Middle Muddle




"I'm in the middle," she said. She was holding a quilting book in one hand and a piece of black fabric in the other. She waved the fabric at me.

I waved back with the slice of bread I held in my hand. "Is there more bread?" I asked. "I thought we had another slice for my sandwich."

"I used that slice for toast," she said. She waved the fabric again.

"I'm not making a sandwich with fabric," I said. I didn't think it would hold the mustard or the turkey well.

"Look in the freezer. I'm in a muddle now," she said; then, without even giving me a hint as to where in the freezer more bread might be hiding, she turned and put the quilt book on the kitchen table and draped the black fabric over it.

"Is the book in mourning?" I asked.

"It's for the other quilt," she said.

"The other quilt?" I asked. She wanted me to ask that question. I know her. When she wanted me to stop making a sandwich so I would pay attention to her and her quilting, she set a trap for me with her words. I always had a choice, of course. I could not fall into her trap and go on making my lunch sandwich, a sandwich I would never enjoy as she would give me some look which would make me pay attention anyway and the sandwich would rot in my mouth.

"I'm in the middle of a muddle," she said.

"Go on," I said, for I had no choice. I was born to love a quilter.

"Go on with what?" she asked.

"Your middle," I said. "You said you were in the middle. The middle of what?" I waited with a patience born several years before in our relationship when she had become a quilter.

"The middle of a muddle," she said. She sighed then and looked directly at me. "I'm in the middle of four different quilts, and I'm in a muddle because Claire just sent me a pattern for chicken potholders."

"A chicken for every pot?" I asked. That was Herbert Hoover's campaign slogan in 1928 when he ran for president. What did that have to do with quilting? Probably very little.

"If I do the chickens, then I can't finish the paper-piecing, but then, I suppose, the chickens can wait, and I have the fabric now that I needed for the other quilt I started, but I really want to make the African quilt. That fabric has been waiting for three years to be a quilt."

"And the quilt you have on the design wall? You were going to finish that right away." The quilt top was taking shape and I was hoping she would finish it before the new year, but it was already the new year.

"I have forty-one blocks finished. I'm waiting for more fabric to finish it. No, that's not true. I can't finish it now. I have to do the chickens and then start on the African quilt in my new book. No, that's not true either. I have to take down the forty-one blocks and put them aside and start on the new quilt when I finish the chicken pot holders which I have to begin right now so I can put them away and then start on the new quilt unless I go back to the paper-pieced quilt." She took a deep breath and looked at me.

"So, you're in the middle of a muddle?" I guessed.

"I told you that."


It took her a full day to finish each chicken pot holder. She did one for practice and two to send her sister next August for her sister's birthday. That she was a little ahead of herself, something like eight months ahead of herself, I never argue with her sense of timing, for quilters' clocks run differently. "Done," she said after three days as she showed me the pot holders. They were cute.

"Cute," I said.


"I have to strip the wall naked," she said when the potholders were done.

"What?" Did I say that quilters have a different way of talking. Now, I had several choices as to how to respond. I could have said, "Huh?" or "What do you mean by that sentence you just uttered?" or "What wall? How naked? Why?" But I said, "What?" I said it twice.

"I'm taking down the forty-one blocks I finished so I can begin my new quilt."

"The African quilt?"

"I think so. If I get the pattern right. If I get the fabric right. If I finish it."

"Why wouldn't you finish it?"

"Muddles don't always have answers," she said.

"The muddle you're in the middle of?" I was beginning to understand how the new year was going to be.

"I hope I have enough fabric," she said. "Or I'll have to start a new quilt," she added. She paused and then continued. "Or I'll go back and finish the other quilt if I get enough fabric."

"The fabric you said you had to buy immediately so you could finish the quilt immediately?"

"Why do you keep asking me all these questions," she asked.

"So I don't wind up in the middle of your muddle," I said. I didn't want to be in the middle of anything. I wanted to go back to doing nothing which is what I had been doing before the holiday season and the family visits and all the grandchildren. From Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, my sloth and indolence had been interrupted. I wanted to be lethargic again.

"I began cutting pieces for the new quilt," she said.

"Already? Before you rip the wall bare?"

"I couldn't wait. But I'm going to really work hard now on the new quilt."

"You've been planning this since you got the new book on ethnic quilts, haven't you?" I accused.

"Quilting is planning and more planning," she said. "I have to quilt ahead in my mind so I don't lose track of what I'm doing."

"But you already lost track of what you were doing. You were in a middle of a muddle. You told me so."

"Not any more," she said. "I'm unmuddled now."

"When did you get out of the mental mire of the middle of your muddle?" I alliterated.

"Just now. It's clear now what I have to do."

"And the UFOs and WIPs you leave scattered around in your wake as you speed ahead?" I had no idea how many unfinished objects and works in progress she had, but I know they would be saddened by her decision to leave them behind. Yes, in our house, fabrics and quilts (in progress or not) all have feelings. I wouldn't have thought that before my otherwise normal Darling Wife first discovered fat quarters, but I knew that now. She told me that often enough.

"I promised I'd get back to them. They understand."

"Yes, certainly, I'm sure they all understand," I said. I understood, too. Didn't I?

Copyright 2005 by A.B. Silver


Click here to see finished "Unmuddled Quilt"

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