When I walked into her sewing room to ask her about going outside for a walk, she was finishing up the binding on the largest quilt she had ever made, the quilt spread out over her flat-top ironing board and over the sides and down onto most of the floor. She was hand-stitching the binding to the quilt, and as the needle did its work, she kept muttering, "Never again. I'm not doing this again. Never again."
"Do you plan to give up quilting?" I asked.
"Never," she said.
"But you just said...."
"I just said I will never again make a quilt larger than a postage stamp."
"That's very small," I said. I tried to image the size of the triangles and squares and batting and sashing and binding that would go into that small a quilt.
"I'm just using hyperbole," she said. "The way you do all the time."
"I don't go beyond the truth," I said. Well, maybe a little.
"No more queen-size quilts. No more doubles. I'm sticking to twins, lap size, crib size, wall hangings, little quilts, and miniatures."
"You don't like queen-size any more?" I asked. I wanted to be sure of what she was saying. With quilters, well, you never really know when they'll change their minds.
"Too much fabric, too much batting, too much backing, too much expense, too much time, too much everything."
"You told me you liked making this quilt."
"I did. I liked making the top. I can handle the top. But putting the quilt together on the sewing machine and then rolling the quilt and shoving it back and forth and all around through the machine for days until it's all quilted, that's a lot of work."
"You never complained before," I said.
"I'm not complaining. I'm just swearing off really big quilts. I'm getting the monkey off my back. I'm going cold turkey. I'm going into rehab. I'm signing up to go to the Betty Ford Clinic for Big Quilters."
"You're not a big quilter," I said. She was 4'11" and weighed about a pound, maybe two.
"I'm talking about the size of the quilts," she said.
"But you said you like the tops," I said.
"Lots of quilters like the tops. They just don't like the middles and the bottoms."
"So just make tops."
"I'm not a topper," she said.
"Oh," I said. What in heck was she saying now? I didn't have a quilter's secret decoding ring, so I waited for her to explain.
"Some people are toppers," she said. Lots of people are toppers."
"Is that a real word?" I asked. I ask that every time she opens her mouth about quilting. One never knows with these people.
"It is now."
"They're people who only like making the tops," I guessed. I am a great guesser when it comes to her vocabulary. I am usually wrong, but every once in a while I come close.
"I was just reading about quilters who had a survey about how many unquilted tops they had."
"You have a couple," I said.
"They're just not finished yet. I plan to finish them."
"That's good," I said.
"One woman in the survey said she had thirty-three."
"That's a lot of quilts," I said.
"Not quilts, tops."
"Oh," I said.
"Some people love making tops. Then they have someone else quilt them."
"Does that count?"
"Of course that counts. Some people only do the quilting."
"Then they're not toppers?" I didn't want to guess what word she would come up with for them.
"I heard that some people only make the blocks, the squares. They don't even make tops."
"Wow!" I said.
"Now you're making fun," she said, her tone of voice getting a bit cool, berating me.
"I didn't know that. I thought everyone made whole quilts."
"Some people don't even do borders," she said rather matter-of-factly.
"They stop before the borders?" I was getting deeper and deeper into territory I should have known to stay out of.
"They like the designing, the assembly, the sewing, but then they stop short of the border."
That was too tempting. "They need passports to cross the border?"
"You're going to need a passport to keep on living," she said.
"I'm only trying to understand what you're saying," I said.
"I'm saying that some quilters like to quilt whole quilts and some just like to make the tops and some people just do the final quilting."
"I'm still thinking about quilts without borders," I said.
"I'm thinking about finishing this Godzilla-sized quilt and making something small." She turned the quilt and began stitching the last corner. Her fingers held the needle firmly and it disappeared in a blur of motion.
"Your next quilt will have a small top and a small middle and a small bottom?"
"I'm going to make you smaller," she said.
"I'm not a quilt," I said.
"You very well could be," she said, picking up her scissors, cutting off the last piece of thread, and wielding the very sharp blades in front of me.
I backed up, turned, and got my top out of there.
Copyright 1999 by A.B. Silver
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