Burned Out





"Burnout," she said. She was lying on the sofa, her right hand spread over her eyes, her knees drawn up.

"You look tired," I said.

"I'm not tired. I'm burned out." She lifted her left hand from her side and placed it over her right hand.

"Burned out?" I asked. I had to ask.

"Wiped out," she said.

"As in exhausted?" I guessed.

"I have some energy left. Lots of energy," she said. "But, I need a change." She slowly lifted one hand from her eyes, then the other. Her eyes were closed but then she opened them. I stood in front of her and looked down from where I stood next to the sofa.

"Tell me about your burnout," I said.

"The last quilt was the end of my rope," she said.

"It was a great quilt," I said.

"Blocks and squares and sew and sew."

"That sounds like a quilt," I said.

"Three, four, five quilts in a row."

"Is there a message here?" I asked, very confused, but not for the first time.

"I need to go back for awhile," she said.

"Back to the drawing board?" I guessed.

"Paper piecing, I think," she said. She rubbed at both cheeks with both hands.

"A change of pace," I said.

"Something like that," she said. "Good guess."


Now, if that sounds as if we were discussing the world situation or something of equal importance, we weren't. We were discussing quilting, and at that moment it was more important a discussion than whether the economy was going up or down and how that would affect her ability to buy more fabric in the future.

"I'm buying fifty needles," she said.

"That's a good investment," I said.

"Paper dulls the needles fast," she said.

"So you need a lot of them."

"They're less expensive in bulk," she explained.

"Well, you'll need them sometime."

"And more paper. Lots more paper," she added.

"Certainly. Paper piecing needs paper." We quilting spouses learn in a hurry.

"Fish," she said.

"You want fish for lunch?" I was way off.

"A memorial," she said.

"For our fish."

"We should remember them in a quilt," she said. '"A wall hanging at least."

"In memorium," I said.

"A paper-pieced wall hanging to remember the poor fish," she said.

"So you won't be burned out any more," I said.


The loss of our four koi from our backyard pond two months before had been a great tragedy. A pump valve had broken and, instead of pumping the water through the filter and back in the pond, the broken valve allowed the water to drain out of the pond. She heard the fish flopping around at ten at night. By the time we could fix the problem and refill the pond, we had lost four fish. Two remained.


"A quilt with four fish and maybe some dragonflies," she said.

"Dragonflies? We didn't lose any dragonflies," I said.

'They're not for us. They're for the quilt. The fish need an environment."

"So, you're going ahead?"

"I have to get over my blah blues," she said.

"I thought it was burnout and that you were already over it," I said.

"I'm not a motorcycle. I can't be kick-started."

"I never thought you were a motorcycle or even a bicycle." I said.

"I'm a slow starter sometimes," she said.

"Slow is good," I said. In her "burnout" mood, slow was better than stopped.

"Once I get into the quilt, you had better watch out," she said.

"You'll be totally absorbed," I said. "Intent. Intense. Driven to succeed. The fish will be in good hands," I said. Hadn't I been through this before? A thousand times. Quilting was passion. I would see her from time to time. Sometimes she ate and slept and went for a walk. I could see her then.

"I don't like burnout. I have to keep ahead of myself. I need to go from old quilts to new quilts, finished to a new beginning."

"That's certainly your philosophy," I said. "Do you have enough fabric?" I asked the last question not out of a need to know, but to let her know I was standing by her, backing her up, supporting her, helping her avoid future burnout.

"Does a mouse like cheese?" she said.

"Did you see another mouse?" I asked. We had found a baby mouse in our yard a week before which had caused her, for a moment, to consider making a mouse quilt, but he mouse soon escaped into the landscaping. It probably didn't need a quilt.

"I was just trying to tell you it's time to get started on my paper piecing,"

"Oh," I said. Oh!


Several hours or days or weeks later, she said she had completed the top of the fish. "I'm finished with the top of the fish," she said.

"How about their bottoms?" I asked. I knew what she was saying, but I wanted her to know I was listening to her even though I was having a cup of tea and reading the newspaper and listening to the news on television.

"Their bottoms are fine," she said.

"Time to baste and quilt then," I told her.

"This is the hard part," she said.

"Part of quilting," I said. "But it's just a wall hanging, not a queen-sized quilt." If we were rich, she often told me, she would hire out all the quilting. Oh, sometimes she enjoyed the quilting, when everything went right and the finished quilt looked finished and she had had few mishaps, no puckers, no bobbin thread showing on the top, and the binding was all straight. But, for the most part, the final quilting was more work than pleasure.

"I don't want to get burned out again," she said.

"Are you burning?" I put my hand on her forehead. "You feel cool," I said.

"I'm not burning," she said, pulling my hand away from her brow.

"Sometimes when you're quilting you get on fire," I said.

"That's passion, energy, desire. That's when I'm enthralled and engaged in the quilting."

"And that's the way you feel now?"

"That's the way I felt while I was doing the quilt top. Now I'm going to finish it and go on to the next quilt," she said.

"What kind of next quilt?" I asked.

"An exciting new quilt, a happy one, one that makes me want to fly."


"I have to reach for the sky. Quilt heaven. Paradise."

"Better than burnout," I said. Oh, yes!


She started a new quilt today. She's floating somewhere over the house.


Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver

Click here to see finished "Memorial" wall hanging

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