My mother did not quilt. My grandmother did not quilt either. My great-grandmother probably did quilt as befitted the time in which she lived, but as we were not destined to know one another I can’t be sure. What I’m getting at here is that quilting was not something I absorbed from my childhood surroundings. I wasn’t mitering corners at grannie’s knee or using a rotary cutter in elementary school. It is rather baffling therefore that for my first quilting project ever I decided to make a queen-sized quilt for my baby daughter. I considered the lap quilts but felt she would outgrow those too fast, and who has twin beds anymore anyway and so heck- why not just go big or go home? So I went big. I completed all of the blocks during her first year of life and even got them all put together with the inner borders. We were living in Eugene, OR at the time and knew we wouldn’t be able to stay. I chose colors to remind us of that place- the blues of the sky, the greens and browns of the earth. For the background I chose a patterned fabric featuring bright umbrellas in front of a cloudy sky. Once the top was done it just sat. And sat. For 2 years. I’ve heard this is common tale- the patchwork top is the exciting part and after that it’s just levels of tediousness.
Once I finally came to terms with this understanding I hired a longarmer. In other words, one who possesses a long-arm machine. It was a wonderfully freeing experience which has left me with a finished quilt, a sense of peace, and a neater sewing area. Thank you Heidi Hendrix in Lusby, MD!
The longarm machine is an invention which allows the quilter to spread a large portion of the quilt out while machine quilting the patchwork top, inner batting, and backing together with a set pattern such as spirals. If your other alternative, like mine, is using a small sewing machine shoved into the back corner of your loft, a longarmer might be preferable.
For the next quilt I will be using a solid color for the background, and instead of doing a sampler quilt where every block is a different pattern, I’ll just be sticking with the ones I like. Rail fence is one of my favorites- nice and simple and best of all- no triangles!
Let’s be frank. Quilting is not easy. It requires that the quilter go through the agony of making a multitude of tiny decisions which may or may not eventually add up to something significant. It demands trips to the fabric store, constant measuring, some second-guessing, some creativity, some basic (or not-so-basic) sewing skills, a dose of anxiety, and if you’re new to the art- an incredible amount of time. What is it exactly that makes us want to sit down with a pile of scraps and create something whole? Why do people who can clearly afford much warmer, much prettier blankets choose to put themselves through the quilting process?
I couldn’t have answered questions like this until I started my first quilt two years ago as a way to celebrate my daughter’s birth. My husband had known for a while that I was interested in getting started with quilting and as a surprise bought me a how-to book from Jo-Ann Fabrics one day. The pattern was for a queen size quilt which didn’t strike me as ambitious at the time because you see… it was my first quilt after all. Now I am informed. Starting small might have been more prudent. It also would have been less adventurous.
Every day after my daughter went down for her nap I pulled out my rotary cutter and my mat and I got to work on that monster. As I finished the blocks I pinned the pieces up on a bulletin board over the sewing machine to remind myself, “You’re doing it! You’re making a quilt!” Finally, the last block was done- I put on the borders and then it sat for a year. A whole year! I was pregnant with #2, we’d had a cross-country move, and other things became higher priorities. Such as entertaining my toddler for example. I have just found someone who is willing to do the quilting for me. Now that I have 2 tiny kids I am realizing that life is too short. It’s the quilt tops that are the fun part. I didn’t set out to make one in order to learn the process start to finish. I just wanted to make a gift for my daughter.
Recently I have found myself wanting to start a quilt for my son who is now 4 months old. It will be a good project to have through this coming winter. One thing no one seems to mention about being a stay-at-home parent is that you put a tremendous amount of effort in to things like laundry and dishes which always need to be done again. Instantly. It’s like the laundry and dishes you did yesterday or even 5 minutes ago never happened. But a quilt- now, that’s something that shows progress- you can count on the evidence still being present the next day, the next year, the next decade. You can present it to your child and tell them, “Hey- I made you this quilt because you’re awesome and I love you. I really do. I love you and I hope that every time you see this quilt it reminds you of that. May you never doubt it, may you never experience a moment’s hesitation, may you always know that YOU. ARE. LOVED.” A mopped floor just doesn’t send the same message.
So there it is. We quilt because it allows us to lock a piece of ourselves in time. Sure, it would be much faster and far less frustrating to make a blanket without first cutting all the fabric into miniscule pieces and then putting it all back together again. But every one of those tiny pieces carries a bit of my soul. I have handled and arranged and cut and trimmed and stitched them all. The quilt is a part of me and I will always be a part of the quilt.
Some quilters might strive for perfection- a color blend that melds together like a sunset or stitching that has never seen an equal. Fancy appliques and frills are not my style. I’m lucky if I do the measuring correctly. For me quilting is a labor of love not for the quilting itself, but rather for the recipient.