Save the Whales




If my day seems dull, if I am bored, if I am in the need of adventure, I do not have far to go to brighten my day, to bring me excitement, or to find that adventure. All I have to do is wander into her sewing room.

"So, what's new," I asked as I walked into her room. I didn't have to wait for an answer. There she was, rotary cutter in hand, the blade rolling over the fabric on her cutting board, the slices of fabric quickly pushed to the side as she found more fabric to slice and dice. She was too intent in her pursuit of slashing to answer.

"A new project?" I asked, but I didn't need an answer. All I had to do was look around. The cutting board, the big top of her ironing board, the table to the side, the floor beneath, the sewing machine table beyond, all were covered with piles, heaps, rows, mounds, stacks, and bunches of tiny pieces of fabric. There was a spring snowfall of fabric snowflakes all over the room.

"What are you doing?" I asked, and this time I waited for an answer.

She finally recognized that her puzzled spouse was in her room. She looked at me and put down the fabric guillotine. "Right now I'm killing whales," she said,

"Oh," I said. I accepted her answer. She knew what she was doing. If she said she was killing whales, she was killing whales. But she loved whales. I frowned.

"I'm not really killing whales," she said. "I'm making waves," she explained.

"Oh," I said. That certainly was much clearer to me.

"I need an ocean without whales," she said. She knew I was confused and was trying to help me understand.

"What about the blizzard?" I asked.

"What blizzard?" she asked.

"This whole room," I said.

"Pieces," she said.

"Pieces?" I questioned. Eventually I would find a way out of this conversation.

"I'm doing a seascape," she said.

"With a blizzard and dead whales and waves?" I asked.

"It's a new project," she said. "I'm doing a pieced quilt and it takes lots of pieces.

"Ahhh," I said. I was beginning to understand. Paper-piecing. That meant little pieces. Itsy-bitsy pieces of fabric. Zillions of pieces of fabric the size of the period at the end of this sentence. "You're doing another tiny quilt though you vowed after the last one you'd never let yourself go crazy again doing that?" Quilters don't keep that kind of vow, so I knew that her answer would be that she changed her mind. But I was wrong.

"That was paper piecing. This is foundation piecing," she said.


"You don't know the difference, do you?" she asked.

"One you do with paper and one you do with a foundation?" I guessed. I wondered what kind of foundation garment was needed for this new mad quilt project.

"Muslin," she said.

"Go on," I said. So far I think I knew the following: tiny pieces of fabric, dead whales, a seascape, a woman's muslin foundation garment (which, with her perfect petite body, she didn't need), and some kind of waves.

"You can use paper for the foundation and call it paper piecing, or you can use fabric. If you use paper, you tear it away afterwards. If you use muslin, you leave it in. I'm using muslin for the foundation of a seascape with cabañas, a beach, sailboats, and an ocean with waves." Ah, so that was a seascape.

"But no whales? You had to get rid of the whales?"

"The only fabric I had with ocean waves had whales in it. I had to cut out all the whales so I would have fabric for the ocean."

"What did you do with the whales?" I said.

"I saved them." They're safe. Don't worry."

"Whew," I said. I looked around and saw a pod of whales resting on the chair. I hoped they, like Willy, who is now swimming free in Icelandic waters, would soon be back swimming again. "And the rest of the pieces?" I asked as I swept my look around the room.

They're all for the ocean and the rest of the quilt," she said.

"How deep is your ocean?"

"It's just a small quilt," she said. "Twelve by fourteen inches."

"And for that you cut out a zillion pieces?"

"More like a million," she said.

"And you sew all these minuscule pieces onto a piece of muslin and that makes a quilt?" Of course, I knew that she would say, "Yes."

"Yes," she said.

"So some of the pieces are for the beach and some are for the bath houses?" I tried to visualize a quilt with tiny cabañas with tiny people inside changing into their tiny bathing suits. It was no use. "And some of the pieces are for the sailboats but most are for the ocean with waves?"

"You got it," she said.

"And instead of paper with tiny shapes and tiny lines and lots of numbers you have to sew through, you use muslin with tiny shapes and tiny lines and lots of numbers?"

"Fifteen blocks with lots of pieces," she said.

"What?" I thought I had absorbed enough information about foundation piecing.

"There are fifteen small blocks, and each block has lots of little pieces all sewn together," she said.

"Go on, you're kidding right?"

"Quilters don't kid about serious quilts," she said.

"This is a serious quilt?" I asked.

"You betchyourbottom," she said. I think that's what she said, so I moved my bottom far away from the rotary cutter.

"I admire your courage," I said. If she wanted to take some nice whole fabric and cut them up into lots of little pieces and then mix them all up and sew them back together into small blocks and then sew the blocks together to make a seascape with sand and water and sailboats, who was I to question her?

"Thank you," she said.

"You're welcome," I said. And she was. Anyone who looks out for whales deserves applause.

Click here to see Seascape

Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver

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