Saturday, March 24, 2007

I Have Made Quilts

Visiting a lot of other blogs this week, I have been feeling twinges of craft envy. There are so many creative and productive women sharing their art; they are painting, quilting, knitting, sewing, designing, cooking and baking, taking beautiful photographs and writing up a storm, and some of them are even raising hens in their backyards (sigh!) At every web page I pause and exclaim, "Oh! I wanna do that!" I do. I want to dabble all over the place and play in the whimsical playground of my mind.

For my own pleasure, and as a reminder that I have played before, and may play again, someday, I snapped some photos of creations of the past. I distinctly recall being 8.75 months pregnant with Maria, finishing my last two quilts and reminding myself that with a new baby in the house it could be a few years before I would have the time or feel capable of making anything. Every stitch and square was a like a fond farewell to my creative outlet. "So long quilting hoops, until we meet again." It's been a worthwhile exchange... I have the blessing of my daughter and lots of time to connect and relate to this newest member of our family. Actually, I think she is part of my awakening desire to make things again, because she likes making art and she appreciates pretty blankets and cute, cute things.

I was about 9 years old when I first knew I wanted to make a quilt. Being both unskilled and lazy, I cut into fabric, made some sloppy squares and began reattaching them with big loping stitches. I grew bored and was unimpressed after about the 7th square. I kept the flimsy strip of misshaped pieces for many years, before I realized no amount of skill or effort would ever redeem my first attempt at quilting.

In middle school my history teacher planted a second quilting seed in my head. He was a fantastic history teacher, making the American frontier come alive through facts and storytelling. I was particularly riveted by the stories about townships, like the ones that developed in Wisconsin. My teacher was from Wisconsin, which may account for his heartfelt, beautiful descriptions of life in a township. He talked about barn raising and the land set aside for the schoolhouse and he talked about quilting bees. Oh, the wonder. I fell in love with quilting and Wisconsin all together and forever.

It was fate. I met and fell in love with Geoff, and suddenly my Wisconsin-Quilting fantasy was coming together. He and I traveled back to his home state together and all my ideas and hopes were affirmed when I met his grandmother, Nancy. Grandma Nancy is hospitality and home, she is genuine and kind, she is the best of all I ever imagined I could find in Wisconsin, and she quilts. She has made an amazing variety and assortment of quilts; big and little quilts, wall quilts, bed quilts, baby quilts, wedding quilts, artistic quilts and pillow-quilts. Her most recent project is a series of wall quilts representing 6 continents. I am in awe of her skill, creativity and generosity. We have many examples of her work, which I treasure immensely.

My first attempt at quilting left me with a mark of shame, and I could not forgive my 9 year old self for being wasteful, and hasty, so I waited quite a while before I felt worthy or capable of learning how to quilt. When William was two, he and I made a trip to the Midwest and it was on this trip, September 1993, that I asked Grandma Nancy if she could help me start a quilt. I still carry that lazy gene and I couldn't fathom actually finishing an entire quilt. It seemed ambitious enough just to start a quilt. Nancy is a fun woman, with a patient and 'willing to try new things' attitude, so she never made me feel less than able or intimidated. In a few days she and I chose a pattern and fabric and she walked me through piecing my first square: Baby Bud.

The bud of the square is a dark blue calico and she had enough of that print on hand for me to use it in the center of 15 blocks. We bought muslin and the green fabric at the Ben Franklin in town. We agreed I would look for a fourth fabric to finish the quilt at home. I went home with my finished block, and Grandma's encouragement. Over 9 months and with a number of instructions and suggestions taken over the phone, I actually finished an entire quilt. It is machine pieced and hand quilted. It is big enough to cover a double size bed. The fourth fabric perfectly matched the blue bud, but has faded at a completely different rate. I used a very lightweight batting, so it's not a heavy quilt. I love it. It is worn and comfy and soft, the muslin is smooth. It needs mending. Somehow, it became an old quilt.

I was pregnant as I finished this first quilt and as my confidence increased, so did my desire to make another quilt just for the baby. So, I started a second quilt, and this time I revisited my first idea of a quilt: Lots of squares cut and sewn together. Only this time, I carefully measured and cut each square from fabric scraps, including a favorite old dress, kitchen curtains I'd made for another house, and a blouse I also made, but no longer wore. I liked that I was not wasting fabric and that each square would be from something I enjoyed in its former life. I machine pieced all the squares, saving a blouse pocket for the center square.

The pocket has been a favorite feature and the namesake of this quilt: The Pocket Quilt. Alex used his quilt for many years, and now it's usually on Max's bed. I hand quilted each square with either cats, hearts or stars and one square has a smiling sun. I finished the edge with a simple ruffle. This quilt is quite worn too. I wish it could last forever, but it makes me happy to know it is loved and comforts drowsy children.

Since the first two quilts, I have made two lap quilts; one went to Grandma E. and one to a nephew. I made an Amish quilt for my brother Hans and his new bride. It was double size and entirely covered in hand quilting. It was my most ambitious and challenging effort. I actually bled quilting it and lost feeling in the tip of my finger. I made two quilt pillows for my mom. I made a baby quilt for my friend Jola, when her son Alexander was born. It took me a long time to finish my last two quilts, and when I realized I was pregnant with Maria, I knew it would be impossible to finish them unless I did it before she was born. Quilting those two was a race against time and my growing abdomen. I finished them with no time to spare.

This one turned out to be just the right dose of pink to welcome our baby girl. I had started it two years earlier, from scraps I bought at a decorating store. It is larger than a baby quilt, but not quite twin size. I hand quilted this one too.

The Christmas quilt came from my idea to have an old fashioned looking quilt that would remind us of living in a rustic home at Christmas. I chose a variety of patterns and just started cutting and piecing blocks, depending on what I had available. I reasoned that I would make lots of blocks and decide on the layout later. I also tried appliqué for the first time. Max suggested things that made him think of Christmas, like stars and music, and then I designed, sewed and embroidered fitting images.

The arrangements were random and meant to look folksy.

We included our chicas and light, and a home. I made a square with a cross, it looks like a gift, which I think is fitting in many ways, and it includes the children's initials.

This square was another symbol of love for my family and of gratitude for having skills to share with them.

It was a huge challenge making all the odd sizes and various blocks piece together, but I think the craziness adds to the charm. I finished it with machine and hand quilting. There's another row of blocks hanging on the back of the stair railing, but this shows most of the completed Christmas quilt. I backed the whole quilt in a deep cranberry flannel for extra coziness and warmth.

I love seeing the children snuggled under this quilt.

There. I feel crafty now.

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