The Happy Quilt




It was the biggest quilt in the world, and she was about to attempt to machine quilt it. Well, at least it was the biggest quilt she had ever gone to do battle with, and a battle it would become. More like a war.


"There's only an inch of space under the arm of the sewing machine, and the quilt is a mile long and a mile wide," she said.

"You can do it," I said.

"It's a monster quilt," she said.

"It does look big," I said. The quilt was spread out on five folding tables in the garage. The cars were out on the street. She circled the tables and the quilt with her jar of pins and began stabbing at the quilt to baste it. Actually, she didn't walk in a circle. She went back and forth on one side, stretching herself across the tables with open pins. Then she went around the other side.

"I'm going to quilt it in thirds," she said.

"You can do thirds," I said, though I had no idea what was involved in doing thirds.

"You have no idea what doing it in thirds is, do you?"


"I'm trying a new technique so I can quilt this monster. I have to roll up the quilt and support it and fit it through the machine and I can't because it's too bulky." She looked at me to see if I understood her.

"Bulky," I said.

"After I baste the center of the quilt, I'm cutting off the sides," she said.

"Ouch," I said.

"Just the batting on the two sides, and then I'm quilting the middle."

"Middle," I said.

"I'm not sure it will work, but I have to try."

"Is it possible?" I asked. It looked impossible.

"I don't know. Help me fold under the sides so I can cut off the batting on both sides.

'Don't you need the batting?"

"I'll sew it back on," she said.

"It's surgery, then?" I asked. "A major operation?"

"It's a war," she said.


I helped her fold under the fabric on the top and bottom and use her rotary cutter to cut the batting off using an S cut along the full length of the batting, the edge of the batting like some giant serpent.

"It'll be easier to join back together if it's cut like this instead of butting the edges together" she said. The two pieces will fit together and be easier to sew," she explained.

"You're telling that to yourself, aren't you," I asked. What do I know from S cuts or butting edges together?

"I'm in basic training," she said.

"Are you frightened?" I asked.

"It's a big quilt and I don't know what I'm doing, but I'll do it if I can."

"It's a big quilt," I said.


The quilt was her eight-part Australian appliqué quilt. The top, at one section a month, took her over a year to sew together in between her other much smaller and normal quilts. Now she was going to quilt it. She-was-going-to-quilt-it!

"I'm ready," she said as she handed me the two sides of batting. I took the batting and helped her fold it. "Now we have to roll up the sides," she said as she put the folded batting on the end of the table. "Help me roll," she said.

I followed her lead and pinched the top and bottom together on one side, and together we rolled it up to the basted middle. Then, we did the same on the other side. "Now, I have to baste the sides together so they stay in place while I quilt," she explained.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked again for the third time in three days. She was becoming exhausted. We had discussed her sending the quilt out to be quilted by someone who knew how. We discussed buying a long-arm machine that had space for a quilt shop under the arm. She said no to both ideas, partially because of cost, mostly because of pride.

"It's my quilt, right or wrong," she said.

"That's supposed to be country," I said.

"Quilt," she corrected.


She had basted the sides together in a tight roll, I saw as she came into the house later with the quilt slung over her head and body. Actually, I didn't see her, but I did see the quilt moving up the stairs. I only assumed she was under it. Then she went to work.

"War is heck," she said an hour later as she came down the stairs for lunch.

"I've heard that said in harsher terms," I said.

"I already broke two needles."

"Tough fabric?" I asked.

"The quilt is so heavy I had to move the cutting table next to the sewing machine to support it, but the quilt still keeps moving and pulls the needle out of line, and then the needle comes down on the throat plate somewhere and breaks.

"Two needles," I repeated.

"I'm not giving up," she said. "I have lots of needles."

"So you are quilting it?" I asked. I knew she was. I hoped she was. I couldn't tell from her manner what was going on. She seemed calm and at ease, but she also seemed intense and driven.

"What's quilting anyway?" she asked, her tone softening. "There's quilting and there's quilting. there's stippling and free motion and meandering and...."

"What kind of quilting are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm doing them all and then some. I don't know what I'm doing. It's impossible to quilt in any normal way so I keep attacking the darn thing and it fights back and I break a needle and attack from the other side and break another needle and quilt to the right and to the left, and now the quilt is getting puffy and breaking out with acne and is getting all crooked and bunched up, but I'm not giving up." She let out a defiant sigh and raised her little fist.

"Don't surrender," I said. "Don't give up the ship. Into the valley of death. Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes."

"What are you talking about?"

"Encouragement," I said.

"I hope I have enough needles," she said to herself. "And pins," she added to me.


"The quilt keeps falling over the edge of the sewing machine, over the side and back onto the floor, and when I pull it back up, I bend some pins. They bend and pop and stick. Argghhh."


Three days, seven needles, and a lot of pins later, she finished quilting the center. "I've become a mad quilter," she said.

"Angry or addled?" I asked.

""Im never angry. The quilting is mad. It goes all over the place. No one is ever going to see the back of the quilt and remain sane afterwards," she said.

"Don't show anyone the back," I said.

"When I finish it," she began, and she stopped to give me a smart smile, "and I will finish it," she said strongly, "it will be a better quilt for the quilting. It may look strange, and it may not ever pass quilt inspection, but it will be quilted. It will!"


It was. She won the war and put the quilt is on the queen-size bed in our guest room. The happy quilt is her battle flag, her medal of honor. It took eleven needles and 124 pins, all of which were bent out of shape or broken or died bravely in battle as the quilt was pushed and pulled and tugged and poked over and around and through the machine. "I won," she said as she fell exhausted onto the top of the quilt and across the bed.

"The spoils belong to the victor," I said. "You should be very happy."

"It's a happy quilt," she said.

"You should be happy, too," I said.

"Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." she said.

Copyright 2001 by A.B. Silver

Click here to see finished "Happy Quilt"

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