirt of my mother’s, my mother-in-law’s dress. Pieces of quilts I sewed for my children and six grandchildren are included in the blocks.
I am blown away by how many people come talk to me in tears after every presentation.
And I realize that even though we are different, we have common threads.
There’s a myth that says Amish quiltmakers purposely left a mistake in their work to signify that only God can create something perfect. As I was basting a jewel-toned “Amish” dress block together, I noticed that I had made a mistake. I left it uncorrected to remind me to embrace imperfection, just as God surely does with me.
Of all the memories represented in the hundred dresses quilt, the hardest is made of the cheeriest fabrics. It tells the story of my first pregnancy. In May of 1980 my husband, Wes, was hired in the computer department of North Park College, and we moved into our first home in Libertyville, Illinois. That August, our new obstetrician expressed concern during a routine visit and ordered an ultrasound for the next day.
That night I went into labor at 37 weeks. Our stillborn daughter was delivered the next morning. She had anencephaly, a condition that occurs when the end of the neural tube fails to close resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain and skull. Devastated, we were advised not to see her or hold her. A square represents the quilt I had made for her.
As I sewed each block, I wrote notes about each memory attached to the blocks. After the quilt was finished, I spent a year writing an essay for each square. My hundred dresses quilt took a total of four years to make.
In May 2018 I was asked to speak at a Mother’s Day event at my church, Libertyville (Illinois) Covenant Church, and I began to share these stories. Then I was asked to do a second presentation for anyone who missed the first. Another church invited me to come, and people who heard me there invited me to another church. I used to be a children’s librarian, and my library asked me to share my story.
I am blown away by how many people come talk to me in tears after every presentation. And I realize that even though we are different, we have common threads. We have loss, we have cancer, we have sadness, and we have great joy. I am so blessed to hear other people’s stories.
At one program someone asked me, “Was it hard to come up with a hundred stories?” When I first started, it was. By the end, there were stories I didn’t have enough blocks for. As a children’s librarian, I’m used to telling stories, but when you tell your own stories, you become a lot more vulnerable. My one hundred dresses hold the stories I want to remember and that I want my family to remember. Sharing them with others is something I feel God wants me to do. So I keep saying yes.