"I found a house," she told me just before dinner.
"Was it lost?" I asked.
"Not lost. I was just looking for something, and I found the house."
"Do you want to move?" I asked.
"Move? What for? We live here."
"To the new house," I said. Though we had been living in our new house for two and a half years, and though we had both agreed it was the perfect house for us, and though we both loved the house and would never move again, we always agreed that if someone wanted to give us a large house overlooking the ocean and it had a room for quilting that could allow for five sewing machines, a long arm machine, and a 10 foot wide quilting machine, and room for five thousand bolts of fabric, we would take it. But she wasn't talking about such a house.
"It was with my UFOs," she said. She showed me a block she had made with a house on it.
"Oh, that kind of house."
"Paper-pieced," she said. "I always said I'd get back to it. And since I'm between quilts, maybe I'll make a little neighborhood."
"You're never between quilts," I said. She never was even if she were. If she had finished a quilt and hadn't yet started a new one, that didn't mean a thing. There were always quilts begun in her head, that cute little head stuffed with quilts yet to be designed or developed, even before she knew what shape or form or size they would be.
"A wall hanging. I need one to replace the one we gave away. The bare space is driving me up the wall."
"The wall in the hall," I said. I knew the space.
"I'm going to put together a little something," she said.
"What about the big something you said you needed to make to replace the bed quilt you gave away?"
"The book with the new patterns hasn't come yet. I've been waiting and waiting for it, but it might be a few days or weeks before it comes."
"And there's nothing in the ten billion other books and magazines you have stuffed on every shelf in the house and garage that just might have an idea in it you could use?"
She began by making too many houses. She spent the next two weeks waiting for the book to come which didn't come, so she made more houses, even a barn and a chapel. She made houses which she put in frames of fabric and joined together with sashing, and then she made more little houses. She made so many houses that when she assembled them into a quilt top, she knew the finished "wall hanging" would be much too large to fit in the space on the wall where the old quilt had been. "I made enough houses,' she said, and so she stopped making houses. "I'm going to add some trees. Big trees."
"Well, houses need trees for shade," I said.
"Yes, they do." So, she pieced together some big trees.
"Your quilt is getting bigger, isn't it?" I asked.
"Much too big," she said.
"You'll make it the right size," I said.
"We'll see," she said.
Days later she came into the back yard and stood beside me where I was putting twenty newly purchased baby goldfish (twelve cents each) into our small pond, and she said, "I just ruined the quilt."
"How did you ruin the quilt?" I asked her. She hesitated. While I waited for her to detail whatever tragedy had overcome her, I spoke to the goldfish. "Swim," I told them. Obediently, they swam.
I turned back to where she stood beside me. And she told me, She told me that beyond making too many houses and too many trees, she had used old batting she had found under her bed in a flat plastic box. She had months before put the batting there when she had run out of space in the several closets she had taken possession of to store her fabric stash and all the new batting. Once she had discovered fusible batting, the old batting lay neglected, in sorrow, alone under the bed with some old scraps of forgotten fabric. Her new method allowed her to iron the fusible batting to the quilt top and back on her big top ironing board and not have use the tables or pins which required her to hurt her back and fingers when basting the quilt top to the backing.
"I shouldn't have used that old batting," she said.
"And now it's too late? What happened?" I always ask what happened. She would tell me anyway, but if I questioned her now, I wouldn't have to wait until she was walking around the house with a frown on her face and a grumpy disposition, a grumpy quilting disposition only in effect when she was frustrated as she seemed to be at the moment.
"Puckers," she said.
"You've had puckers before," I said.
"Not lately. Not in a long time. Not with the fusible batting. I used the old batting which I had to pin on, but I didn't use the tables and smooth out the fabric and batting to take out the slack. I left the slack in and got puckers when I began quilting."
"And your fingers hurt from the pinning, but you saved your back by not having to bend over the tables," I guessed.
"You could stop quilting and take out the pins and still use the fusible batting," I said foolishly.
"That would be foolish. I'm too far along."
"How many puckers?" I asked.
"Six or eight so far," she said.
"You expect more?"
"Some. A lot. Maybe a billion. "
"And?" This sharp hard question of mine was designed to sharpen the focus of our conversation in the hope of quickly getting rid of the frowns in her quilting life.
"And I can live with the puckers. They're on the back of the quilt."
"They don't show on the little houses?"
"Not even through the windows of the houses if someone happened to look inside?"
"They're on the back. The houses are fine. The trees are fine, too," she said, anticipating my next question.
"So why are you still frowning?"
"It's way too big for the space I made it for. I'll need one of your walls," she said.
'One of my walls? I don't have any walls left." I had once had walls where I had had my choice of hanging a print or a painting, but early on she had gone berserk and stolen my walls for her quilts. To save our marriage and my life, I had given her most of the walls. All except one, I thought.
"Maybe that wall over your desk."
"No white gloves," she said this morning. She was smiling.
"I finished the quilt," she said.
"Great!" I said enthusiastically. Whew!
'But I'm not showing anyone the back of the quilt. No one can look at the back. Never ever. Even if someone wears white gloves, no back."
"The way they do at quilt shows if you ask to see the quilting on the back?" I guessed. Only people with white gloves could turn the quilt.
"No white gloves. No back. No puckers."
'That makes sense. May I see the front of the quilt?"
"I thought you'd never ask," she said. And she showed me the houses and the barn and the chapel and the trees.
"We're not moving into any one of these houses," I said.
"Too small for all my quilting stuff," she said.
"Way too small," I agreed.
Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver
Click here to see finished "Little Houses Quilt"
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