Lifelong Learning




She had finally finished the I Spy quilt and was preparing to bind it when I walked in on her. She was at the ironing board ironing a long strip of brightly colored tiny pieces of fabric. I had seen her sew together many, many pieces of fabric, but never had I seen her sewing together little rectangles before. Each piece was one and half inches wide by two and half inches long and she was making odd little grunts as she finished ironing a long strip.

"What's that?" I asked as I often ask whenever I go into her sewing room. I am not in any way afraid I will ever be asked to stop asking that question, for each day she is doing something I have never seen her do before. It has been that way for two years now, and I wonder if learning how to quilt is a never-ending pastime. It certainly seems so, at least so far.

"This is the binding for the I Spy quilt I just finished," she said, in no way referring back to the problems she had had in learning how to make THAT quilt.

"I never saw you make binding that way before," I said. When she had made binding before, she had followed the same procedure each time, cutting long strips of fabric, folding and ironing, and each time, having doubted her own ability to measure correctly, she made miles and miles of the binding and then cut it to fit the borders of the quilt. Though that sometimes led to her having enough binding to rig an ancient sailing ship or braid into enough rope to encircle our city, it was a procedure that had worked for her well. But this I Spy binding was something new and involved sewing together what looked like to be six or seven hundred thousand pieces of fabric in a mile-long chain.

"I never made binding this way before. It's strange and difficult, but I have to learn how to do this."

"You always say something new is strange and difficult and then you go ahead and do it," I said, my job as an enabler for a quiltaholic well established through practice.

"This is especially tough. I have to make the binding entirely differently," she said as she finished. She stood from the machine with a long strip of colored pieces sewn together and went to the ironing board.

"Ugh," she said as she picked up the iron.

"What ugh?" I asked.

"It's a lumpy piece of binding," she said. "It's harder to iron."


"It's not the way I usually iron."

"Why not?"

"Because the binding is thick and lumpy and I have to iron three creases instead of one."

"Lumpy like bad oatmeal?"

"Don't you have something to do?"

"I am doing something. I'm finding out why you have to iron bad oatmeal three times." She stared at me a moment. I blinked first.

"It's just that this is the first time I ever made binding this way," she said, "and each time I try something new like this my brain gets a lot of wrinkles in it."

"Can't you iron out the wrinkles."

"It takes practice to improve," she said. "By the second or third or fourth time I do it, it will be easier. That's why I make so many mistakes in all my quilts."

"You make mistakes because your brain is wrinkled? She didn't deny her brain had ruffles and ridges.

"I make mistake because each quilt I make is brand new and I don't know how to make it before I do it, and so I make beginner mistakes."

"You're always beginning something new," I said. I understood her. She had told me early on that the only way to become a good quilter was for her to make a lot of quilts and by the twentieth or thirtieth quilt she would know how. But there was a catch. She rarely made the same kind of quilt twice.

"I want to do everything," she had once told me.

"Everything in the world?" I asked. "That's a lot to do."

"Everything in quilting," she said.

"That's even more to do," I said. I knew her quilting world. It was endless, far beyond the Milky Way.

"I need to make one of every kind of quilt." She said.

"That's a lot of quilts." I said.

"That's why I have to get started right away," she said.

"You've been working very hard already," I said. "You've already done more quilts than you thought you'd do."

"But there are more. Lots more. Many more."

"Too many more," I said.

"I haven't made Wedding Rings or Drunkard's Path or Mariner's Star," she said.

"Do you want to make those quilts?" I asked. Silly of me to ask, of course.

"Every one," she had said and still says every once in a while after going to a quilt show or opening her newest quilt magazine or book.

"That's the problem," I said as she continued to iron the binding.

"What problem?"

"You keep doing something new all the time and keep complaining about your mistakes."

"They're new mistakes each time."


"I need a challenge. I need to try new quilt patterns and new designs and new techniques."

"You don't know enough techniques?" I asked.

"My brain has room for many more."

"Even with the wrinkles?" I dared ask.

"I know how to make this binding now, and in a while I'll learn how to sew it on the quilt."

"Is that going to be a challenge, too?"

"It'll probably be impossible, but all my quilts have been impossible, and that's why you had better get out of here so I can figure out how the bunchy binding goes on."

"I thought you said it was lumpy."

"It was lumpy for ironing. It's bunchy for sewing it on." She looked at the binding and then at me. "Are you still here?"

I wasn't.

Copyright 2000 by A.B. Silver

Click here to see binding on I Spy Quilt

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