Contrary Quilter





The new year was only a few days away when she screamed. It was not midnight, no ghouls or ghosts or goblins were around as there might have been on a frightening Halloween night or at a haunted castle. And her scream was not one of fear or fright. I know a little about her screams. This one was a quilting scream, and it came from way far away, up in her quilting room, where, I'm afraid to say, she had begun a new quilt.

Of course, I went to investigate. Her quilting screams were of an amazing variation, and it had taken me the past four years to come to know most of them even if I could not yet discriminate between those screams of frustration and those screams of triumph. Sometimes they were almost identical. No, I had to guess at their meaning by the progress of her quilt. As this scream came in the beginning of her new project, it was a scream of frustration, consternation, puzzlement, of not having the right fabric or enough fabric or she had run out of needles. When she had long been at work on a quilt and she was nearing completion or finished completely. her screams were different. Finished, of course, already means complete, but her quilts had to be absolutely completely finished and done. When that happened, her screams were ones that said, "Hooray!" or "I told you so," or "I knew I could," or "Hah, you didn't think it could be done, did you," all directed toward the quilt she had been working on.

This scream was so early in her quilting, I could only hope for an easy explanation so that I could go back downstairs and finish whatever lazy thing I was doing on that day, removing unwanted e-mail that seemed to be breeding in my computer. "You screamed?" I asked as I huffed up the stairs and puffed into her sewing room.

"Of course I screamed. Your quilt is already driving me a little mad," she said.

"My quilt?"

"You bought me the book. You ordered the fabric. You put the book on my dinner plate open to the design you liked and asked me if I wanted to try something different."

"You told me you were ready for something different," I answered. I knew she wasn't talking about her scream, as she had taken a liking to the quilt and loved the Kaffe Fassett fabric.

'The pattern requires templates which I don't use, and the measurements are strange and use eighths and not just simply half an inch or fourths of an inch." She paused to take a breath. "And the colors in the book don't match the colors of the fabric, and I have no idea what I'm going to do."

'You'll work it out," I said wisely.

"Don't bet on it," she said. "I might just do an easy log cabin quilt."

"You'll work it out," I repeated.

"Then I'll have to do it my way," she said.

"Don't you always?" I asked, but I didn't wait for an answer. Laziness was waiting for me downstairs. Sloth and indolence were already tugging at me. I thought about a nap. "And be good for a change," I threw in.

"I'm usually good," she said as I left the room.

"You're usually quite contrary," I said. She was. She would find a way to get around any problem she had or thought she had, and no doubt, I knew then, one way or another, the quilt would be started and finished. I hoped it was only a one-scream quilt.


It wasn't one way. It was the other.

"Did you use the templates," I had asked one afternoon several days after she had complained about them.

"Just the opposite," she said. "Instead of photocopying the templates in the book and cutting them out and then using them to cut the fabric, I measured each template and counted the number of squares or rectangles I would need and rotary cut all of them out for each row of the five rows that would make up the first part of the quilt.

"You did it that way on purpose," I accused. "It's your way of being contrary, just to show the book you didn't need its templates?"

"I had to do it that way if I wanted to quilt the quilt the way the quilt wanted and needed to be quilted."

"The quilt helped you make the decision?" Sometimes she talked to the fabric and the thread and the batting, but usually it was only to soothe them when they put up a fuss or fought against her in some way.

"It's not a quilt yet," she said strongly. It's just a lot of pieces and they aren't big enough to talk yet. I just looked at the directions and did what I wanted. The instructions are fuzzy to me and are in no position to complain if I don't follow them exactly. I also had to decide that I didn't have to follow the exact color scheme either since some of the colors were paler or bolder than the actual fabric. And I changed a few of the pieces around."

"So, you're telling me that you have it all under control?"

"To the contrary, it has me under control. The measurements didn't always work happily with my rotary cutter, so I had to give some of the pieces a little shave to get them right."

"You shaved the fabric? You didn't use my shaving cream, did you?"

"You don't shave. You just poke around your beard a little now and then. Anyway, I didn't shave them shave them, I just trimmed all the edges that stuck out so they would all fit together. She paused, took a deep breath, and continued. "And normally I would easily unroll the batting and get to work, but this time I used fusible batting, and it wanted to stay in the plastic bag and not come out, so I had to tug it out, and when I finally got the batting free, it was all fused together. I had to wrestle it for twenty minutes to get it into shape. Then it was stubborn and hard to use, so I had to iron it on to the fabric in sections, which is never how I do it."

"Is that allowed?" I asked.

"Are you allowed?" she asked, giving me a quilter's stare until I nodded my head up and down several times, making sure I stayed allowed.

"I have an interest in this quilt," I said.

"You pushed it on me, and I'm doing my best. I almost didn't, you know. First of all, you bought me fabric that is really too nice to cut up into stubbly pieces."

"Stubbly so they really needed shaving?" That stare again.

"And then you forced me to make a quilt in a way I never even tried before." She had a quilter's way of not answering impossible questions.

"I didn't force you. I just made a magnificent opportunity possible," I said. "It was a birthday present," I added. It was.

"You didn't ask me if I wanted a birthday present that would force me to stay up all night every night trying to figure out how to quilt a quilt that I didn't know how to quilt."

"But you have it all under control now?" I asked again.

"Maybe, maybe not. We'll see."


"Mary, Mary," she said this morning.

"Quite contrary," I replied.

"What are you talking about?" she asked.

"Mary, Mary," I said.

"That's the name of the quilt in the book," she said. "It's about a garden."

"Mary, Mary, quite contrary," I said. You are the number one most contrary quilting person I know."

"Sometimes a quilter needs to be contrary to get the quilt done."

"So how does your garden grow?" I asked.

"I had to change a few more things," she said.

'For example?"

"The backing. I sewed the pieces differently. But it worked."


"It's done," she said.

"Done as in all done?" I asked.

"The opposite of done is not done, and since I am contrary, what I couldn't do is now done."

"You finished the quilt?" I asked again. I could be a little bit contrary, too.

"No silver bells or cockle-shells," she said.

"Probably doesn't need them," I said. "What about the pretty maids all in a row?" Well, what man wouldn't ask?

"Not in this life," she said. 'So, do you want to see the quilt?"

"Even more than pretty maids," I said.


Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver

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