Winter 2015

Sewing Sweetness

Cape Cod Home  /  Winter 2015 / , ,

Writer: Susan Dewey / Photographer: Jennifer Dow 

The threads of this Cape Cod quilt-maker’s talent connect her to admirers far and wide.

Photo by Jennifer Dow

Photo by Jennifer Dow

Tucked away on a wooded hillside in Dennis, Joyce Harvey’s small brown house does not seem remarkable at first glance. But the second you walk through her front door, you know that that there is something fantastic about the person who lives here.

It is a little like the scenes in Harry Potter movies where you pass through ordinary everyday walls into a world where magic is commonplace. Every imaginable space in Joyce’s house is covered with something wonderful that she has created. It is as if she can wave a wand and fashion beautiful quilts, paint expressive oil paintings, knit scarves in bright colors—even design and build dollhouses furnished with hand-fashioned tiny furniture.

When you ask Joyce, who looks younger than her 80 years, how she learned to be so good at such a wide range of crafts, she waves a dismissive hand. “I never took any classes,” she says, her enthusiasm lighting up the small dark rooms stuffed from floor to ceiling with her artistry—and that of others. “I just do these things because I love to. And I like to share what I make with other people.”

Joyce’s lovely quilts—each one unique with an intricate colorful design created with eclectic fabrics and decorative accents—have found their way to some far-flung places, like France, Italy, and U.S. military bases abroad. She is constantly creating something—usually working on several projects at the same time.

“I like to have three quilts going at once so I don’t get bored,” says Joyce, who admits she likes to sit in an over-stuffed armchair and watch soap operas while her hands work. “Each quilt takes me about three weeks to complete,” she says. “I used to be faster . . .but now, I’m older than the Pope!”


Photo by Jennifer Dow

Photo by Jennifer Dow

Such jokes come a mile a minute in a conversation with this great-grandmother, whose house also provides living quarters for three generations, her daughter and granddaughter living in their own apartments on the top and basement floors. You can see why it must be hard to live away from this woman with a big generous heart. In one morning’s visit, she presses jars of just-put-up jelly and soft hand-knit scarves in the colors of your choice into your hands. When you try to protest and pay for such gifts, she won’t hear of it.

Joyce does sell her quilts at local craft fairs and festivals. Each one—from vintage cotton patchwork designs in country colors, to more abstract patterns with embroidered details fashioned with silk, or satin—costs $35. When she is told that she could sell these works of art for a LOT more, Joyce waves such an idea away with her expressive hands.

She is happy to custom-design quilts to each customer’s specifications, digging through her piles of fabrics, ribbons, old-fashioned bedspreads, and more to fulfill each wish. She scours local sales for vintage lace doilies, coasters, and table runners. “I wash everything so the fabrics are clean and bright,” she says. For added warmth, cotton batting is sewn between the quilt and given a soft backing, usually made from sheets.

The only constant with a Joyce Harvey quilt is it’s size; every one is a three to four foot rectangle or square, just the right size for wrapping your legs in while watching TV, or for covering a baby in a crib . . .or hanging on your wall as a unique work of art. She also knits fabulous baby blankets—the day we were there she was working on a “Noah’s Ark” quilt for one excited grandmother, knitting tiny animals and an ark out of bright colors on a sunny yellow background.

Joyce’s granddaughter finally convinced her to come up with a name, “Remembrance Quilts” for this uniquely Cape Cod cottage industry. If you want to meet Joyce and order your own special remembrance, call her at 508-385-4252. She will be happy to meet you and design a quilt you will cherish.

Making connections with people and keeping those around her focused and happy is something this gregarious, cheerful lady has always been good at. For years, she worked for Scudder-Taylor’s Cape Cod Custom Tours as a guide. She traveled all around the world. “I’ve been to China, Africa, South America, and all over Europe,” Joyce says. She has lots of stories to tell about her travels.

Photo by Jennifer Dow

Photo by Jennifer Dow

Joyce’s interests and hobbies seem limitless, but when she is asked why she has stayed on Cape Cod rather than moving to one of the exotic, famous places she has visited and loved, she doesn’t hesitate for a minute. “Why would you live any place else if you can live in this beautiful place,” she says. “You just walk out the door and there is that beauty all around you.”

Still, she is fascinated by the work of other artists from around the world. Each room in her cozy, antique-stuffed house is decorated floor to ceiling with collectibles; plates by Norman Rockwell, beer steins from around the world; paintings by artists from South America to Asia. And there are family photos everywhere; black and white images of her parents on their long-ago wedding day, colorful framed pictures of her daughter, granddaughter, and great grandson.

You wish that you could stay all day—explore each nook and cranny of the Victorian doll-house she built for her granddaughter, sift through the yarn in every color of the rainbow piled high in one corner, or sit and work with Joyce on the jig-saw puzzles she loves. You want to ask her a million questions—how does she come up with the designs for her quilts? How—and why—did she learn to hand-throw beer steins? Who is the man in one of her oil paintings, his face a slash of emotion caught by Joyce in palette-knife strokes?

But it is time to go back to the real world. Joyce won’t let you leave without a slice of warm homemade banana bread. Your arms are full with two quilts you couldn’t resist buying for Christmas presents, the sky blue and white scarf Joyce gave you, and the fresh jam—but you can’t resist hugging this woman you met just two hours ago.

It is easy to understand why Joyce’s family members and close friends call her by an especially fitting nickname: Honey. That’s just what she is; bright, comforting, sweet, and magically good for you, every stitch of the way.

To contact Joyce “Honey” Harvey, call 508 385-4252.

Susan Dewey

Susan Dewey, former associate publisher and editor at Cape Cod Life Publications, lives in Centerville where she grows vegetables and flowers for Cape farmers' markets, designs perennial gardens for her son’s company, Dewey Gardens, and enjoys living on beautiful Cape Cod year round.