Quilter's Lament




Dust covered everything. The kitchen was a shambles. Dirty plates and cups filled the sink. The carpet was covered in crumbs. The windows were covered in cobwebs. The house was a disaster. It needed help. I tried my best, but I was only a weakling when faced with housework. I was inadequate. What I need was some miracle, but she was busy quilting.

"I'll get to it, I promise," she had promised day after day. "I have to finish this quilt. As soon as it's done, I'll do it. I promise."

"You are always quilting," I said, my words useless against the truth of her life. She preferred quilting to housework. I held a dustrag in my hand. She backed away upon seeing it.

"It's a matter of priorities," she said when I pushed the dust rag toward her, hoping beyond hope that she would reach for it, grasp it, and start dusting.

"A clean house is a priority," I said. "I'll do the windows and floors," I said. Fair is fair.

"I'm in the middle of selecting fabric for a border," she said. "And I have to make several miles of binding."

"That's a lot of binding. Couldn't you make, say, three or four yards?"

"It's for the next twelve quilts. It's easier when I have the binding cut ahead of time. And as I don't know what kind of quilts I'm going to make, I need a variety of bindings to match anything I might do."

"The kitchen cabinets need to be dusted, too. And the window sills all have some pollen blown in from the yard. It is spring, you know, and with the windows open, the sills are turning yellow."

"I have twenty-five bobbins that are empty now. I have to refill them. All colors. I can't stop in the middle of quilting to refill the bobbin."

"The dishwasher is full, and the shelves are empty, so there are no clean glasses or spoons or forks or knives. I will go shopping again and refill the cupboards."

"There's plenty of tuna left. I have to unpack the fusible batting. It's so packed into the plastic bag, it sticks to itself and it takes a week to unfold it so I can air it out."

"We've eaten tuna five hundred times this month," I said.

"Did you order the extra black thread?" she asked.

"I did. What about the bathrooms? Did you ever hear of mold?"

"You're exaggerating. I looked two weeks ago, and there wasn't much mold yet. But the rotary cutter needs a new blade, and I have to put a new needle in the sewing machine. And there is lint in the bobbin case."

"You can do that after you empty the washing machine. I washed and dried. But you need to make room for the next load."

"It's going to take a while to square the blocks," she said.

"The vacuum cleaner is clean now. It was full of lint and threads and fabric scraps. You can use it again now," I suggested. I sneezed to emphasize how full the vacuum bag had been.

"It's a dilemma," she said.

"What's a dilemma?"

"Should I quilt or clean house," she said.

"You can do both," I said. I wasn't asking too much. I helped, and I still had time to do my work, though some wouldn't see trying twenty-two different ways to be lazy as work. But it was. Indolence take time to perfect.

"You just say that. I have to live with it," she said. For the second time, she looked at the dustrag I held in my hand, approached it with her hand, and backed off. "No, I can't. If I give in and clean house now I'll never get my quilt done. I'm right in the middle of a critical part, and if I don't get it right, the quilt will suffer."

"The whole house is critical. The whole house is already suffering," I said. I pushed the dustrag closer to her. She backed away again.

"A house can wait. A house with a little dust and dirt isn't a quilt square or quilt block or appliqué that may be on the edge of not fitting in, not being sewn correctly, left all crooked and puckered. The house is already here and it's not going away. If I choose the wrong fabric, if I don't keep everything straight in my head and on my cutting table, then I'm a failure as a quilter and I don't want to be a loser. Do you want me to be a loser?"

"Having a clean house doesn't make you a loser. And none of your quilts is a loser." I tried to put warmth and caring and understanding into my voice, and I smiled a lot, too, but she frowned.

"All right, I'll dust the top of the sewing machine table and the cutting table and make sure all my rulers are clean and shiny," she said. She took the dustrag and looked at it as if it were some unknown beast from Hades.

"That's it?"

"I'm not a cleaning machine," she said.

"You don't have to be a cleaning machine. You just have to tell yourself you're taking a very short cleaning break. Your fabric and notions and sewing machines and thread and bobbins and all your quilt projects will understand."

"I don't know if I can do that. Even a short, short break might hurt the quilt I'm working on. I might forget what I was doing. I might forget how much fabric I need and what kind of fabric and everything else. Oh, woe!"

"Oh, Woe?" Did she really say that, or was I just hearing the words in the groan she let out? Was that a lament?

"I hope you never have to make a decision like this," she said. Her hand was clenched around the dustrag. She made small dusting motions in front of her and then brought her hand down to her side. "Cleaning or quilting? Quilting or cleaning? Oh, woe!"

This time I was sure she had wailed out her dismay.

"It's all right. You can get through this. I'll be right by your side, helping, sweeping, washing. You can get it done, and then when the dust is all gone and the dirt and grime are wiped from every surface of the house, you'll be free, free to quilt, and the quilting will be happy and proud and perfect."

"Make me one promise," she said.

"I promise to help all the way," I said.

"Not that," she said.

"Then what?"

"No speeches about the glory of housework, no singing songs about the joy of having clean dishes or dust-free window sills. No bragging to the neighbors about how I stopped quilting to make the house happy." She glared at me.

"I promise," I said.

"And if in the middle of this madness you are driving me into, if I think my quilting feels jilted, neglected, left behind, I'm going back to the sewing room. Full speed. Dust motes or tea stains on the tabletops or scuff marks on the floors or not. I'm a quilter. Do you hear me?"

"I hear you." I did.

She lasted one hour and thirty-two minutes. (The quilt is calling," she said.) After I write this, I still have to take out the trash and finish up what she started. That's most of the house. In the meantime, she is working on her quilt. I doubt if she remembers our conversation or is reliving her lament. In fact, I think I hear her humming.

Copyright 2005 by A.B. Silver

Back to Home Page  *  Top of Page

E-mail Popser if you'd like.