It's no exaggeration to say that working on the bedquilt has given Aunt Mehetabel a new lease of life. If we wish to see confirmation of this, we need only look at how she used to live before she started working on it.
Back then, Aunt Mehetabel led a life of drudgery. Regarded as the least important member of the Elwell family, the unmarried sixty-eight-year-old is considered by her relatives as nothing more than an old maid. This essentially means that she has no life of her own.
Because of this, she's expected to perform a series of menial household chores every day. On Mondays, she washes the sweaty shirts of the men of her brother's family, who have been working out in the fields all day. And on Tuesdays, she spends several hours ironing a "monotonous succession of dishcloths and towels and sheets."
For good measure, Aunt Mehetabel sits in the corner of the kitchen with the children, removing the stones from cherries and picking the hulls out of strawberries. It's a terrible, soul-destroying chore that leaves Aunt Mehetabel with her fingers dyed red.
It's not that the Elwells are deliberately unkind to Aunt Mehetabel. It's just that she's such an insignificant figure in their lives that they give no thought to her or her needs.