Small Friends




When our daughter was three or four, she surprised us by bringing into the house, without our knowing it, a hundred or so sow bugs, (pill bugs, rolly pollies, terrestrial isopods) which, one by one, she had placed in her secret hiding place, the bottom drawer of a cabinet in our kitchen. It was only after my Darling Wife was looking for a set of placemats and opened the drawer, did she discover the kingdom of bugs. Bugs. Insects. Worms. Crawling, climbing, and flying things, small friends. Whatever is the fascination that children have with these tiny living things?

Whatever it was then and is now, it may be what led our grandson Garret, age four as of this moment, to love bugs. It certainly was some kind fascination that led him one day, while his grandma was giving him a reading lesson, to see an appliqué of a creepy crawly caterpillar on her design wall. It was one of a dozen "beginnings," quilt ideas flung onto the wall, this bug a tryout for a quilt that Darling Grandma had experimented with and had, at least for awhile, discarded. "Cool," Garret said as he went up to the wall and touched the small square of fabric with the lazy bug. (The lazy bug had not moved in weeks since it had been rejected and put on the wall.) "That's cool, Garret said more emphatically.

"What?" Grandma asked.

"That bug's cool. I like that bug," he said smiling. Now, four-year-olds, if they have been around their grandmas long enough, have a certain kind of smile that is easily observable, easily read, for grandchildren at this age already know how to ingratiate themselves into their grandparents' lives enough to get what they want, or at least try to get what they want. It was obvious that Garret wanted that bug.

But quilting grannies seem to have a built-in radar that allows them to see and hear beyond what is in a few simple words. "Why do you want that bug?" she asked.

"I need it," he said, which, of course, is reason enough.

"Well, maybe," Grandma said. Grandpa, who was standing nearby, wondered how long it would be beforer Garret hade the bug as his own.

It would be awhile, I expected, and I forgot about it. I assumed that someday the bug would be a reward for Garret, perhaps for having a good reading lesson, for Darling Wife, who had taught many, many children in her career, believed in rewards that are well-deserved. Time would tell.


Time passed. Time always passes, and for a quilter, time passes in a strange way. There were no minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years. No, time was told by projects begun, projects finished, quilt after quilt created, quilts finding homes, new patterns, new ideas, new patterns, new inspirations. So, as quilt time passed, when two of the quilts she had been working on were put aside to begin a third, she went into a temporary block and became stuck, mired in indecision.

"I need to do something new," she said.

"You're working on three different projects now already," I said.

"Sometimes three are not enough," she said.

"So you are going to do another project?"

"If I start a lot of projects at the same time, then I can decide which one I want to do at any one time."

"That's sounds reasonable." I said, "but what if you start thirty-seven projects? Then, the whole house will be covered in projects you're working on at the same time and you will never finish anything. You'll just have a lot more UFOs and WIPs," I said.

"These won't be unfinished or in progress. "I'll be working on them. It's up to my mood," she said.

"What kind of mood are you in now?"

"Buggy," she said.

"Is that a good mood or a bad mood?" I asked. With a quilter, one can never be sure. Too often, I decided she was in one mood when she was really in another. She once told me it had to do with fabric or patterns or stitches or rotary cutting, but I wasn't sure what. She once had a hangnail on her big toe, and she put some cream and a band-Aid on her sore toe and made a wall hanging of a fish. Tell me, what kind of mood was she in?

"I'm going to make some bugs," she said.

"I'm going to backwash the filter in the pond," I said.


"How are Garret's bugs going?" I asked later that day. She had come down from her sewing room and had sat down on the sofa and stared at the television set. It was off, but I had the idea that she was watching something on the blank screen anyway.

"I was thinking of finishing the diamonds and squares," she said.

"Instead of the bugs?"

"I need to appliqué the bugs, but then I have to change sewing machines."


"I like the one I'm using and it's for the diamonds and squares and the other quilts."


"It's a straight stitch and doesn't do zigzag and I need to use a satin stitch and I don't want to change back and forth if I decide to go back and forth with the quilts."

"Can't you put the other machine on the side of the sewing table where there's a place for the second sewing machine, which is why you insisted on buying that sewing table so you could have two machines set up for anything you wanted to do."

"That will work," she said.


I have been married to my lady friend a long, long time, but she has only been quilting for a few years, and so it has taken me a long time to know how to put aside what I think I know about her and remember what I know about her when she's quilting. My head spins around enough without my trying to understand everything about quilters. But I try.

"Have you been satin stitching?" I asked. The second older machine that could zigzag had been set up for several days when I decided I was brave enough to go into her sewing room.

She looked at me, recognized my voice, and pointed at her design wall. It was covered with squares of fabric, each covered by a bug. "The bugs are done," she said. "I just have to introduce them to one another and then I can finish the quilt." Now, I know enough to know that she knew I knew what she was telling me. She had to sew the squares with the bugs on them into a quilt top and then she would iron on the fusible batting and sew on the back and quilt and bind the whole thing together.

"Good work," I said, and I left her sewing room and cleaned out a closet while my mind was still organized.


The bugs are finished now. She yelled, "Done," then waved the quilt at me from upstairs when I looked up from where I lay on the sofa, but then she decided to come down and show me the quilt close up, which she did. She held the quilt in front of me. "What do you think?" she asked.

"Garret will love the bugs," I said.

"I'm saving it for his birthday."

"That's four months away," I said. "Can you hold out that long?" I know how eager she can be to give away the quilts she makes for friends and family.

"I can do something else in the meantime. I have other projects to do, you know."

"Yes, I know," I said. "Great bugs," I added as she turned and headed back up the stairs.

"It was Garret's idea," she said. "He likes bugs."

"Don't we all," I said. I know I do.


Copyright 2006 by A.B. Silver

Click here to see finished "Bug" Quilt

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