When Jill Zamaroni's beloved Nana died in October of 2008, Jill asked for the older woman's clothes. Family members couldn't imagine why.
"We were kind of shocked," said her aunt Toni Gardali-Morgan of Modesto.
"We said, 'They won't fit you,' " said her father, Vincent Zamaroni of Oakdale.
But Jill, 41, didn't intend to wear the clothes. Her hope was to make quilts from them, quilts that would make her father and her two aunts — Nana's children — think of Nana and all the comfort she provided the family over the years.
Jill presented the quilts — pieced together with colorful squares of her grandmother's pants, blouses, jackets and dusters — earlier this year at a family dinner.
"I was so amazed," said her aunt Jeanne Lytle of Ceres.
Her father uses the quilt every night.
"In the cold, I cuddle up in it and think of Nanny," he said. "All the good memories, all the years she raised us kids when my dad died."
Nana, also known as Ella Rose Zamaroni, was a nurturer. Her husband, Ben Zamaroni, died when the couple's three children were 13, 15 and 19. She cared for the kids on the family's ranch near Ceres.
In her later years, she made the best sugar cookies ever. She crocheted potholders. She loved to play bingo. She died at age 97 after a short stay at the Alexander Cohen Hospice House.
"She was just special," said Jill, who lives in Modesto and works as a home health physical therapist.
Jill got the idea for the quilts from her other grandmother, who had made quilts of Jill's baby clothes.
She had never quilted before, and enlisted friends to help. One friend showed her how to iron special backing on the pieces of fabric so she could assemble the squares more easily. Another lent her a 50-year-old sewing machine because her newer model couldn't handle some of the heavier material.
Sorting through her grandmother's clothes brought back memories.
"I'd tear up," she said, "but it brought back more smiles than tears."
Jill used just about every piece of clothing — the family estimates there were hundreds — and was struck by the number of outfits that incorporated the colors red, white and blue. Nana's birthday was on the Fourth of July and she liked to dress accordingly.
She also enjoyed colors and patterns. Think red ladybugs, pink flowers, red stripes and blue polka dots.
It's a zany mix, but Jill ended up with four quilts — one queen-sized quilt for each of Nana's children plus a smaller quilt for Gardali-Morgan's dog, Phoebe, which Nana loved. Jill completed the quilts in time to present them to the family on the one-year anniversary of Nana's death.
On the quilts Jill embroidered Nana-isms, or favorite saying of Nana's. For example, Lytle's quilt reads "Happy, Happy, Happy" — something Nana, in her later years, would say if she was feeling good.
The family enjoys the quilts, but admits it's an unusual way to remember a loved one. "Since I've told people, they say, 'Why didn't I think of that?' " Gardali-Morgan said.
Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2358.