10.18.2009

a stitch in time

i started a new project last night. i decided more than a year ago that i would like to make ada a quilt out of marko's old shirts. i put word out and slowly those shirts that were torn or stained fell into my fabric pile. i procrastinated on the actual making using the perennial "tomorrow" as my excuse, but then the other night ada woke up 3 times in the night from what i suspected might be the cold, and i decided that i needed to get on it, the great shirt quilt wasn't going to make itself. as for where i got the idea, i am not sure if i am reading too many blogs where women seem to miraculously turn something old and worn out into something new and wonderful, but i am aspiring to something, letting the warmth of delusion soothe me. so last night i was here watching the 30 rock premiere and cutting up the first of what has now become several shirts, and i got thinking about sewing and i, our rocky journey together.

i remember the first time i ever saw a quilt. wait, what i mean to say is that i remember the first time i ever SAW a quilt. i was with my brother, aaron, and we were at his friend's apartment. i was still in high school, he had just escaped. it wasn't an apartment that his friend lived in with her parents, it was an apartment of her own (well, with roommates) and it seemed so exotic and wonderful. i remember parts of it now and in truth it was mostly poorly lit and thrift store-ish, but back then it was something. truly, it was. i wasn't there long before i noticed the quilt sitting all alone in the corner. it wasn't even a real one, at least not what you are thinking. it was scrappy and smelled a little musty, mostly it was a mess, but i loved it. the creator had just taken old clothes, and sheets and cut uneven strips, some oddly elongated triangles, or rectangles that narrowed sharply at the ends, and had sewn them together with seemingly zero regard for colour, or texture, or flow. it was a fury of velvet and denim. so uninviting, and yet there was an energy to it that drew me in. i remember sitting a good part of the night staring at the sunken chair it called home. i thought about it later too, weeks and months after i saw it, long past the point in which i forgot the face of the friend who owned the home. it was the quilt that stayed. i was never quite sure why.

when i graduated from university my mom asked me what i would like as a gift. i got thinking about the quilt again, about how it must feel to make something with your hands, to place together all those colours and textures, to lay it all out and seal it with a stitch. i knew nothing about sewing, not one thing, i was a band student, we didn't have to take home ec, but i asked for a machine anyway. i would learn.

i had my machine for more than a year before i even took it out of the box. i was a bit nervous, so much expectation. thinking about a painting, or photograph, or quilt, is quite different than making one. i wasn't a fool, i understood this. as luck would have it though one day i happened upon a small out of the way sewing machine store and decided to go in. there was a lovely old lady in there (she looked just the way you are imagining complete with kittens on her apron) and she told me to come back with my machine and she would show me the basics. i was so excited i think i skipped the whole way home. and so it was in this way that i first learned how to fill my bobbin, and thread my machine, what a foot is and how to alter the tension. i was already making quilts in my head and they were wonderful.

what i didn't count on was all the stitch ripping and uneven rows, the unpredictable shrinkage, broken needles, and jammed machines. sewing is mostly about swearing and rage in the beginning, or at least it was for me. it was hard to see the colours and textures from the tears. i persevered though, through one, two, three full size quilts that were mediocre at best. i am sure none of them exist today, they didn't have what it takes to last. they were given to my boyfriend, my brother and my other brother respectfully. i was glad that each of them liked their quilts but i still felt defeated, they weren't what i intended, not entirely, i wished they had been something more. i wonder if the person who made that first quilt felt the same? i wish i knew where she was so i could tell her that to me it was perfect. to me it was the thing that made me make quilts in my head, even if it wasn't going to last and didn't have a colour scheme. i think she probably would have liked to know that.

i have since gone on to make a dozen or so quilt, but i have yet to make the one that i think is worthy of my dreams. part of it is knowledge, there is so much i don't know and i have never really had anyone to ask*, and part of it is patience and precision, two concepts that are key in sewing, neither of which i have ever been very good at. i don't know what will happen with the shirt quilt, maybe one day i will write about it and then you will think of me as one of those eco-bloggers that are able to reuse everything in their house, right down to their underwear (not really), or maybe i will end up with hundreds of perfect little squares that sit in a box, reminding me of who i long to be, always waiting for the next try.

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* i now know kim over at milky beer who is a fantastic quilter, and will hopefully come and show me how to properly bind the shirt quilt, if i ever finish it!

3 comments:

Milkybeer said...

Just call me my friend...I'll be there to help you out. If we should find ourselves far apart when you get to the binding of this very special quilt, here is the tutorial I used to teach myself: http://www.heatherbaileydesign.com/HB_QuiltBinding.pdf

miranda said...

i think kim needs to lead a group session! my quilt fronts are ok but the binding always has me cursing and trimming relentlessly to even things out - kind of like how i cut hair!

the starting-a-project phase is always so many parts dreaming and scheming... here's to the great shirt quilt - it will be fantastic in it's uniqueness, and an accomplishment to celebrate, however perfect or just lovable it may be.

Trish @ spiritofplace.com said...

Ooo! I'm a quilter - from a family of quilters too. You can always ask me. I don't do anything too ambitious because I'm always time-limited but as the boys get older I'm getting more adventurous.