When Bad Things Happen to Good Quilts




She was wandering around the house in a daze. She moved past me in the hallway, stumbled against the wall, then continued on. She lingered a moment in the doorway to the kitchen then turned around and walked back toward me. Her eyes were dull and her body listless.

"What's wrong," I said, as she came up to pass me. I stepped in front of her to block her way. She bumped into me.

"Everything's wrong," she said to my neck. She seemed to be shrinking as we spoke.

"Every-everything?" I asked. "Or only some-everything."

"Everything in the quilt," she said.

"The quilt you're working on?" I asked. There were too many quilts in the house for her to be talking about all the quilts.

"The new Carol Doak paper-pieced autumn scene," she said. She could be very specific when she wanted to be.

"Tell me about it," I said in what I hoped was the perfect counseling voice. I took her hand and led her to the living room and sat her down on the sofa. Except for the overflow of quilting books on the shelves and a half dozen large and small quilts draped all over the furniture in a display of her quilting prowess, the room was far enough from her sewing room to provide a safe environment.

"It's all puffy," she said as she sat.

"The quilt's all puffy?" I asked. I looked at her eyes to see if they were all puffed up from crying, but they were fine. She never cried about her quilts. She never worried about perfection. Oh, she might cry if she saw someone in a quilt shop buy the last inch of fabric she wanted for herself, but that was more a cry of frustration, not grief or anger.

"And the quilting lines are stuck," she said.

"Puffy and stuck?" I repeated as a good therapist would.

"And on a slant, too, straight down to the bottom of the earth."

"Something's wrong with the new quilt then?" I asked, focusing in on the problem.

"It's really puffy," she said. She looked up at me, her eyes pleading for understanding and comfort and acceptance.

"I understand that you're quilt is puffy?" I said. "Is that right."

"I used high-loft," she said. "Probably ultra-high-loft."

"Ah," I said. "Go on."

"I even split it in half between front and back," she said, her words accompanied by an teensy-weensy wail.

"You split the quilt in half?"

"No, not the quilt. Why would I split the quilt?"

"You said you split the quilt in half."

"I said I split IT in half."


"The high-loft batting. I tried to make it low-loft. But it didn't work. All it did was beard."

"Beard?" Was she making some allusion to my beard and her quilting?

"I knew that might happen, but I did it anyway, and now the quilt has a beard, too." Her wail became louder.

"A quilt beard?" I asked. I was trying to understand her. She was in a fragile state.

"The fibers from the polyester batting came through the quilt backing," she said. "Splitting it in half to make it low-loft somehow made it worse."

"Ah," I said. "Splitting the batting in half made the beard grow?" I said, looking for her to confirm my educated guess.

"And it's still puffy," she said. "It's the fattest, puffiest, most bloated paper-pieced wall hanging quilt in the world."

"Let's get back to the stuck lines," I said. Maybe moving in a different direction would help her overcome her dismay. Maybe it would straighten out my brain as well.

"I pressed down too hard. The lines got stuck in the fabric."

I thought for a moment before I replied. "Tell me about the lines," I said.

"The fabric is dark and I needed lines I could see for the quilting, and the marking pencil directions said to make the lines light, but then I couldn't see them, so I made the lines heavy and then the water didn't work."

"Oh," I said in understanding. I really understood her. "So now the marking pencil lines that wouldn't wash out when you went to remove them with water, though they were supposed to be water-soluble, those lines got stuck on the fabric?" I wasn't a quilter's spouse for nothing. I knew how to translate some of what she said. In time, I might understand everything she said about quilting. I hoped I lived that long.

"The lines are still along the borders, and I rubbed too hard with the wet cloth, and some of the fabric wore off, and then the borders stretched, so now the borders are wrinkled and puckered."

"Anything else?" I asked. I thought it would be good for her to get it all out at once rather than drag the pain along with her all day.

"The binding's a mess. It's too narrow and too wide. Only a little is just right."

"No one will notice the binding," I said. A little fib during therapy was all right, I thought.

"My quilt's a rotten puffball. It's a Pillsbury Doughboy. You want to see it? Then I'm going to burn it," she said, her face lightening, a smile appearing.

"You're not going to burn your quilt. You never would destroy a quilt you made," I said. I wasn't really sure of that, but she had talked once before of destroying a quilt that had a pucker in it, so it was possible. I had to protect her against herself.

"Then I'll hide it away forever," she said. She lifted herself from the chair and reached for my hand. "Come on, I'll show you the quilt."

I followed her. She led me back into her sewing room, her step lighter now. Apparently, she was cheering up. "You feeling better now?" I asked.

"Yes, talking about it helps," she said. She stopped me and turned me and pointed at her design wall. The autumn farm scene was on the wall. "What do you think?" she asked then, her voice and face and body all smiles. "And tell me the truth."

I looked at the quilt. It was a gorgeous piece of work. The barn, the mountains, the grass, the road, the flowers, the house, all were a sight to behold. She had done a great job piecing together the million pieces that the quilt required. She had chosen great fabric, the colors and designs were just right. "It's great," I said. "Only....Only...." I couldn't go on.

"Only what?"

"It's a little puffy," I said. "Some of the lines seem stuck. It has five o'clock shadow. The borders are a bit wrinkled. The binding is uneven in places." There, I had told the truth. She had been right.

"Oh, what do you know anyway?" she said. "I learned a lot. Now, excuse me. I'm going to do winter."

"Winter sounds good," I added. It was July 1st and 104 degrees in our town yesterday. Winter sounded just fine. I just hoped the snow wasn't too puffy.


Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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