She thought it would be the same old thing, another quilt she liked, a technique she understood, a design that lent itself to simplicity. She had searched carefully for just the right new project, something that she was used to doing, something that she could do without toil, without raising a sweat, something that would still be worthwhile. "I have simple needs," she had told me as she looked through her books and magazines. "I want to use up some of my stash and still not complicate my life."
"No adventure?" Nothing new?"
"I don't want to learn anything new. I'm a basic quilter," she said.
"You want to use the experience you already have." I said, hoping I was saying the right thing.
"I just want to do something easy, something plain. I don't want to have to stretch my imagination."
"A lazy quilt?"
"Not lazy. Just straightforward. Unsophisticated."
"That's what you're looking for?"
"No, I just found it," she said. "This is it," she said with a blare of trumpets. (I heard them in her words.) She pointed to a book on the table.
"In the new book, then?" I said. No question. It was plain to see. Her right hand fell on the open page, and she looked like the cat that swallowed a week's supply of catnip, tuna, and a glass of sacramental wine.
"I won't have to strain myself. I won't have to make myself crazy. I can ease into this and meditate about joy and life and the mysteries of nature."
"Looks like fun," I said.
"It will be," she said. "A simple wall hanging, and I can use some of my batiks. Do you like it?"
I looked closely at the design. "I like it fine," I said.
"I can't do it," she said three hours later. I was watching the news of all the horrible fires that were sweeping through too much of San Diego County, and I had forgotten about her new project, her "easy-something-to-do-without-strain" speech.
"Can't do what?" I asked.
"The wall hanging. I thought it was all paper piecing."
"And it's not," I guessed.
"It's not the kind of quilt I thought it was."
"They rarely are," I said of the quilts she had made in the past.
"No, this is different. I have to do different things to make this quilt."
"Freezer paper," she said.
'What does that that mean?" I asked. I could have asked or said a dozen different things at that moment, but my mind was alert to the dangers that might lie ahead if I said the wrong thing, which was easy to do when she said things I really didn't quite understand.
"Freezer paper templates," she said.
"I didn't expect that. I'm not prepared for that. I've never done that. That's new," she said all in a slow rush. (I might explain here that a slow rush was the way a quilter, at least my quilter, sometimes did things when she was flustered but alert, confused but positive, in a hurry but careful, and otherwise sure that she wasn't sure of whatever it was she was or was not doing. Quilting can do that to a person, she had told me many times.)
"You're not going to make the quilt?" I asked.
"No, I have to do it, I think."
"I'll have to learn something new, and I don't know if I can find the freezer paper. I bought some a long time ago, but I never used it. I never wanted to use it."
"You can want to use it now," I said.
"Curves," she said a few days later when I asked her how the wall hanging was going.
"That far along?" I asked. All right, so I was not in any way correctly responding to what she had just said, but that was the way quilting conversations with her often began, and those beginnings often led to peace and calm and understanding before the conversations were over or ended in chaos and bodily harm to my body for not understandingly being empathic or sympathetic enough to a woman who needed extreme support when she hit a brick wall in quilting.
"I'm learning to make curves a new way," she said.
"That's good, right?"
"Absolutely. I'm expanding."
I looked at her very carefully. "You look fine," I said.
"My horizons." She said. "I'm expanding my horizons. My world's bigger. I've always avoided curves before."
"I didn't realize," I said.
"Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"No," I said. I didn't. I had a clue, but clues aren't evidence or proof positive. I had been watching some court room drama when she came into the room.
"I'm being dragged by this project into learning new techniques, changing old habits, discovering new paths, traveling outside my little world of traditional thinking about quilts."
"Oh, that," I said again.
"It's too big," she said a week later.
"Too big for what?" I asked.
"The dresser," she said.
"What dresser? I thought it was a wall hanging."
"Not any more. The dresser was cold," she said.
"Am I missing something here?" I asked. I was missing a lot, I thought.
"The weather turned cold. The dresser was cold."
"The dresser was cold?" I asked the question that any spouse of a quilter would ask when a wall hanging became a dresser covering.
"I had the window open as I always do, and the dresser shivered and said it was cold and would I make a quilt for it."
"The dresser said all that?"
"Of course. That's why I'm downsizing."
"I'm leaving the borders off the quilt so it will fit the dresser. The wall already has quilts on it. It's only right."
"If you and the dresser say so," I said.
"There's not that much paper piecing in this quilt anyway," she told me as we climbed the long flight of steps that led from the beach to the parking lot several miles higher up. (One hundred and three steps-I counted.)
It was Saturday morning, two weeks after she had begun the wall hanging-the dresser cover. "Go, on," I said as we pressed ever upward. "Huff, puff," I added with each additional step.
"Remember, I first thought the whole quilt would be paper-pieced, but the regular parts used freezer paper as templates for cutting out the pieces of fabric which I sewed together, and a tiny, tiny part was appliqué, which was supposed to be turned under, but I did it my own way which was an old, old way.
"And you flew over the rainbow," I said.
"Dorothy flew over the rainbow, away from Kansas," I said. "You flew over the rainbow with this quilt. After the rain the rainbow came out and the flowers grew."
"I'm talking about learning new techniques and adding new skills and breaking free from the ordinary, and you're talking about rainstorms and the Wizard of Oz," she said. "Now, do you want to see the quilt or not," she asked. She definitely asked.
"You're going to want to buy more freezer paper, aren't you?"
"It's good to learn something new," she said. She showed me the quilt. It lay on top of a happy and warm dresser. "Can you tell which part is old technique and which is new?"
"It's a nice quilt," I said.
"Don't change the subject," she said.
"You're brave to try new things, brave to downsize, too," I said.
"I didn't want to try anything new. I wanted easy and comfortable."
"So how do you feel now?"
"I feel comfortable and easy and finished," she said.
"Until next time," I said.
"Until next time."
Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver
Click here to see finished "After the Rain Quilt"
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