So, I’ve always been a big big fan of quilts. Everywhere we ever went if there was a quilt in the building Trey would literally yell out ‘Thomas there’s a quilt over here’ I don’t know why...I just really admire all of the thought and work that goes into a quilt...just take a minute to look at an only quilt. All of the thought that had to go into it...even the most simple patterns. All of the energy...sewing squares over and over. Making sure everything’s perfect so that it all fits together just right. Now just imagine taking scraps of fabric and creating something totally new every-time. No pattern, just going with it...and still making it work. That’s the type of quilting that I truly love and admire. Off the cuff...perfectly imperfect.
Over the years I’ve really collected quite a few quilts. Mostly just random scrap country quilts...the ones you see that are mix matched and just totally random. I absolutely fell in love with quilts from my grandma roberts quilts; they were the softest warmest blankets ever. I still have mine from my childhood.
Many many years ago on a lazy Sunday morning we watched a show on PBS about quilting, and folk art - and how the very old very traditional way of quilt making was still happening in America. That’s where we found out about the Gees Bend Quilt makers, and where we also found out about young quilt makers that were continuing the tradition of hand done quilts.
Here’s the thing about quilts...they are expensive...expensive as heck. But, there’s a reason.
I don’t think I’ve ever understood just exactly how much thought goes in to everything.
Trust me, it’s a lot.
First the story of Treys shirts.
Trey always liked nice clothes. He virtually never wore polos, he owned maybe MAYBE 3 T-shirts. He always ALWAYS wore classic Button Down shirts. Unlike me - he didn’t wear the same clothes over and over. I have 5 of the same shirt in 5 different colors. I wear the same shirts over and over til they fall apart. I’m that way with everything. Wear it til it’s done. Replace it. Not Trey...
Trey kept his clothes in color/tonal order. He would Cycle through them slowly. Blue, then purple, a greenish tone, then pink, sometimes orange. Unless we were traveling. Then I packed. I always picked out the ones I liked the most depending on where we were going. Everywhere called for different colors (basically they’re all the same - but not to Trey) the biggest one that I always remember the fondest is packing for Atlanta. Trey always wore a lot of purple. His favorite purple shirt was a Polo Ralph Lauren purple stripe. He had that shirt for at least AT LEAST 15 years. And well...Trey did always have a habit of wearing the same clothes for certain things. Missy’s Husband made the very funny, but bad mistake of telling Trey ‘hey man do you not own another shirt? Your always wearing the purple stripes’
Trey had not really noticed that he wore it that often. But, he was damn well going to make sure he wore it every-time we went to Atlanta now. We always took the stripes, a pink plaid shirt that he had worn the day Harper was born(his Harper shirt) and a very very colorful shirt he had worn to margots first birthday and to every other birthday of hers(his Margot shirt) Margorita called it his party shirt. Those three shirts I always packed for Atlanta.
Trey had his routine for getting ready. I basically stayed in bed until I heard the water shut off for the hall shower. Then I knew I had about 45 minutes to get ready to be out the door. Trey on the other hand liked nice leisurely mornings. He got up, made fresh coffee...put on his house robe and walked the dogs around the yard...it was a 15-20 minute walk. Every morning. Then he read the news(if you know Trey you know he was addicted to the news...in the middle of Obama’s two terms I made him stop listening to talk radio...it just got to be too much) he would read the news and look at Facebook for about an hour - with his juice, and yogurt. Then it was shower time. The longest showers ever. Followed by ironing and pressing his clothes every day. Trey took about 3 hours a day to get ready. He hated being rushed. He refused to be rushed.
The amount of laundry that Trey produced was enormous. And, I’ve never met anyone as picky about their laundry as Trey. No scents at all. Not even the slightest smell of anything. No harsh or lingering chemicals, nothing that would irritate his skin. We finally found a detergent in New York from his favorite show the ‘Profit’ for probably the last 10 years we have had laundry detergent shipped to us in big gallon size bottles. About the same time a client of ours told me about the ammonia trick. So, every load of laundry gets washed with a cup of amonia to get ALL the smells out.
Trey took very good care of his clothes. Nothing was ever thrown out. After it was no longer Go to work worthy it got moved to yard work shirts. Trey is the ONLY person I have ever known to do yard work fully dressed. Long Pants, button down work shirts, gloves, and a hat. He inherited sensitive skin from his father Tommy, so he did all the yard work totally covered head to toe. And still covered in sunscreen.
Trey wore his clothes, and he wore them well. Nothing went to waste, ever.
I had built his collection of shirts up over the years. I can not even begin to describe the number of shirts he had. All very different, but so similar. All polo, Ralph Lauren, orvis, Ledbury, Barbour, Colombia, etc. they were all very good shirts, all very well worn. Some of them over 20 years old.
When Treys time came I really was not prepared. I don’t know how anyone could be. But, I was not at all. I have no idea what I did from 6am to noon. Other than standing in the closet looking at all of his clothes. I just kept thinking he has to be in a suit. But which one? His pretty grey one? With the tie he wore to his grandad Frank’s Funeral? Yeah, I guess that would be it.
But, it couldn’t. That just didn’t feel right to me at all. I started having these internal conversations with myself. I decided that the Strocks would want the suit, but I’d ask if we could change his clothes at some point to more Trey clothes. His favorite ‘comfy jeans’ - Ralph Lauren, my favorite shirt I had ever gotten him - a plaid button down fancy fishing shirt with a design in the shade of blue - where the bright silvery Blue cooper river waters touch the blades of the beautiful fresh bright Green marsh grass and it included that beautiful color way out in the horizon where the vibrant green danced along the delicate lighter hazy blue of the sky. It reminded me of my favorite colors in Charleston, and every-time we would pass the marshes of the cooper river - we would always comment, especially at spring when all the color returned. I felt like it was the best colors on Trey blues, and greens, teals. And I wanted his brown linen sport jacket we had bought on our trip out to Big Sur years ago. That outfit just reminded me of Trey. I had to somehow convince the strocks...or I’d be breaking into the funeral home and changing him myself.
He needed socks, there was certainly no shortage of socks...but during the whole preparing for chemo process I had bought Trey the perfect pair of socks that described him totally. Excuse my language - but for Trey they were perfect. They were covered in flowers of many colors, beautifully done, and in beautiful script handwriting they said ‘I’m a delicate fucking flower’ and his clogs. Because
1. He loved those damn shoes
2. I hated them and told him I would be sending him off with those damn shoes.
Trey always always wore an oyster belt that I had gotten him for Christmas about 7 years ago. (The funeral home called and said no - so we picked it up, benton said he wanted to wear it. Okay, but it never felt right. And then fir Tommy’s birthday I just decided that’s where the belt needed to be.)
So I had Treys outfit picked out. I think it took me all day.
The rest of his clothes. I didn’t know what to do. There was no way I could wear them. Ever. But all the fabric. So beautiful, so many colors, and they reminded me so much of Trey. I could not donate them, I could not get rid of any of them. I wanted something done. Something different. Something artistic like Trey, out of the ordinary. Something beautiful. I searched and searched for quilters. All the way to Alaska, and I had finally settled on someone.
It just didn’t feel right. Her quilts were beautiful...amazing. But, it didn’t quite fit Trey of that makes sense. I felt like she would take Treys shirts and make them work in her design. That just didn’t sit well with me...so I asked her to send the shirts back. I didn’t know what to do.
Benton starts searching Instagram. And almost immediately finds Zac, a quilter out of Brooklyn, NY who does quilting very similar to the gees bend quilters - using found/scrap fabrics and working with the fabrics. He uses his grandmothers sewing machine. It seemed like an easy decision, everything about Zac was screaming Trey. He had that spark of creativity that Trey loved. He was driving Thru the south on a family vacation, so he stopped by and collected all of Treys shirts, and drove them back to NYC.
I gave him no direction or ideas or anything at all. Just here’s the shirts, and that Trey had passed away from cancer.
The amount of stuff that he learned about Trey from working with all of these shirts for the last 6 months. He will say things that really just floor me, make me lose my breath, and flat out bring tears in two seconds.
The first time I saw shirts cut up I almost lost it. But, then he said something that just reminded me of Trey and made it seem okay. Trey used to love taking a house and designing an addition that worked with the house, didn’t look forced, and just looked natural like it was always supposed to be there. Zac basically said the same thing. He was working with the shirts and wanted to work with them to see where it was taking him.
I just know If Trey was here he would have said ‘Thomas just let him go...don’t jump in and ruin his thoughts’ So I did.
It was hard for me. Because I like total control. I like knowing what the outcome is going to be. But, for this I left it all up to him. What turned out makes me believe Trey was there helping him, all three of them remind me so so much of Trey, doodles he would do, paintings he would do with his watercolors and then throw away. All very ‘folk art’ but extremely well thought out...almost precise...but where it went a little off he just made it work. One of them he did and re-did and re-did.
I don’t know if these will ever be used. I never thought I’d be one of those people but these have turned out in my mind as such a perfect interpretation/explanation/study of Trey. I’ve only seen pictures, so I don’t know how exactly my emotions will be once I se them in person...but I know that any expectation that I ever had had been blown away. I am so glad that Benton found Zac on Instagram. I am so excited that he took the time to appreciate Treys life, and take what he learned about him from his clothes and made them into something amazing, and worthy of Trey. Something that I know Trey would be very proud of. Something that I can’t even describe. Thankful is not even the right word.
The first quilt done. It really put me at ease. Everything about it just said Trey. He used to doodle a lot while he was on the phone, and when he was practicing painting - this pattern is one he made over and over.
Zak sent over this concept. It just made me wish I had kept all of Treys ‘finger paints’. It just immediately reminded me of Trey. Everything about it. And that’s where everything all began. The concept turned into this...
So when Zak sent the first photo (up top) of the completed quilt it really took me back. A very classic deign with some of Treys favorite shirts. It all just tied together. A traditional/folk art twist.
The second quilt - I’ve just called it ‘perfectly imperfect’ from the day I saw it. My honest first reaction was WHAT THE HELL? It holds SO MANY of Treys favorite shirts. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the two contrasting colors. And then it hit me. The vertical red stripes and the horizontal yellow were holding everything together. The red to me is Family. Trey LOVED his family. They ALL would do anything for one another, so the red is most definitely family.(it gets a little wobbly in some rows(jimmy carter is there somewhere & the not so recent unpleasantness of one Atlanta asshat we won’t discuss) but family was always there. In yellow I feel like is our relationship. Not perfect, and not complete, interrupted if you will. We still held it all together - speed bumps, road blocks and all. Trey used to always tell me two things, always and in this quilt are both of those things.
If you wanna get peoples attention use red and yellow. And he’s right. Red and yellow are the two main colors used in advertising...McDonald’s, sale tags...etc.
The KISS method. Keep. It. Simple. Stupid.
Needless to say I fell in love with the second quilt. Quickly.
The third quilt. Admittedly the one I was most nervous about. I had been keeping track of which shirts had been used in all the quilts, so mentally I knew ALL THE PASTELS still had to go into a quilt. Part of me was scared. Even though Trey wore a lot A LOT of pastels, he really wasn’t a Pastel guy. So I wasn’t sure how the sherbet pastel quilt in my thoughts would look in real life. The first image Zak sent really took my breath away.
I’m not really sure how to explain everything I thought About this quilt. I thought everything. About Trey, about me...about us together. Seaglass, contrast, rough around the edges...hard work in a beautiful life.
Trey was everything. Absolutely everything. He was that soft pastel sherbet underlying pattern, and he was that same deconstructed work shirt on top of it all. Trey was not a do what I tell you kinda boss. He jumped in (literally) and got messy and work until it was done. I can not even number the amount of shirts that quickly became yard work shirts because of jumping in to work. So this quilt being all the pretty pastels with the floating blue denim work shirt pieces just really hit home.
Another thing that really made me think is Zak told us that maybe he was partial to it because it reminded him of collecting sea glass and laying it out on the beach. Right then and there I knew it was Trey. Two years ago for my birthday Tommy and Brenda gave me a yard stake with rocks, and sea glass making a beautiful top formation. It really is beautiful. It’s in the back camellia beds, it’s been there ever since. I had put Treys art desk at the back door of the den for the longest time so he could sit and paint and look at the chickens. He would paint the sea glass often...he always threw them away. But, he would just sit there and doodle.
And finally many many MANY years ago. I think the year we met...Trey took me to have dinner with a friend of his. I was not eager to go, none of Treys friends liked me. But, we went. We got there and it was my worst nightmare. All there was to eat was salmon, and lobster. I was in hell. All I remember is wanting to leave so badly to get something to eat, and drinking Grey Goose vodka out of sterling silver cups like it was an everyday thing. That was the first person to like me. He said I was the perfect opposite of Treys pretty pastel world. Like a perfect diamond before polishing, rough around the edges.....so the rough edges of the blue shirt appliquéd on top of all the pastels just stood out with so many meanings in so many ways.
After the first quilt I really relaxed, and just said yes to anything asked. I know Zak worked on and ripped apart these quilts man many times. That’s something Trey would do as well. Re do it til it’s right. Know every little detail and every little piece of everything he had worked on. So, at the end there was just a big sigh of relief, and a sense of knowing it’s a job well done.
These aren’t just quilts at all. They are all so different, and all still so the same.
The three quilts of Thomas the III, or Trey.
I hope when you see these three quilts you think of the creative, artistic, smiling, hardworking, and loyal person that he was.
I hope they make you smile in all of the memories you have of Trey.