Park City Girl is holding a quilt festival and asking for blogs on our favorite quilts. What a great idea! And there are so many lovely quilts being posted with their stories. Turning to my own quilts I realized that, of course, it’s not easy picking a favorite.
It’s the very first quilt I made adapting Anita Grossman Solomon’s Fold and Sew technique to miniature quilts. I remember how excited I was when I realized my experiment was actually going to work! So, besides just liking the look of it (a batik fan here), this little quilt has a lot of sentimental value – I didn’t know it at the time, but it whispered the promise of a whole new adventure in quilting.
And then I thought about this quilt.
I was so excited when I made this one and realized the technique would work with a pattern like this – that the quilt looks like it would be hard to make with little pieces but was actually quite easy. The border was quilted by a friend and I am so grateful for the friendships quilting has brought into my life. Besides, I love the look of Amish quilts. I was thrilled when C&T picked this one for the book cover.
But then I asked myself, if the house was on fire and there was only one quilt I could save (granted, a bit morbid approach to the question), I decided it had to be this one.
This is the first bed size quilt (the first pieced quilt) that I ever made. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. That it lies anything resembling flat is a miracle. I didn’t know about rotary cutters or quilting rulers. I drew lines on fabrics, depending on the patch size, with either a regular twelve inch ruler or a yard stick. I cut the patches out with regular sewing scissors, not being all that particular about it either. When I sewed patches together and things didn’t quite line up (go figure), I just took my scissors and cut the extra off.
I sewed the entire top together, and then, before I sandwiched it, one of my sons spilled a drink on it. The dark green fabric ran onto its neighbors. I stuffed the whole thing into the washer and then the dryer. Amazingly enough, the color bleed came out and the seam allowances didn’t entirely fray away to nothing. (I had a quilting buddy from Israel and she told me once they had a saying there: “God loves fools.” I figure I’m the living proof).
Then, though I was vaguely aware it was possible to quilt on a sewing machine, I wanted a “real” quilt. Hand quilting or bust, right? Of course, I’d never hand quilted either. I drew lines about an inch apart all over the top of the quilt. I didn’t know about the quilting stitch either. So nearly all of the quilt is done with a running stitch. About half-way through I learned there was an actual quilting stitch which might save me some of the physical pain hours of a tightly gripped needle was causing me. Those first stitches were pretty awful (same size? straight?), but by the time I got to the outer borders, they looked pretty good, really. I was proud of that.
So, one, this quilt is my favorite because it carries in it all that newbie joy of discovery, first love completely untainted by any sense of the “right” way to do things. And frankly, that would all be reason enough to say this is my favorite.
But here’s the real heart of the matter: most of the quilting was done while I was sitting with my father during his last year of life. He had Alzheimer’s and couldn’t be left alone. Once a week I’d visit so that my mother could get out of the house, run errands or just breathe. Over the course of months, I watched my father’s mind disintegrate. He’d sit on the couch and look over at me in the rocker, quilt in my lap, needle in hand.
“And how long is it going to take you to finish that?” he’d asked, his voice teasing. “Years?” And then, because he’d always been a gentle man, he’d say, just so I’d know he was only teasing me, “It looks real good.”
In the Fall, when I first began these weekly visits, he might repeat those exact words over fifteen or twenty times. He’d also tell me stories about how during the depression he worked as a gardener at the Duke estate in New Jersey. She employed seventy gardeners he told me, repeating himself a dozen times over the course of an hour. Her house was nearly a mile long.
I quilted. It gave me something to do. It gave me something to look at as sometimes, and it’s still hard to admit this, it was just to0 difficult to look him in the eye as I tried to respond to a comment I was hearing repeated for the hundredth time as if I was hearing it for the first. By mid-winter, the number of gardeners who worked the estate varied wildly. She employed forty, seventy, a hundred and fifty, two hundred. By Spring, he could no longer complete a sentence. I quilted – tiny stitches a lifeline as I filled in the gaps of the story for him. So he could keep going, get through till the end, before five minutes later he began it all again.
And then, suddenly, the stomach cancer that had been slowly growing over the year, reached critical mass. Within weeks, he was dead. The quilt was still unfinished. In the months following, I spent hours every evening working on it. I needed to finish it. And I did.
It was hard those first few nights that I slept under this quilt newly draped over the bed. There was so much pain in it. It occurred to me it was a little perverse on my part, perhaps, that I wasn’t just willing to put the thing in a closet. “Get some distance,” I’d tell myself. The quilt stayed on the bed. It kept my father closer somehow. As the weeks went by, it became clearer that all the hours we had spent together had been stitched into this simple, flawed, first steps stumbling quilt. What greater gift could I ask for?
The quilt carries painful memories, of course. But love isn’t always free of pain, we know that. My imperfect, now faded, quilt is a testament of love. Of my love for my father, for who he used to be, for the kindness and dignity he held onto even as disease took so much away, for how grateful I am that I had those last hours with him – painful and awkward as they were, that I was, even though imperfectly, able to give something back to him for all the care he had provided for me over so many years.
Quilting is about color and design, of course. It’s about loving fabric, and loving the act of creation. But it’s so much more, and I never forget that, perhaps because this first quilt taught me the lesson with such depth and poignancy.