And this was how it began one morning. My Darling Wife was once again away in her parallel world, sewing on the binding of her new quilt. I had only popped into her sewing room to tell her it was almost low tide down at the beach, and if we wanted to walk along the tide pools, we had to leave soon. I said, "Time to go."
And she said, "Mary threw away the quilt she was working on. She said it was horrible."
"The tide," I reminded her. Who was Mary?
"It was just not working for her. The design, the fabric, the color, the workwomanship."
I didn't blink at that last word. "Should I know Mary?"
"No, she's not a real person. She could be anyone."
"Mary doesn't exist but she is a quilter?"
"She represents all quilters who have made a horrible quilt."
"Are you talking about the quilt you're finishing up. I love your new quilt."
"Not this quilt. But I understand bad quilts."
"Understand what? Low tide is right now and we have to go," I said.
'What should Mary do with the quilt?" she asked.
"Couldn't she take it apart and use the fabric? Couldn't she give it to someone who could use it? Couldn't she....?" I joined in this conversation. If I didn't, we would never get out of the house and the ocean would sweep up on the beach and cover the tide pools and all the sea creatures would laugh at us.
"No. It was a WOMBAT."
"Maybe we should just go to the beach before the tide comes back in," she said.
We went to the beach and we didn't talk about quilting at all for the rest of the morning. I didn't think about Mary. I didn't think about small animals in Australia, no kangaroos or their smaller relatives the wallabies or the small bear-like wombat. No, that's not the truth. I did for one moment look out over the great Pacific Ocean and wonder what a wombat had to do with quilting. I just didn't mention it then. If I had asked her why she had earlier told me about a make-believe Mary who quilted horrible quilts and a WOMBAT, she would have answered me, and I would have missed seeing the sea slug that lay peacefully in crevice of the rocks which were uncovered at low tide. I waited until we were back home again.
"Every quilter makes mistakes in quilting," she said. "Sometimes there are no mistakes but the finished quilt is not what was expected or planned for or wanted. Most of the time I can tell before too long that what I am doing is not worth doing anymore, and then I stop."
"Your UFOs?" I guessed.
"Not always. Some of the quilts I begin are all right or even terrific, but I lose interest or run out of some fabric I need to finish or I change my mind, so I put the unfinished objects away."
"And the WIPs?"
"Just works in progress. I haven't given up on them. I just put them away for awhile while I do other things, or I stop because I need to think about where the quilt is going."
"So, what about Mary?" I wasn't sure whether I should ask that question, but how else would I learn more about quilting and hold our relationship together another hundred years?
"Sometimes a quilter is blind to common sense and doesn't stop a project when it should be absolutely clear that the project is going nowhere, and when the quilt is finished and sadness and dismay cling to every stitch, then that creation, which was begun with the best of intentions, that quilt which has been gestating for days or weeks or months, that quilt is born as a WOMBAT."
"Wow!" I said. "I didn't know that."
"Don't make fun," she said. "I didn't know it either. Julie told me."
"Julie? What about Mary?"
"Julie is a real person. She lives in Australia."
"Did she tell you that a marsupial is a nonplacental mammal?"
"So is a bandicoot," I said. I was showing off. After we had returned from the beach I had looked up wombat and learned about marsupials. My sweet spouse gave me a very puzzled look. "A bandicoot looks sort of like a rat," I said, not really knowing what they looked like. I'd have to find out. But not right then. I was fixated on the wombat. "So, who is Julie?"
"She's a quilter and she wrote me from Australia."
"That's a long way away," I said.
"Not for e-mail."
"You can't send wombats by e-mail," I said. I know a little about e-mail attachments.
"This is about quilting. This is not about animals in Australia."
"Animals with pouches," I said.
"Who said anything about pouches. I'm talking about quilts. Sometimes bad quilts. Sometimes quilts that should be ashamed of themselves."
"If a wombat has a pouch, it could carry a little quilt around in its pouch. Then, if it got cold at night, it could take out the quilt and keep warm," I said.
"You're impossible," she said kindly. I thought she was being kind.
"And Julie told you that you should get a wombat?"
"Talking to you is a waste of time," she said. Definitely not kind. "Don't you remember the quilt?" she asked.
"The WOMBAT," she said. She spoke in capital letters, as she often did when it comes to getting through to me.
"Tell me about it," I said. maybe we should have stayed at the beach.
"Sometimes I begin a quilt and I keep on working on the quilt when I think maybe I shouldn't, but I keep on going...."
"Hoping that it will come out not only all right but absolutely beautiful and you're ashamed you ever thought of abandoning it," I finished for her.
"It doesn't always come out all right, let alone perfect, but I keep on going when I really shouldn't, and I finish the quilt and I look at it and look it at and I wonder why I didn't stop when I began. It's somewhere close to awful."
"That's normal," I said. I was sure then and I am sure now that quilters have a sense of normal that isn't always, well, normal.
"I never knew what to call this kind of quilt before. It was finished, so it wasn't unfinished. It was finished, so it wasn't in progress. Julie said...."
"She's a real person in Australia...."
"She said it's called a WOMBAT and belongs in the rubbish bin."
I scratched my head. "Explain," I pleaded.
"A Waste of Money, Brains, and Time."
Copyright 2003 by A.B. Silver
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