There is a genteel school of crafting that I associate almost exclusively with needlepoint. A nice lady, leaning on a velvet-backed cushion and wearing half-glasses, spends pleasant hours filling up a canvas with pretty wool stitches in a delightful design. When it’s time for the tedious business of making it into a velvet-backed cushion with a zipper, she blithely “sends it out.” I know someone who does this with her knitting. She only enjoys two parts of the process: the part where you are knitting, and the part where you are wearing a beautiful handknit sweater. For the bit in the middle—where you ease sleeves into armholes and all that mess–she “sends it out.”
Since “sending it out” is not in the sod-busting, string-saving DNA I inherited from my foremoms, I generally do the whole process of my needlecrafts myself, and take the consequences. Make do and mend! Keep calm and carry on! Those shoulders will stop looking like that after you’ve worn it for a few years!
But when it came to quilting, I quickly realized that I couldn’t do it alone. Or that I couldn’t do it alone all the time. Quilts are big. Machine-quilting them is ideally done with a very large, very expensive machine, by a person skilled in its operation. For me, piecing a top is always a fun part, handquilting is sometimes a fun part (depending on mood and size of quilt), and sewing on a binding is always a deliriously fun part. But the part where you make a quilt sandwich, tape it down to the floor, or the ping pong table, and try to baste it so that it doesn’t pucker or shift during the quilting—you can have that part. I don’t care for it, my back really doesn’t care for it, and it doesn’t seem like I’m getting any better at it, either. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if I could just send it out? And get a basted quilt back?
This idea seemed sort of extravagant. I hadn’t heard any quilters talking about sending out their quilts for machine basting. So I let the idea drop, and continued to muddle through with the blue painter’s tape on the linoleum. Until the feedsack quilt came along.
A few years ago I bought a vintage feedsack quilt top on Etsy.com, for cheap. I thought, wow, I’ll make a back for it, send it out to a machine quilter, and I’ll have an instant heirloom! What a great idea! How clever and economical of me! Thrifty prairie genes rule!
Then the quilt top arrived. It was vintage feedsacks, all right. But what is more, the maker had sewn together all these 4-inch squares, in a “trip around the world” layout, by hand, in tiny, even running stitches. She was so frugal with her feedsacks that some of the pieces are themselves pieced from smaller, matching pieces of cloth. There are places where you can see the lines of holes where there once had been stout stitches that held the feedsack together. It was obvious to me that I was going to have to quilt the thing by hand, or not be able to enjoy this quilt in good conscience. Mrs. Joad was going to haunt me if I didn’t do right by her handiwork.
I love hand quilting, so this was not a daunting prospect. But all those squares set on point create a mighty bias stretch. The seams are a little bumpy, especially where 4 of them meet. Basting that quilt sandwich — which I gamely started to do–filled me with dread. Dread of breaking my back and still spoiling the quilt with my halfassed workmanship. I wanted this quilt to have a happy ending.
So I sent it out. I sent it out to Tillie Studio. Tillie Studio is run by Angry Chicken’s mom, aka Grammie, aka Gayle Karol, who is on a first-name basis with her long-arm quilting machine (Tillie). What a genteel experience. After some pleasant and educational back-and-forth with Gayle (how I learned the terms “bias stretch” and “set on point”), I sent it out, and back it came, the top thoroughly basted, in long stitches, to a thin cotton batting and a plain muslin backing. Accompanying the quilt was a really useful written report noting Gayle’s observations about my quilt top and what she had to do to it; I learned a lot. Henceforth, whenever I’m in “send it out” mode, I’m sending it out to my girl Tillie.
In the two weeks since I got the quilt back, three fingers on my left hand have become perforated with holes. Every night I quilt for a couple of hours. No hoop or frame, just me, the quilt, and a small dog holding down one section of the quilt, in case a strong wind should blow in my bedroom. Progress is imperceptible. Quilting doesn’t grow, like knitting. The layers get laminated with ever-denser lines of stitching, but not so you’d notice it from one day to the next. There is some kind of metaphor in there, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s a leap of faith that I’ll ever be done with it, that I’ll ever sew the binding on, that a small dog will ever be holding down one section of a finished quilt.
Good thing I like doing it.
P.S. Photos from last Sunday. What the Marathon Means To Me:
In the early morning, hours before the first wheelchair racers would finish, their gear had been neatly organized, and an army of orange-coated volunteers was waiting for them with barely contained excitement. (I want to run the marathon one more time, just to have my bag tag read, “Kay Gardiner UNITED STATES.”) (The last time I ran, my tag just said my name and “Female, 36”–which was also pretty cool. Who was that girl? Why did she run so slowly?)
Yeah, you ran 26.2 miles, but your mom was worried about you the whole time. Ya big lug.