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July 08, 2024

How NOT to Make an American Quilt

By Kellie Gillespie

The finished quilt and newborn twins.
  1. When your sister calls to tell you she's having twins, do not, under any circumstances, squeal like a twelve-year-old girl and exclaim that you're going to make baby quilts for the little darlings. I'm here to warn you that if you promise to make quilts, you will have to actually make them. Now, don't give me that look. Did you forget The Afghan Incident? Let's go have a look at the closet in the spare bedroom, shall we? Yes, I thought that might scare you. If you still insist on going ahead with it, then please commit to making just one (1) baby quilt, not two. Better yet, go shopping and forget the whole make-a-quilt project. I mean, who are you kidding? I happen to know your garage is full of half-finished projects and this quilt is about to become a statistic in your domestic arts history. Remember, I'm only telling you this for your own good.
  2. If you do decide to go ahead with The Project, do not start looking at baby quilt books in order to pick a pattern. You have never made a quilt, have you? You have no idea what rotary cutters are, nor do you know what strip quilting means. You thought batting had something to do with baseball, bias was a form of discrimination, and that feed dogs was one of the kids' chores. Looking at these books will only increase your level of anxiety about quilt making, freezing you into a state of indecision and uncertainty. If you're still determined to give it a go, approach your friendly quilt-making friend, who can advise you on what kind of baby quilt to make. She has made lots of quilts and will cheerfully explain all those mysterious quilting terms. She will even periodically inquire about the quilt's progress, adding to the guilt and stress levels that are accumulating exponentially each and every day. Yes, a quilting friend is a joy indeed.
  3. Do not bring your fourteen-year-old son with you to the fabric store to help pick out fabric. Fourteen-year-old boys have no desire to match colors and patterns, nor are they very patient while you agonize over three different shades of blue. They honestly don't care about quilts or fabric, or babies, for that matter. "Mom," they will say in a loud, whining voice. "You said we were going to Taco Bell for lunch. This is taking foreeeeevvvvvveerrrrr." No matter how much you reassure them that lunch is, indeed, on the agenda for the day, they will become moaning machines, not unlike those you see around Halloween, which threaten to drive shoppers insane. "Mommmmm," your son will groan, "I don't care which color you pick. Just pick one already." Because you are The Torturer and take your job seriously, you will decide to mosey on down to the notions aisle to peruse the ribbons and lace, and his panicked gasps will make you smile a secret smile. "And now to the batting," you will cheerfully say, and he will trudge slowly behind you, now defeated and forlorn. Then, and only then, will you approach the checkout line, satisfied that his future wife will thank you for this shopping lesson.
  4. Once you get your fabric home, do not carefully wash and iron every piece and fold it neatly. Do not stack all your fabric on the futon in the spare bedroom to mock you each time you go in there to check your email. Above all, do not, I repeat, do not tell yourself you will start cutting the fabric into strips next weekend, because I'm here to tell you next weekend will never come. Oh, sure, Saturday will arrive and you'll have to clean the house, do the laundry, go grocery shopping and watch a movie with the family, because, after all, family time is important. Before you know it, Sunday morning comes and you remember you've already committed to dinner at your in-law's house and they are expecting you promptly at three o'clock. You really don't like your in-laws very much, so you decide to spend the morning playing computer Yatzhee, kind of an advance reward for having to go to your in-laws later that day. Only it takes longer than you expect to make it into the top ten scorer's list and then, just when you decide to quit, you get another Yatzhee, which means there's a possibility you could be the TOP SCORER of this game, and then you do! You are the TOP SCORER, nudging your husband down to second place, a place he belongs, because you are the WINNER!!!! And then you notice it's time to go and you will have to make a very concerted effort NOT to look at the neatly folded pile of fabric on the way out the door.
  5. When you do start cutting the fabric into strips, whatever else you do, don't hang the strips over the dining room chairs. If you do, your cat, who obviously has way too much time on her hands, will notice the hanging fabric. Because she knows the world resolves around her, she will think the gently swaying strips are hanging there for her pleasure. When you have to take a break to check on your bank balance (there is an insufficient funds situation brewing), she will take advantage of your absence to play with the dangling strips, reducing them to mere shreds of what they once were. It may take you a while to discover this, since you decide to play another game of Yahtzee while you have the computer on anyway, and about three hours later you will walk into the dining room to see a large pile of tangled thread and snagged fabric lying on the floor. This will prove to be too depressing to deal with, so you will choose to play more computer Yahtzee instead, accompanied by a large glass of wine, because after all, it's been a really hard day.
  6. Once the strips are sewn together and all the squares completed, remember to ask your quilting friend for directions on sizing the squares, because you will have no idea what that is or how to do it. Using the directions in the book will not work because they are so complicated that only a mechanical engineer could understand them. Another method that will definitely fail is the eyeball method. Experience quilters eyeball the squares to see if they are about the same size. If the squares are not exactly the same size, to the barest miniscule of an inch, it will be very difficult to complete the quilt top. You, however, are not an experienced quilter. Oh, you might do okay when you sew the squares together into rows, because this is relatively easy. It's when you begin to sew the rows together that you will realize your fatal error. The squares will not line up and your quilt will look like an orangutan made it. To fix it you will have to spend another three hours carefully lining up the squares on each row and sewing them together again in order to make all the corners match, and even then, it will never be perfect, damn it. When your husband hears you swearing in the other room, he will make a feeble attempt to help you by saying stupid things, like "It's the thought that counts, honey," and "Newborn babies can't see too well anyway," before retreating to the spare bedroom in a cowardly fashion to play a few rounds computer Yahtzee. It is only after such an experience that you will fully understand what it means to be a part of that great sisterhood of quilters: you are alone, terribly alone, and that no one can help you.
  7. After you finish your quilt top, and have assembled your "quilt sandwich," which, by the way, is nothing like a real sandwich but only means that you have layered the quilt top, the batting, and the bottom fabric, you may start quilting. Do not think, however, that your quilting stitches will be small, neat and uniform. In fact, your quilting stitches will be so unattractive you will be compelled to tell people that this is the first quilt you have ever, ever made. I advise you to do this rather quickly, before any onlookers think that your fourteen-year-old son did the stitching. Another thing you should not do is buy any of those quilting stencils that supposedly make a pretty pattern to follow when stitching. If you do find one of those stencils, like an interlocking diamond pattern that looks easy enough at the store, please be careful how you transfer the pattern to the quilt top. Don't buy one of those permanent markers, cleverly mislabeled as a "temporary pen, washable with cold water," because this will prove to be a lie. You will get this seemingly innocent pen home and use it to "temporarily" mark your fabric for quilting, only to discover later that the pen markings do not come off. They don't come off with cold water. They don't come off with hot water. They don't even come off with new and improved Zoff, the amazing laundry stain remover that can remove every stain known to the human world. You will have to resign yourself to pretty blue lines on your quilt and hope the baby stains will eventually cover them up.
  8. If you persist in making this quilt, and even more unlikely, actually finish it, do not start looking longingly at quilting books for another pattern to try. Even worse, don't you dare walk into a fabric store "just for a peek." This means you are hooked on quilting and it will be a very sorry day for the closet in the spare bedroom. Oh, you may find a pattern that is a little harder than the last one, but not too hard, and you may find some perfect fabric that is a mauve-y color with little purple flowers on it that goes perfectly with a cream colored fabric that has little pink and green flowers on it, but don't think that you will actually finish this quilt. I hate to tell you this, but any attempts to make another quilt will only end up lying in the spare bedroom, still in the bag you brought it home in, mocking you each time you walk down the hallway. Eventually this fabric will migrate to a shelf in the closet in order to allow you to walk by without feeling some guilt about it. Sometimes, you will be in the spare bedroom, maybe playing another game of computer Yahtzee, when you'll remember the bag of fabric and make tentative plans to start the quilt on Saturday. But, honey, who are you kidding? We all know it will still be there this time next year. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Article © Kellie Gillespie. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-02-27
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