In the early 1990’s, I very much wanted to own a quilt.
I could not afford such a treasure. So I decided to make my own.
But I wanted one so much that I decided it was something I could teach myself.
And so I went about purchasing small pieces of fabric on sale and tearing up cotton clothing that I’d purchased from garage sales.
Slowly I gathered what I thought I might need for a scrap quilt, my favorite kind of quilt.
I didn’t have a sewing machine, and that didn’t really matter to me. I would sew my quilt by hand.
I had no idea where to start. My fabric squares were impossibly off and ended up stretching to and fro because I had no idea how to cut fabric properly.
Nonetheless, I persevered.
I could not follow a pattern to save my life, (still can’t), so one day I laid my quilt top out in front of me and decided it was big enough.
Then I had to figure out how to quilt it.
That first attempt at quilting was surely nothing to write home about. The stitches were sewn just as I’d sewn the quilt top. I had not yet learned the quilting stitch. Later I would be horrified and hide it away.
Then I found a friend who knew how to do the actual quilting stitch. She showed me the rocking motion made into and out of the three quilt layers that would lead to perfect tiny stitches.
I was enthralled. And slowly but surely I learned how to do it myself.
I made quilt after quilt. I could piece one and quilt it in several months time. Because like anything else I attempt, I attacked this new hobby with gusto.
My daughters kept asking me why I made quilts out of simple squares. And I think I told them that I liked them best. (I didn’t add that I was afraid just yet to attempt anything else, since I would have to make up the pattern myself.)
Both my daughters, upon graduating from high school, received a quilt. They had input into what kind they wanted and the colors of fabric. And I went about creating them in my simple but dogged way.
I never really tackled one that had much of a pattern. The closest I think I came was the Dresden pattern.
And for that one I cut out pieces of paper and overlapped the slightly larger fabric pieces around the paper, then stitched it all together.
Still, a scrap quilt.
During my time in junior high, back when I was in the dreaded Home Ec class, I recall making one pair of pants.
I stayed up late getting them finished on my late great-grandmother’s treadle sewing machine because I wanted to wear them to school the next day.
I remember feeling so pleased with myself as I sat down to pull them on. At first I was puzzled. I couldn’t move my legs.
I had stitched the legs together. And thus I flunked Home Ec. I don’t think the teacher thought I held much promise.
So it was with great trepidation that I started that first quilt. And I kept getting better at making quilts until I had a car accident in 1998 when a semi-truck ran me off the road.
I ended up having multiple surgeries on my hands and thumb. And that right thumb ended up with early arthritis. I maybe made one more small wall quilt after that accident.
Yet I have a stack of quilts that I often rotate on the walls of whatever home I happen to live in.
I look at them, and now I see all the mistakes I made. But that’s okay. One cannot go through life without making mistakes.
I don’t know if this is mere folklore or not, but I’ve always said the following…
One of the first bits of wisdom imparted to a novice quilter is that
the Amish, who make some of the most simple but exquisite quilts in the
world, purposely plan a mistake into each of their projects because they
believe attempts at human perfection mock God.
Amish quilts are all hand quilted;. The stitches are very small and uniform. But, no matter how hard one tries, the stitches are not all identical and perfect.
Of course, any quilter knows that you don’t have to plan for imperfections in your work. They
come quite naturally on their own. So I don’t know if this bit of Amish folklore rings true or not, but the idea surrounding it does.
So that is the story of how I started quilting. And why I stopped making quilts. It was so much fun and rewarding as long as it lasted, those five or so years.
And I remember sitting in my favorite chair, a dog or two mere head bumps on either side of me holding up the layers as I quilted quilts back in the early 1990s.
Every quilt told a different story of what I might have been living at the time. Just as each quilt had meandering paths of stitches that went on and on like a road that never ends.
I still feel a bit of envy when I see quilt blocks made up of embroidery and
applique, for those were the last techniques I learned and loved.
I worked through thoughts and problems as I quilted. And I mastered that rocking technique of thumb and middle finger.
I learned why a thimble on that middle finger was so important after I ended up with pin pricks of blood on my fabric.
I suppose the Amish might say that that was one of my quilts “imperfections.” That it was meant to be.
And I wouldn’t disagree.