What To Do with an Ugly Quilt




Every once in a while, when she is making a quilt, either at the beginning or in the middle or at the end, she decides the quilt is ugly. "It's too ugly," she would say, and she would sigh as she spoke to me and look at me for a reaction, and I wouldn't say a word, and she would repeat herself for emphasis. "It's way too ugly."

And that is what she said to me a short while back when she was three days into a new quilt, a quilt she hoped would occupy her time for a while, please her a great deal, and be grand enough to give away to the next family member that needed either a baby quilt or a lap quilt or a wall hanging. "You've said that before," I said. "Many times." She had, and many times as she worked more on the quilt, as she finally finished it, she changed her mind, her opinion, and smiled as she finally told me she liked the quilt. I never told her what she had said about the quilt being ugly or wrong or bad at some stage or another. She knew what she had said, and she explained it easily.

"I wasn't sure if I would like it before," she would explain, "but now I like it a little," or a lot or very much or "Wow."

So, when she told me her current quilt was ugly, I gave her a sweet smile and said, "Well, we'll see."

"I'm not changing my mind about this one. I'll finish it because I have to finish it anyway, but it will be ugly. I know it will. The color, the design, the sewing, the piecing, the quilting, all ugly."

"I'm sure it will be ugly," I said. No, I wasn't. Not one of her quilts was ugly. Some weren't pretty, some were flawed, some weren't what she expected when she began, but ugly is ugly, and I hadn't seen that yet.

"I'll throw it away when I'm done," she said.

"No, that would be a waste," I said. She would no sooner throw away a quilt than she would row a boat across the ocean and drop her sewing machine and all her stash into the deep blue water. "We'll find a use for it," I said.

"No one wants an ugly quilt," she said.

"We'll find a use for it. Now, go back and work on it."

"My next quilt will be a good one," she said.

"It always is," I said.


I heard no more about an ugly quilt for four hours. But at that fourth hour, she came up behind me as I was cleaning algae from our small pond in the back yard. "Goldfish beds," she said.


"What?" I asked the one word question with both surprise and wonder.

"We can use the quilt for a fish bed," she said.

"Fish don't use beds," I said.

"Even so," she said, and she was gone as quickly as she had arrived. I fed the fish and looked down at them. No, they had no use for an ugly quilt, I was sure. But I did think about other uses for it.


"We can shred it and put it out for the birds to use in making their nests," I said.

"It's too late for that. It's already July," my ugly quiltmaker said. No, that was ugly-quilt maker. My delight of a wife was definitely not ugly. She was beautiful. After forty-five years of marriage that was more than true.

"We can use it for wrapping packages that need to be marked fragile. That will protect the packages even if they're run over by a stray mail truck."

"We have bubble-wrap for that," she said.

"Chair covers for when the grandkids come over for dinner. The quilt and its batting will soak up the macaroni and spaghetti sauce they spill."

"We can't have ugly chairs," she said.

"Roll it up and stuff it with beans and sew it up to use to prevent drafts from coming under the doors."

"We don't have drafts coming in under the doors. We have thresholds and insulation already."

Just how ugly is the quilt going to be?" I asked. Perhaps we could chop it up and drop it into a lake to attract fish.

"I'm not sure. It's not as ugly as I thought, but it could get uglier again."

"Are you beginning to like it?"

"Not that much. I was thinking we could use it as a toilet seat cover to keep the seat warm in the guest powder room."

"Do you want to scare away the guests?"

"It's not scary, just a little off in design and color. We can put a small bulb in the lamp and keep the powder room dimly lighted so no one will notice."

"So guests can see just enough not to fall in?"

"I'm going to go work on it some more. Maybe if I change it a little."

"I'll think some more."


I thought about it for a couple of days. We could stuff the quilt in under the hole in the roof under the eaves to keep unwanted birds from nesting there. Or it could be tied around the trunk of the newly planted orange tree to puzzle the squirrels that got in the yard and confuse them enough so they would leave the yard before eating all the fruit. Or we could make a pad for a guest bed for any pet a visitor brought. I racked my brain for ideas until my brain hurt. But I kept on thinking.


"We can't give the quilt away," I said to her the next morning. "We would lose a friend that way. Do we have any relative we don't like but owe a present to for some occasion we've forgotten over the past ten years?"

"Don't be silly."

"Do you have a better idea?" I hoped so. I'd given up on leaving it under the car to catch dripping oil, tacking it down as a floor mat to catch dirt as we came in from the yard, using it to line the trunk of the car where we put the groceries so no glass jars or bottles would break, or using it as a shelf liner under the pots and pans.

"It might make a nice baby quilt," she said.

"If only it wouldn't frighten the baby," I said.

"Why would it frighten a baby or even a toddler or even a pre-schooler?" she said. She looked straight into my eyes as if expecting me to answer that when I had no idea what kind of answer she wanted.

"It's not ugly any more?" I asked. Aha! It's not ugly in the least, is it?"

"I've been working on it a lot," she said.

"That's it. That's your explanation for why your quilt wouldn't be good to hang on the wall as a dart board in a saloon or to cover a hole in a broken window or use it as a bug shield on the front of a car? Your explanation is that you've been working on it a lot?"

"I made a few changes and went back to the original design and put a new bulb in the lamp in my sewing room so I could see the quilt better. I could see the quilt's positive virtues better."

"Positive virtues? You said you had an ugly quilt with no virtues at all."

"That was at the beginning. It's not the beginning anymore."

"So it's not ugly?" Of course not. Not after I thought of more and more things to do with an ugly quilt.

"I was a little down on it, but I'm up now."

"You were down and now you're up and you have a quilt that's not ugly and it's nice enough to not frighten a baby."

"Yep! I'm up all the way."

I put away my mental list of what to do with an ugly quilt. But I'm saving it, just in case.


Copyright 2005 by A.B. Silver

Click here to see finished "Upward Bound" Quilt

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