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Saturday, April 2, 2016

No More Quilting

I just finished making my granddaughter a quilt. It’s a tied quilt, not a stitched one, and I am very disappointed in it. Not that it’s tied, but that apparently I’ve lost whatever skill I used to have in making something like this.

I made my first quilt when I was sixteen or seventeen. I sewed together scraps leftover from dresses that I had made for me and my sister. I quilt-stitched the whole thing by hand, which was quite a feat since at the time our family was living in a trailer with little room for all the people, dog, cat, and bird, let alone a quilting frame! It turned out quite colorful and I was pretty happy with it—I wore it out.

My little grammy made me a quilt when I was in my twenties. It was simply two sheets sewn together with batting between and yarn ties to hold it all in place. Grammy got so that she couldn’t see straight in front of her, and her ties that were supposed to be in rows were sort of all over the place and usually only tied once so that they came undone all the time. I carefully went over the whole thing and double-tied all the yarn in square knots, and I added some where there were large gaps in the pattern.

My mother made me a quilt a few years later. She drew a flower basket pattern and cut out a dozen of them from some floral fabric, and then she appliqued them to a large piece of soft and shiny pink material. I have no idea what kind of material it is; I bet she doesn’t either. She used a thin blanket between the front and back of the quilt so that she didn’t have to worry about the batting separating. Then she machine stitched large diamonds across and back. It’s a fine piece of folk art and served me well.

When I married, Grammy gave me one of the last hand-painted flower quilts she had made. She died, nearly 100 years old, not long after that. My husband and I had been using the quilt she made, but her death somehow hallowed it and I folded it away.

I discovered that the women in my husband’s family were experts in quilts and most other handwork. Their quilts were hand pieced and hand stitched throughout, and their patterns were professionally even and recognized by quilters everywhere. Their finished quilts won prizes at the State Fair; they worked relentlessly to make dozens and dozens and dozens of things. I carefully saved my grammy’s and my mother’s quilts. They were my sentimental treasures.

We made a few quilts over the years for my son. He liked getting quilts. My mother made him some baby quilts and later she and my dad made him a solar system quilt—my dad designed the solar system pattern on his computer and transferred it to paper for my mother to put on a large piece of purple fabric. My son loved it. The planets were interesting colors unrelated to anything we had seen in photographs, but the stitching holding the batting in place between the layers followed the lines of the orbits of the planets. The sun was slightly off-center to allow for all the orbits. Pluto (which had not yet lost its planetary status) was at the end.

That quilt wore out and I made him a star quilt using a navy blue-black fabric printed with stars all over, which I tied using black yarn, and then white yarn to create a number of our favorite constellations and giant stars according to a spring star chart. The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Casseiopia, and Orion were on this quilt. He turned it so that Sirius was closest to his chin when his bed was made.

When my granddaughter outgrew baby things, my mother and I decided to make her and my niece matching quilts. The fabric had cats all over, and we tied the quilts with blue embroidery thread. I used the thread to embroider a message along one edge that said who the quilt was from. We made matching pillowcases for the girls too.

Then I made quilts for my two nephews. They turned out beautifully. My elder nephew said his favorite colors were blue, green, and brown, so his quilt was pieced with fabric of those colors in a matching pattern. I tied it with yarn that brought the colors together. He liked it.

My younger nephew had always wanted a star quilt similar to my son’s, and finally I made his last year. It was of fabric printed with galaxies all over, and we simply tied it with yarn that matched the background. We didn’t attempt the trickier patterns of constellations.

Then my nephew saw me making this quilt for my granddaughter and told me he didn’t like tied quilts. I wished I had known that when I had worked on his! I guess he probably doesn’t use it. I wonder where it went. I hope somebody who likes it is using it somewhere. Anyway, I finished my granddaughter’s, hoping it would evoke a garden look, with the green embroidery thread on the rose-patterned fabric representing the greenery in the garden.

But the thread is not staying tied. All over the quilt the knots are coming undone. I know I tied square knots as usual, but this thread is slippery, and I should have used single thread instead of double. I know I used my usual square pattern to create the rows and columns, but somehow I got them uneven and on one side they wander further away from the edge all the way down the row. To disguise it, I embroidered my granddaughter’s name in cursive along that edge where the gap is the widest. But I am not used to embroidering and am so out of practice that the name looks comically juvenile. Then I used a kind of thread I hadn’t used before to sew the edging on, a very fine thread. The thread broke and tangled in my machine and did everything wrong it could do. I took out the stitching and tried again, using a different stitch on the machine. Better, but still not professional looking at all. I don’t like the edging I chose. It doesn’t behave the way blanket binding does. It doesn’t look as nice.

I wanted to rip everything out and start all over. But I was sick of it. I got mad and bundled the whole thing up in a box, slapped on the address and taped it up. She’s getting my poor effort whether she likes it or not. I am not going to tell her what’s wrong with it, and I am not going to ask if she likes it. I don’t want to know!

That’s the last of my quilting efforts for this lifetime, thank you very much.

P.S. I updated this with pictures of a few of the quilts. I think I will do a longer posting about quilts. So maybe I am not ready to quit quilts yet.

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