Finnegan, Begin Again





Day 1

"I'm just a beginner," she said with a pound or two of woe in her voice.

"You've been quilting almost four years now. You're not a beginner. Maybe high-intermediate," I said, hoping this would cheer her. She would never allow me to say, "Experienced or expert."

"I'm not cheered," she said, reading my thoughts long before I had even thought them.

She had overcome her post-quilt-partum letdown, three days of anxiety after finishing her last quilt when she had been overwhelmed by the thought that she might never quilt again. For days she had wandered around the house looking for inspiration, walking along the beach looking for inspiration, dragging me off to the San Diego Zoo, looking for inspiration. None had come, not even after going through sixty-two thousand old quilting books and magazines. Finally, however, she began a new project.

"You're still not a beginner," I said. "Beginners begin at the beginning."

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," I said, not sure if I could mean anything during this conversation. "But you just finished a quilt that you never could have done three years ago or two years ago or a year ago."

"That doesn't mean I'm not a beginner with this new quilt," she said.

"Is it a hard quilt?"

"Quilts aren't hard. They're soft. They're supposed to be soft and warm and cuddly and finished and--" she paused, "--and I've forgotten how to quilt," she said.

"How can you forget to quilt. It's like riding a bicycle," I said.

"I'm not quilting a bicycle. I'm making a quilt and I've cut out all kinds of triangles and I'm trying to sew them together and the cutting is crooked and the sewing is crooked and the pieces don't go where they're supposed to."

"But--" I began to protest.

"I'm missing the lines," she said.


"I've been paper piecing for months and I got used to sewing on the lines and the new quilt is pieced normally, just measuring and adding the quarter inch and cutting and sewing the pieces together. I keep forgetting how to do it right, so I'm a beginner again and I have to learn how to do everything all over again."

"You have to begin again," I said.


"There was an old man named Michael Finnegan/He had whiskers on his chinnegan/They fell out and then grew in again/Poor old Michael Finnegan/Begin again," I sang.

"Why are you singing?" she asked.

"Michael Finnegan had to begin again," I said. "You used to sing it to our kids when they were little."

"So you sang it to me now when the kids have kids of their own and I'm trying to learn how to quilt again?"

'It's a good quilting song," I said.

"I can put a quilt in your mouth. King-sized."

"I'm trying to help," I said. I was. Rule 23 of "Quilt rules for husbands who want to survive their wife's quilting" says I have to offer succor to a quilter in need.


Day 4

"It's not me! No it isn't," she said to me as I reached for the coffee. It was six a.m. and I had been up an hour already, but she had been up two hours, up in her sewing room before she finally came down. She smelled the coffee, no doubt.

"It isn't you," I said, agreeing, not questioning her. Oh, I wanted to question her, but if I did, there was no way I would understand her answer because she would say something that made either the same sense or less sense. And it wasn't because of the early hour. It was because she is a quilter.

"I thought it would be me, but they're not my colors," she continued.

"But, I thought you really liked those colors," I said. She had loved them. I know she did.

"I like them. I like all colors.' She stopped herself. "Well, not all. I don't like colors that look like rotten foods that have been left in a gutter for a week or two. I don't like colors that look like the insides of squashed fleas. I like these colors but not for this quilt. I need new colors. I'm into purples and blues now."

"So, change the colors," I offered as imbecilic advice.

"No, I have to use them. But they're not me."


Day 6

"I hate triangles," she said between the first and second sip of her mid-morning tea.

"All of them?" I asked.

"I cut out a billion triangles for this quilt and I hate every one of them," she said.

"That's a lot of hate," I said. She seemed calm.

"You don't know," she said. She took a second sip of tea and continued. "Well, maybe just the ones I sewed in backwards and had to rip out and sew back together and the three corners of each triangle that don't want to make friends with the corners of the other triangles."

"So the triangles are just unfriendly?"

"And arrogant and mean."

"That's a good reason to hate them," I said.

"I'll give them one more chance to line up and stay in place and make the design come out right," she said. She took a bite of a graham cracker and chewed it up so her last words came out with a few cracker crumbs.


Day 9

"Arggghhh," she said. It had been a long time since I had heard that sound come out past her sweet lips, though I'm sure she often thought that sound. Even at her best, there were days when she twitched or her eyes narrowed or she sighed an exasperated sigh. "Arggghhh" was a beginning quilter's sound, the sound of frustrations, the sound of her quilting going wrong. I had heard it a lot in the early days, but lately when something went awry, all I heard was a faint, "Grr."

"What went wrong?" I asked.

"I sewed three rows backwards and I had to take all the stitching out and re-sew them, and then I still sewed a couple of squares backwards."

"But it's all fixed now?" I asked without understanding what she was really telling me.

"That's the third time I did that on this quilt, and I really can't remember how to do it right because I don't want to be doing this anymore, but I can't give up because then I'll be worse than a beginner," she really told me.

"So, how's it coming?" I asked.

"All right," she said.


Day 12

"What do you think?" she asked as she pulled me into her sewing room and pointed to the design wall.

"I like the colors," I said before I remembered that she didn't like the colors. "And the design," I added quickly.

"The points," she said, directing me to keep looking. I didn't want to. She was asking me to find fault with her quilt, but I had taken a vow early in her quilting life to be positive, reassuring. I was caught between giant feed dogs about to munch on my brain.

"They don't match up in that block," I said, backing away in case she wanted to swing her little fists at me. "Or that block," I said. "Or that one," I added cautiously, flinching without reason, for she had just smiled. "That's all."

"You missed that one and that one," she said, pointing to two small flaws that a non-quilter would need a microscope to see.

"I like the colors and the design," I said.

"Go away," she said.


Day 16

"I am quilter. Hear me roar," my Darling Wife said. It was Sunday morning and I was still in bed, but she was standing nearby. I opened my eyes but couldn't see her. My eyes were behind the pillow. I debated removing the pillow and seeing what my champion of early morning was doing or going back to sleep.

"I am invincible," she said.

I removed the pillows. I had to see what she was bellowing about.

What I saw was both her hands holding on to the top of a quilt. She was hidden behind it as she struggled to hold it up from the floor. The quilt top was as high as she was tall.

"I'm finished with the quilt top," she said.

"You're not a beginner any more?" My ears were ringing from her roar.

"I said I was finished, not done."

"You still have to quilt it," I guessed she was saying.

'Wrong. It's going to be an IFIBIDLI," she said, pronouncing each letter of the acronym clearly. I knew WIP and UFO, but I didn't know that one.

'What's a if-ib-id-li?" I asked, hoping to learn a new quilting term so I could continue to be married to this lady and understand her all the more in the future. "I finished it but I don't like it," she said.

"Oh," I said.

"I'm going to make something simple next."


"Something even a beginner can do right."

"Easy piecing?"

"Something like that."


She started on a new quilt the other day. The faulty, flawed, beginner's quilt she has tucked away in some place where infirm quilts go to eternal rest. It's a secret place that she may never visit again. That quilt put away, never to see the light of day again, she is now cheerful. Just now she came out of her sewing room smiling and whistling. I looked at her and she looked at me and said, "I'm quilting a simple quilt, a nice easy pattern with nice colors and pieces that are friendly and like each other. This new quilt will be so simple. I like simple. Simple is good."

Simply said. My fingers are crossed.


Copyright 2002 by A.B. Silver

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