As many women do, I decided to make a quilt when my son was little. If I remember right (always an iffy proposition) he was five at the time. I’ve liked quilts since I was equally little, being fascinated by the vintage quilts my grandmother had on her beds. Exactly why I thought making a quilt might be a good idea I don’t know. I think I had this vague idea that I could make money selling quilts and quit my day job. Ha ha ha! I’m still trying to figure that one out, although the day job is long gone.
While I hadn’t made a quilt before, I had made a patchwork potholder for my mom in 6th grade, as a sample to go with a term paper I wrote about quilting. This was back in 1968 (don’t you dare do the math), and there weren’t many quilt books out there (none I could find) so my research was done at the New York State Historical Society, which happened to be in the town we lived in at the time. For the potholder I did a star, possibly an Ohio Star, and I can’t remember if I had a block pattern to follow. No step-by-step instructions, I had to figure it out, and I used scraps my mom had. I have no photos of this early masterpiece (or of my first real quilt, for that matter).
I also made a patchwork blanket for one of my model horses, from sample bits my mom gave me. No batting so technically it isn’t a quilt. I still have it around here somewhere, but the horse is long gone.
So I had a little bit of piecing experience when I set out to make a quilt, and a treadle sewing machine my dad had given me for my 16th birthday. I might have made the model horse blanket on it. (It’s not like I had any interest in sewing clothes or home decor.) I needed the treadle because we lived off the grid and our itty bitty solar power system couldn’t handle a sewing machine or iron. I sewed at home, then took the pieces to my mom’s house to iron them. The work got done in stages.
For a pattern I went shopping in my mom’s craft book collection, and found a Quilt-in-a-Day book by Eleanor Burns, complete with cardstock template pieces to cut out. The book was for a sampler quilt, but I chose one block (a pinwheel variation) to use for my first quilting venture. And yes, I cut out the templates, layered fabric, pinned the template in place, and struggled to cut through four layers of fabric with my mom’s old sewing scissors (read: dull). (I discovered rotary cutters soon after that first quilt.)
Once I had all the pieces cut, I learned real fast how to fudge a seam! My memory has faded over the years, so I don’t know how I managed to get it all put together, but I did. Then I had to figure out how to quilt it. First I basted the layers with straight pins and tried to sew a simple quilting line on my machine. Didn’t work. The pins didn’t hold and everything moved around.
After ripping out those stitches I resigned myself to hand quilting. I may have rebasted it, or I may have struggled with the straight pins, I’ve forgotten those details. Maybe I’ve blocked it out. All I remember was doing the bare minimum to hold it together, and my stitches almost qualified as Big Stitch. And somewhere along the line I lost a needle.
Eventually I finished it and gave it to my son, who loved it dearly. About 8 months later, he called me in to his room soon after bedtime, and said, “Mom, there’s something sharp in my quilt, it pricked me.” He showed me where it was, and I felt around and worked it out, thinking one of the straight pins had ended up inside. Nope, it was the missing needle. Sure made me feel like Mom of the Year for that one!
What I don’t understand, looking back, is why that wasn’t my last quilt as well as my first. I guess I’m a slow learner, because I’m still making quilts 25 years later. Although I’ve stopped leaving needles in them.
This post is my entry in the Blog it to Win it Contest sponsored by Interweave. If I win I want the following prize package:
Digital Collage for Quilt Design From Start to Finish DVD by Diane Rusin Doran