That first quilt I ever made could probably qualify for entry into somebody's worst-quilt sweepstakes. Boy, did I ever not know what I was doing.
My youngest was going off to college with the knowledge that her father was terminally ill, and I wanted her to have something she could wrap around herself and be surrounded with memories of home and good times.
I decided to make a series of blocks from fabrics that she could relate to some family events. Shopping for appropriate fabrics proved not to be difficult, as lots of so-called ``conversation prints'' could be found that fit in a wide range of themes. So there were blocks that covered favorite things like picnics and holidays, including even one for Mozart's birthday, which we always celebrated with aplomb.
I brought home a rotary cutter, mistakenly thinking I could just lay the fabric out on the table top and cut away. Ooops! That meant a quick second trip to the fabric store to buy a mat on which to cut.
Anyone who has mainly sewn garments has a bit of a transition to make when it comes to quilts. Garments generally have a five-eighths inch seam allowance, while quilt are sewn with a mere quarter inch. For garments, most seams are pressed open, while with quilts they are pressed to one side. In my garment-sewing days there was a lot of easing and use of a steam iron, while quilts pieces rarely have to be eased together, and, I found at least, using a steam iron can often cause the fabric to stretch.
I probably made every mistake that could be made on that quilt, choosing a high thread-count sheet for backing that resisted most of my efforts at hand-tying. I didn't know about chain-piecing, so laboriously started and stopped, lifted the presser foot, cut threads and began again what seemed like a thousand times. Some of the fabric I bought was, I discovered, inexpensive for good reasons too many to iterate here.
The finished quilt was lumpy and irregular, but the daughter took if off to college anyway, and, I hope, it provided her with a measure of consolation and connectedness during that first year away from home.
Undeterred by my first lumpen attempt, I let hubris get the better of me, and decided next to make a lone star quilt. For those of you who aren't quilters, let me explain that a lone star quilt is made up from diamond-shaped blocks, which means that each piece will have at least two bias edges, and fabric cut on the bias (diagonal to the weave) wants to stretch and will do so at the last provocation.
That second quilt suffered from what I'll have to call ``volcanism.'' Once I got all the pieces together -- and that required some major wrestling and wrangling -- the quilt rose up in the middle like a volcano. There was no way I could get it to lie reasonably flat. I fought it into submission, but there were myriad tiny unintentional pleats on the finished top.
If that wasn't enough of a stretch, my third quilt was one I made for my husband, using a pattern designed by Ruth McDowell. As in Ruth McDowell quilter extraordinaire and MIT graduate. Each block featured four frogs arranged in a geometric pattern, and had, if I remember correctly, something like 20 pieces, most with bias edges.
I carefully made templates for each piece from a flexible plastic, and then, cutting around them with my rotary cutter, managed to gouge and nick and trim them so they had little resemblance to the mathematically precise pattern McDowell designed. Precision is not part of my psychic makeup, to put it mildly.
Nonetheless, the finished queen-sized quilt was great, I thought, although if I were to pull it out now and take another look, I'm sure I'd groan. My husband liked it, and that's what counts.
Since then I've probably conjured up more than 100 quilts in all sizes for all occasions. And I've seduced a number of my friends into the joy of quilting, too. Like many quilters I have a stash
of fabric that is way too big, and to which I continue to add more anyway, because I can get drunk on color and pattern.
Earlier this year I told some of my friends that when I die -- not something I'm planning to do any time soon, by the way -- I want them to hold an outdoor quilt show, stringing clothesline from tree to tree up in Tilden Park. And everyone for whom I've ever made a quilt is to come and hang them all on the lines. And then they are to weave flower head wreaths for themselves and sing and dance in the meadows under the flapping quilts.
Favorites over the years? I loved the Odin quilt I made for my dad, using am image from a runestone of the Norse deity riding his eight-legged horse, with the prow of the Oseberg Viking ship prow rising up out of the sea. My father wasn't very fond of it, and hung it in a back hall so no one could see it, but it made me happy to have made it.
Another is the quilt we used for our Samhain altar cloth. It has four big blocks, each one with four witches whose pointy hats grow out of a snail's trail pattern. Each witch has a different colored face and expression on her face. My idea was to celebrate the diversity of women in our Pagan community, but to do so in a fun way.
A number of years ago I made a quilt for a little girl who had neuroblastoma, one of the most dreaded childhood cancers. She wanted something with princesses on it and her mom said she loved pink and purple. I think I succeeded in making her a quilt she loved without my having to go all Disney princess.
For my favorite niece I made a wedding-ring quilt using a more geometric pattern than is usually seen. I appliqued an image of Norse goddess Freya at the top, scattering flowers and blessings on the newlywed couple. Must have worked because the bride got pregnant the first night she slept under it. Here you see the quilt.
When my youngest got married, I made two quilts, one for her and one for her husband. Hers has diamond-shaped blocks, with each one centered with an image of something I wanted to call in for her. Here's a small section of that quilt.
Her husband's was comprised solely of square blocks of floral fabric, with lots of roses. The idea was that I was calling in a marriage that would be a bed of roses for him. Here's his quilt and I knew he was secure enough in his masculinity that a rose-covered quilt would be just fine for him.
When I was growing up, I was told that artistic talent belonged to others in my family, that my slot was as the family's gawky too-tall intellectual. And it's true that some of my attempts at drawing and painting have been pretty pathetic. But oh my, hand me fifteen different fabrics and I will be so happy, and, I hope make something that I, at least, consider wonderful and beautiful.