Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How I Became a Sloppy Quilter

I don’t want to give away too much of my book, Quilty as Charged, but to explain how I became a sloppy quilter, it helps for me to recap a little of what I wrote in the book.

This whole quilting thing for me starts back in the sixties, when my mother used to give us kids (eventually there were nine of us) craft projects to do. I think I recall her telling me, years after the fact, that this wasn’t just good parenting and the encouragement of imagination. It was a way for her to keep from going totally nuts. As in, Here ya go kids, some glue and yarn and scissors and construction paper and stuff, now leave me alone for a little while.

My mother was also an incredibly seamstress, and she made a lot of our clothes for us. Again, this probably had more than one driving force. I like to think she enjoyed sewing. But also, she was on a supremely tight budget—my father was a truck driver and, as noted, there were an awful lot of mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. It’s entirely possible that my mother did not sleep between 1958 and 1977 because she was so busy being our tailor.

While I loved a lot of the crafting of my youth, sewing was not something I was drawn to. In junior high, the girls were forced to take home ec classes and the boys took woodshop and automotive repair classes. Mrs. Haggard—her real unfortunate name—was my sewing teacher. In my memory, she was haggard, her pinched face growing more pinched as she scrutinized my horrible attempt to make a skirt, as if I gave her a perpetual migraine. It’s even possible that, like a cartoon character, upon seeing my (un)handiwork, she slapped her hand over her eyes, as if my seams hurt her eyeballs too much to look at for more than a few seconds at a time.

Thus discouraged, I happily quit sewing, and stuck with that plan (save for the occasional button replacement) all the way until around 2002. I did take up knitting—which I still do all the time. In fact, here’s a picture of me wearing some handcuffs I knitted for Warren:

Then in 2002, my friend Sarah, an avid quilter, took me to IQF, mostly so I could have a look around and write an article or two on the topic to pay my rent. Over stimulated by all that fabric and all those tools, I did buy a few things and decided I’d try to make a quilt. It turned out to be more of a comforter —big flannel squares hastily sewn together on a borrowed machine and then tied, not sewn, to batting and back. This I gave to my son, and like to think he loves more than any other possession, even his electric guitar. (Son, if you’re reading this, please don’t spoil my delusion.)

From there, Sarah showed me the scrap-a-holic pattern, and it feels like it took me maybe seventeen years (though I know the math doesn’t add up) to squeeze out another messy-seamed quilt. Which I loved. And which I still love. I’ll get Warren to take a picture of it soon—it’s also featured (hilariously enough) on the cover of my book, in the company of several real, astonishing, carefully sewn quilts made by IQF champions, sort of like if my picture appeared with all those underfed movie stars on the cover of Vanity Fair’s famed Hollywood Issue.

Off and on over the years—as with exercise, vows to quit smoking, and attempts to eat healthy—I have pursued quilting very off and on. I acquired first one thrift store machine and then another, the latter less reliable but guacamole green and thus winning my heart. I finally broke down and bought a new machine—a $100 Singer—the idea being that, just as I vowed never to learn to purl (eventually I did) I have vowed never to learn stippling or stenciling or anything but (my version of) “straight” seams.

Just thinking about being a sloppy quilter reminds me of one Christmas, when I was very little, and Santa brought me this art kit. It was a flat board, with the outline of a jack-in-the-box printed on it. As I recall, you peeled off paper to reveal adhesive. Upon this, you placed string, which you carefully wrapped around and around—does this craft even have a name?—until the picture is “colored in” with thread. What I most remember of the experience is that I rushed through it, didn’t read the directions, and that my mother commented on my insistence to not read the directions. So yeah, that was sloppy, too, but still gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction. It hung on my bedroom wall for years.

Well, that don’t-follow-directions has followed me into quilting. I absolutely drool over point perfect traditional quilts. But I’m a realist. No way am I ever going to be patient or traditional enough to make one of these. When I sit down at the machine, my motto is: What I lack in skill, I make up for in speed. And so I zip along, crooked seams be damned, and happily apply the term “art” to the end results.

But it’s not art you hang on walls. I’m just as big a fan of art quilts as bed quilts. So I pretend to be the master of the art-bed-quilt. Which is to say, I want something that looks funky but that I can also run through the wash seven thousand times (I have dogs and my dogs love to sleep on the quilts), and something that will keep me warm, especially at Warren’s since we are one of those couples where one of us thinks it is a criminal act to run the heater ever, even when it’s ten degrees out and the other of us (guess who) likes to wear wool socks when sunbathing in August.

Along the way I’ve found great encouragement for my sloppy quilts, especially from Ricky Tims and Jeanne Williamson. Which is not to say that either of these art quilters is sloppy—you should see Ricky’s seams. But both have really encouraged me to just have fun with what I do.

And so I do.

Soon, I will post a picture of my latest quilt-in-progress by which I mean the balled up pile of fabric sitting on my ironing board. Starting a quilt for me is a lot like starting a sweater (which I did last night). The idea of it is so daunting that I procrastinate and procrastinate. But then, once I get going, in my dream world, it’s full speed ahead, no stopping to do my day job or meet up with my kid or walk the dogs.

But for my next book, Quilting Art, which comes out next year, I want to have a few quilts to include to show off my, uh, style. I mean, in addition to the sloppy lopsided chicken quilt I made my son for his sixteenth birthday (every boy’s dream gift), and the mini quilts I made for the dogs, and the scrap-a-holic thingee, and Warren’s curvy quilt.

I have no plans to follow any patterns for any of these imagined quilts. I’m just going to get out my scissors and my rotary cutter and let ‘er rip and gleefully imagine Mrs. Haggard turning over in her grave.

1 comment:

mcoker said...

"Sloppy, curvy, lovely. Like me."

Haha, I love it!! :-)