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50 shades of pink: Catchy title describes quilt done entirely by hand

Not so, though, with her “50 Shades of Tickle Me Pink” quilt now on display at the Quad-City Botanical Center, Rock Island.

The quilt consists of 25 blocks of different, primarily pink floral designs accented with green. Pink is Cook’s favorite color, so “tickle me pink” came to her easily, then she added “50 shades” for extra punch because she used at least that many different pink fabrics, all from her existing “stash.”

While it is a name that aptly describes the colors, it doesn’t come close to conveying the craftsmanship.

Consider that every piece of every flower is hand-appliquéd, and the entire work is hand-quilted, front to back, with a different thread pattern in each block.

Such extensive hand-work is uncommon these days.

And “uncommon” is also a good word to describe Cook herself.

Life story; ‘quilting saved me’

At 88, Cook, of Davenport, has a life story as inspiring as her quilting.

She graduated years ago from what was then Davenport High School, married and had five children. She was a housewife and mother, and that’s all she ever wanted to be.

Then, when she was 38, her husband died, leaving her with five children, aged 8 to 18 years old. She had to find work. She didn’t even know how to drive a car.

What did she do?

“Well,” she said, “I got turned down a lot.”

Her first job, she said, was sewing purses and skirts out of fine imported French fabric for a woman who owned a shop in the Village of East Davenport. “I made a special kind of bag,” she said. “I got $23 for each one, and she sold them for $45 to $48.”

She then snagged an office position at the former M.L. Parker department store in downtown Davenport. The man she worked for — a merchandise buyer — “was lazy so I learned to do his work and wrote the orders,” she said.

“When he was terminated they asked me if I would like to become a buyer so that’s what I did. I was a buyer for 14 years. I started in housewares and ended up in drapery.”

She found herself traveling to New York City for “market,” visiting the big stores to shop for items that she thought people in the Quad-Cities would like to buy. She got around by taxi, but she also learned to use public transit and did a lot of walking.

When she was 55, she and several other women the same age were “let go.”

By then Parker had been purchased by Petersen Harned and Von Maur, and Cook was offered a job at the NorthPark store. “I didn’t drive, so I turned it down,” she said.

She landed on her feet at McCabe’s Department Store in downtown Rock Island and worked about three years “until they closed the store.”

After that, it was back across the Mississippi River to Davenport where she got a job as a hostess at the downtown Bishop’s Buffet. When that closed she was lucky enough to be transferred to the remaining location at SouthPark in Moline where she worked the night cash register.

But the business was in decline, and management was cutting employees’ hours.

When she was in her 70s, “there was a young woman who did my job during the day (and) they were going to cut her,” Cook said. “But she had a child and wasn’t married,” so Cook offered to leave so that young woman could stay on.

And that was the end of Cook’s working career.

Hearts are special

But through it all she had “a good bunch of kids,” and sewing to keep her going. Then, as now, she sews every day. “Quilting has saved me,” she said.

Despite her years of experience, “50 Shades of Pink” was a challenge. The middle block, for example, features six hearts, and turning under the curves of the hearts for appliqué was tricky.

The hearts are special to her, though, and that’s why she put that block in the center. Her husband died of a heart attack, as did one of her children, and the other four all have heart conditions.

Another challenge was the feather design in the quilting around the perimeter and deciding where, after one stitch was done, exactly where to put her needle for the second.

“It’s the first feather design I’ve ever done,” she said. “But I like a challenge. The whole project was a challenge.”

Nowadays her eyesight is failing and she has arthritis in her hands, which means she can’t sew as long as she used to.

But she keeps at it. She recently made 10 aprons as Christmas presents, five ruffled and fancy for women and five more plain for men. She also made a centerpiece for one of her daughters, and is constantly embroidering pillow cases and dish towels.

She learned to sew in 7th grade at Frank L. Smart School, and picked up quilting from her mother.

“Some people call me a perfectionist, and I guess I am. I like things to be right.”

In the summer, Cook also cares for her flower garden. “That’s a good reason for living,” she said. “They need to be taken care of, watered.

“Every night when I go to bed, I tell myself what I’m going to do the next day and nine times out of 10, I do it.

“I’ve had a good life.”

P.S. Cook has not read “50 Shades of Gray,” the erotic romance novel that inspired the name of her quilt, nor has she seen the move. “I want to make sure you know that,” she said.

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