Quilts can be works of art by their design and by the masterful needlework that puts them together. Among my treasures, brought out only on special occasions, are beautiful quilts that my mother and grandmother pieced and quilted.

Equally appreciated by me are my faded and worn quilts that have given their lives to keeping us safe from freezing on winter nights that had the upper hand over smoldering coals in the open grate. After all, quilts were created in the beginning for utility, and old ones that remain reflect those times.

Quilts that my mother-in-law had accumulated over her lifetime were divided among the families of her nine children when her housekeeping years were over. Each daughter had special memories associated with many of them--garments made from fabric like some of the pieces--and some sons recognized scraps like a shirt they had, too. I listened and enjoyed the stories that were told as this took place.

My husband spoke no preference, but I had my eye on the one I silently hoped he would receive. It was ragged in places, faded from tub washings, and bore countless signs of use. It was the real thing, not a fancy protected memento.

The congenial distribution worked out that our family did get the quilt I preferred. The sisters-in-law said they felt bad for me because it was not pretty; I was ecstatic.

When I display my bright yellow and orange sunburst quilt or the colorful iris applique quilt with piped scalloped edges, I drape this utility quilt over a couple of chairs nearby; it's the real thing.

You can tell it is a quilt within a quilt. Rips and rotten places let you see the inner original. Some of the cloth is rather rough and the cotton batting is lumpy and pulled apart.

When the first one wore out, another top and lining were pieced and sewn to size and slipped over. It is held in place by tacking--thread loops every few inches, tied and knotted--in case someone reading this is unfamiliar with quilt terminology.

No two pieces of the patchwork quilt are the same size. They range from a big one in the center approximately 16" by 24" to short rectangle strips as narrow as one inch. All were sewn together by hand until the quilt was big enough to cover a double bed that might have slept as many as four bodies, feet to feet.

All the fabrics are dull browns, blues, and grays. It is evident that many pieces were faded in spots before they came to a second life in the quilt, cut from the tail of a work shirt or the skirt of a dress, the other parts having been ready for the rag bag.

Patterns of the fabric are stripes and checks, made by the weaving of different shades of threads. The only printed images are tiny white flowers on a dark blue background of a couple of newer patches that were whipped overworn spots in later years. They stand out in contrast.

If this quilt could speak to me, it would not apologize for its ugliness and the shape it is in. No, it would take pride in its history of usefulness, praise the hands that did what they could with what they had to create it, and express thankfulness for the opportunities to provide warmth, comfort, and peace to people throughout its existence. What could matter more?