"One hundred and twelve, one hundred thirteen, one hundred fourteen...."
"What are you doing?" my Darling Wife asked.
"One hundred fifteen, one hundred sixteen...."
"What are you counting," she asked.
"Counting the pieces," I said, and then I tried to continue the count, but I had lost it. "I lost my place," I said.
"Is there something here you're not telling me," she asked.
"I was counting the pieces and I lost count when you interrupted," I said. "One, two, three," I went on, starting from the beginning again.
"How long are you going to count?" she asked.
"Four, five, six," I said. "This is a boring job. I'm counting the pieces to keep from going crazy."
"You won't go crazy from picking out the paper," she said. "I'm not crazy."
"You have quilt lock," I said.
"It's a big quilt," she said.
It began the moment she finished sewing together the 35 blocks into the quilt top she had been working on eight hours a day for eighteen days straight. It began when she finished sewing on the border of the quilt. It began when she began picking out the pieces of paper from the back of the quilt. There were thirty-five blocks in the quilt top, one hundred forty squares, and each one was one paper-pieced. The finished top weighed about nine hundred pounds, all of it backed by paper. Though she had used the thinnest paper she could get through the photocopy machine, the paper weighed the quilt down.
"Why didn't you remove the paper as you went?" I asked as she began the tedious task of removing the paper.
"It's supposed to be removed after you finish the quilt," she said.
"Supposed to?" I asked. It was no doubt another quilter's rule, those quilting rules no doubt carved in stone when the first cave quilters formed a guild and huddled inside a cave making the very first quilt from mammoth hides sewn together with bone needles and sinew.
"You want to know why, don't you?" she asked, giving me quilter's look number eighty-two which suggested that I was meddling into something that would no doubt get me into trouble.
"I want to know why," I agreed.
"Because it's better that way," she said. That was a quote taken from the quilter's book of reasons. I know, because she had used it before. Often.
"Then have fun," I said as she dug her fingernail into the first piece of paper in the first square of the first block.
"Is that block number one?" I asked just as I was about to leave.
"No," she said.
"I just chose a block at random. It doesn't matter which square I start with."
"There's no rule for starting the paper-picking?"
"Quilters are allowed to be creative," she said. Again, she had said that before. Often.
"Have fun," I repeated, and I left her to her creative picking.
"Darnabee Bones," she said two hours later. I was three rooms away, but I heard her cry of frustration. I went to her.
"Darnabee Bones?" I asked.
"I was stifling a curse," she said.
"A problem?" I asked. I looked from her face of frustration, which definitely had the look of quilt frustration, to the back of the quilt top on the table next to her. She had picked out the paper of about a dozen blocks.
"I can't pick out the paper anymore," she said. She raised her right hand in front of my face."
"Nice hand," I said, being kind. Actually, the hand looked odd.
"I can't pick any more," she repeated so that I would really understand what she was saying. Her raised hand was an illustration of her problem.
"Your fingers hurt?" I guessed.
"My fingers are locked in place," she said. "Look." She took her left hand and took hold of her bent index finger and pulled it straight. I heard a click. She then did the same with her forefinger. "Click."
"Quilt lock," I said. Actually it was mild arthritis.
"I can't pick out the paper for a while. You need to do it."
"I need to pick the paper out of some twenty blocks, some eighty-squares?" I looked down at the quilt top with fear and trepidation.
"Click." She popped another finger open.
"All right, I'll do a few," I said.
It wouldn't have been too bad if the design of the squares was such that there was only one piece of paper to pick out of each square. She had sewn the squares using very tight stitches and with a size 90 needle, which made it easy to tear along the perforations in the thin paper, but there were many pieces and they were tiny. Some pieces were tucked in under the seams. One piece of fabric in each square was attached to the paper with glue from a glue stick to hold it in place. So piece one (tucked under a seam) and piece six (glued) and piece nine (too tiny for my hands to pick out) took a lot of time to pick. I tried using an awl, the point of a pair of scissors, an Exacto knife, a pointed wooden stick, and the end of a paper clip, but Darling Wife said if I tore or cut the fabric I would have body lock. I did it carefully and slowly.
"Eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine...." I counted. On the table was a growing pile of torn paper. On the floor was a trash can containing a growing pile of torn paper.
It went that way for thirteen squares, three and one-fourth blocks. I picked at each numbered piece of paper, eleven numbered pieces and one extra piece in each four-inch square. I picked and picked. I was on a roll. Paper flew off the fabric, paper flew off the table, paper flew everywhere. "Three hundred seven, three hundred eight, three hundred nine...." I was in quilt bondage. I was a galley slave chained to an quilting oar. I was exhausted.
Then my index finger locked in place. I unlocked it. My forefinger locked in place. I unlocked it. My ring finger locked in place. "Darnabee Bones," I said before my hand completely locked up. I had quilt block. Free at last!
She finished picking out the paper the next day. I'm still recovering.
Copyright 2000 by A.B. Silver
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