The Orphan Quilt




"I heard them again last night," my Darling Wife said after we sat down to breakfast.

"Uhmmm," I said, munching on a blueberry muffin.

"Are you listening?" she asked.

"Yes," I munched.

'They've been wailing all week now. What should I do?"

I swallowed the last of the muffin and looked at her. "Who was wailing? What was wailing? All week?" I could have asked more questions, but asking too many questions was not my duty.

"The orphans," she said.

"The orphans were wailing?" I asked. Now, this conversation between my quilting wife and me may sound as if I had eaten more than just a blueberry muffin and my digestion was somehow incomplete, but among the great conversations about quilting we have had in our lives together, this conversation was as normal as any.

"I started a new quilt last week, and after the first block I didn't like it, so I put the block away. That night the wailing began."

"You put a UFO away?"

"It's not an unfinished object. It's not a WIP (work in progress). It's an orphan block."

"I understand," I said. In a roundabout way I did understand. She had mentioned orphans in the past. Early in her quilting days, she had given orphans away for someone else to use, but then she began feeling a bit responsible for them, and she had put further orphans aside with the hope that she might change her mind and get back to them. "How many orphans do you have now?" I asked.

"A few. I don't know. I haven't looked at them in a long time."

"That explains it," I said wisely. 'They're lonely, left alone so long, unwanted, with no hope of a future. They're desperate for you to pay attention, to give them a new home, to use them."

"Maybe, you're right," she said, but I sensed a scoff in her tone.

"Make an orphan quilt," I said.

"Maybe I will," she said. "Their cries are keeping me awake."

"Orphans need love," I said compassionately.

"Bring me some quilt magazines," she said. "A lot."


That afternoon I found her at the kitchen table with forty or fifty "Quilt" magazines in front of her. There were more in the garage, but she had told me earlier that she thought she might remember one of the magazines having a pattern for a small quilt using orphan blocks. I had gone to the garage, looked at hundreds of magazines piled on the shelves of a cabinet, and grabbed as many as I could handle. The magazines I had brought went back five years, to 2000. That should satisfy her for awhile, I thought.

"Any luck?" I asked. She was turning pages quickly, one after another, sniffing, sighing, and frowning as she scanned for a pattern she could use.

"I found one that might work, but I want to look some more before I decide. I want the orphans to have a good home."

"Well, you'll find the best one," I said.


"I'm sure you'll find something," I said much later as I lifted the magazines she had already gone through and headed off to the garage.

"I'm going to keep looking," she said.

"How any orphans do you have?" I asked. I assumed that if she had heard so much wailing during the night, there had to be at least five or six orphans.

"I'm going to go look now," she said.

"You haven't looked yet?"

"I didn't want to get their hopes up. If they felt I was going to use them in a quilt and then I didn't, they would be very unhappy. They've suffered enough being orphaned."

"I'm sure they have," I said. I knew she never planned to make orphans out the blocks she put together. She had had good hopes for them at first, high hopes, and it was rare that she created an orphan. She usually made several blocks, a quarter of a quilt, a half of a quilt, a quilt top without a bottom, but those were in a different room, a different closet. Sometimes she went back to them and finished them. But the orphans remained orphans.

"Put the magazines back in order," she said then.

"I will," I said, and I did.


"No. no, no," she said loudly enough for me to hear from the other end of the house. She was inside the coat closet under the stairs, deep inside, beyond the boxes of blocks and Lego toys that our grandchildren dragged out every week when they visited.

"Now what?" I said, not at all alarmed by her cries. She had gone in after a small box of orphans, and I saw no cause to worry that she may have found the guitar, the air mattress, the small suitcase, the box of Halloween decorations left from the year before.

I waited for her to pull herself out of the closet. She pulled a box behind her. She tugged at the box, huffing in breath as she did. "There's more than three or four," she said.

"Well, then you have a choice to use the best ones," I said.

"I can't do that. It's always the best that are chosen. That's not fair. I have to use them all. I can't play favorites. Not in an orphan quilt."

"You can make a bigger quilt," I said.

"I might have to make a giant quilt."

"Be creative," I said. "It's for a good cause," isn't it?"

"I don't know if I can," she said. I need a way to join them all together. They're not all the same size so I just can't join them together. One will overlap the other and there will be irregular spaces, and none of the orphans will be happy. I need something to fill in the spaces to put them all together. She freed the box from the closet and opened up the flaps. The box was full of quilt blocks. "Six inch, nine inch, twelve inch, sixteen inch. I don't remember all these blocks." She began spreading them out onto the floor.

"Wow!" I said. I meant, "Wow!"

"I need to look through more magazines," she said.

"I'll get them for you," I said, and I got more magazines. She kept on looking.

More sighs, groans, lots of "Oh, no," and "I'll never...."

Keep looking," I said, not a command but a cheer to motivate her. "It's for a good cause," I added. "The orphans have to stay together," I agreed. There was nothing I could do to help. I gave her a hearty hug and left her to search for the solution.


She took more magazines to dinner and left her food waiting as she turned the pages. She found many patterns for sampler quilts, but as she looked through them, she moaned and sighed once more. "All the blocks in the quilts are the same size. I need to put together all the orphans together. I can't discriminate against the smaller ones or the larger ones or the ones in between. I can't leave any out."

"Borders and sashing and chunks of fabric," I suggested. I didn't know what I was talking about, but she smiled as I spoke. She wasn't smiling at me. She closed the magazine and stood from the table and left me there alone. "I was only suggesting...." I began, but she was gone.

She skipped dinner completely. I finished my dinner and cleaned up and put her dinner in the refrigerator for a sunnier day.

The solution came the next day when the latest issue of Sampler Quilts came in the mail. Coincidence? Well, she was making a sampler, wasn't she? I hurried into the house with the mail and handed her the magazine. "Maybe in here," I said.

"You think so. Huh?" she said, despairingly.

"I hope," I said.


She worked day after day for the next few days. I assumed she had given up looking and had started a new project, but she wouldn't tell me. When I asked about her quilting, she just smiled. Occasionally she would mutter something strange or mysterious under her breath, such as, "Fillerup," or ""Crazy logger," or "Saw my tooth," or "Player piano." Later, of course, when the quilt was finished and spread over the kitchen table where it was going to stay awhile, she told me what she had been saying was "Sawtooth" and "Crazy log," and "Piano key."

"I looked at Sampler Quilts, and I found the magic solution, an article by Jean Ann Wright," she finally explained.

"Just in time, too," I agreed in great relief. The orphans were saved, Darling Wife was saved, and, no doubt, I was saved. The orphans were all together now, joined in love by fillers which joined the different sized blocks together.

"No more wailing," my sweetheart quilter said.

"You used them all?"

"All of the orphans will soon have a new home and I can go back to my regular quilting."

"What if there were more orphans in the future?" I asked. I assumed there would be, but if there were, I also assumed, they would also be given a happy home.

"I'll adopt them." she said.

I bet she will.

Copyright 2005 by A.B. Silver

Click here to see finished "Orphan Sampler" Quilt

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