One Bubbe Stitches Her Legacy for 43 Great-grandchildren — and Counting

Nita Quint sews the patterns over a stenciled image. | Photos by Rachel Kurland

It’s not an unusual sight to see your adorable bubbe sewing, knitting or crocheting a special something for her grandchild.

But for Nita Quint, who has 43 great-grandchildren and her first great-great-grandchild, sewing personalized fabrics for them is an extraordinary feat of committed patience and time with the speed and endurance of a well-oiled machine.

Quint, 98, embroiders challah covers and tablecloths, which are originally from Israel, for her great-grandchildren as future wedding gifts. In total, that’s 86 legacy gifts — and counting.

One of Quint’s daughters lives in Israel, so when she visits her mother a few times a year, she brings back tablecloths and challah covers with lace trims, which Quint then adds her special designs and patterns to.

Just like paint-by-numbers — Quint prefers “painting by a needle” — she stamps some sort of stencil and threads over the design, illustrating an embroidered Shabbat dinner table, challahs or menorahs, all cross-stitched by hand.

Each one is stitched with a Hebrew bracha, too, which she always threads in blue to contrast from the white background, creating colors of the Israeli flag.

For her, it’s a relaxing process.

Though she often repeats patterns, each one is uniquely personal. She creates flowers in different colored threads, usually in the evenings of her Overbrook Park home drowned with the sounds of Dr. Phil comforting a hysterical guest.

“If they have troubles, I don’t,” she laughed.

Challah covers usually only take her about a week, and tablecloths two months.

She started embroidering the tablecloths about three years ago. At the synagogue she belongs to, Congregation Beth Hamedrosh, she would make a few tablecloths as gifts for wedding showers, and congregants loved them.

“Who gets handmade stuff anymore?” she asked proudly. Each great-grandchild will receive one tablecloth and one challah cover as future wedding gifts, and even her grandchildren are requesting some new Quint originals to replace old ones.

“I always wanted to give other grandmas the idea — maybe they knit something, maybe they paint something,” said the Conservadox bubbe. Regardless, leaving her legacy is the ultimate goal.

“Grandparents should look toward the future,” she continued. “The kids can hold something [tangible that] their grandmother held. If it’s a pair of beads, their grandmother made it. If it’s a yarmulke, their grandmother crocheted it. It’s a legacy; it’s an attachment; it’s a connection.”

Quint has been a big provider for her family in terms of sentimental items and values, since her husband died 32 years ago.

She’s the only one left living in Philadelphia; the rest moved on to Israel and Canada, and the closest is in New York.

She doesn’t travel anymore — though her last trip to Israel was at 90 years old — so if family members want to visit her, she’ll cover half the air travel costs. And they come.

She frequents her local Kohl’s to shop for necklaces, ties, coats, pants, skirts and the like to send to her great-grandchildren.

“Because I never get it there in time [for birthdays], whoever comes to visit me takes it back,” she said. “And with 43 of them I never remember.”

And she plans ahead for the literal growing family.

“I’ll start in January or the beginning of February buying winter coats. If they’re [size] 14, I buy a 16. If they’re eight, I buy a 10. I buy shorts, I buy overalls, I buy dresses, and if one doesn’t like it, the other one does,” she laughed, which she said they love because the shopping scene is much larger in America than Israel.

“They’re happy with whatever I send because nobody else has it.”

In the meantime, she’s made her own makeshift family with Kohl’s employees since she’s there so often, who usually greet her with “Here comes my grandma!” and plenty of hugs.

And with an excess of coupons, she’s an expert bargain shopper — six pairs of boys’ shorts recently came out to 91 cents each.

“Money goes through the fingers, and I don’t know where it’s going. But when they call and say, ‘Bubbe, I love the blouse you sent,’ that to me is nachus.”

Born at Eighth and Spruce streets, Quint’s family has deep roots in Philadelphia. Her father owned a restaurant, Morris’, at Third and Spruce streets, while she went to Bartlett School at 12th and Catharine.

“I used to sew the kids’ clothes,” she noted. “I made my daughters’ wedding gowns. Cost me $11 apiece” for the fabric. Not as common nowadays.

Volunteering and giving back is important to Quint, too; she used to bring Passover-friendly food to Jewish prisoners at Graterford State Correctional Institution when it was open, and she volunteered her time with the Israel Defense Forces twice.

At 69 years old, she went to Israel and packed medicines for soldiers during an intifada. The second time, she was at a supply base in the Negev, checking to ensure products were up-to-date — no bent silverware or ripped sleeping bags.

Even now, members of her shul want her to give an embroidery lesson in February.

In return for her generous gift-giving, her children and grandchildren give her a photo book for her birthday each year — titled “We love bubby!!!!” or “to the best bubby ever!!!” — with photos of each great-grandchild lined in rows like a school yearbook, from oldest to youngest, girls and boys.

“Every year, I get an update,” she said, because “I miss a lot of the weddings, I miss a lot of the Bar Mitzvahs.”

Quint’s needle is almost as fast as her wit, equally matched with her kind-hearted spirit.

Her recipe for long life: attitude and gratitude, she said, which quite simply sums up Quint’s persona.

“Not too bad at 98,” she said.

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