Why I Quilt

photo (22)I am a quilter. And like most quilters my fabric stash is out-of-control by most normal standards, which means by anyone’s other than another quilter. I know I will never live long enough to completely use up all of the fabrics I have, yet I continue to buy more. I also know that there are some fabrics in my collection that I will never use to make a quilt. I won’t ever have the heart to cut into them.

Now here’s the part no quilter will ever tell you: half the pleasure in quilting is the buying, half is the pleasure of looking at what you’ve bought and the other half is spending time in the company of other quilters who share your obsession. The final half is the pleasure of a finished quilt. Now don’t even try to tell me that I’ve got too many halves in there. The sum total for quilters is always more than one. To tell the truth, we’re all a bit insane.

We join quilt groups, visit quilting stores, and take quilting classes. We travel in clumps to shop hops and change our mind when asking for a half yard of fabric to say, “No, make it a yard… no, two.” Scissors aren’t good enough for us. We buy rolling cutters and mats to slice and dice (literally) our fabric faster. I’ve been known to spend $13 on a spool of thread… mind you it’s a large spool. But once you’ve sewn with the best thread, all of your other discount spools will not satisfy.

Now here’s the funny part. The actual process of quilting is demanding, requiring sewing, ripping out, re-sewing, measuring three times to cut once and then go out and buy more of that fabric because you cut it wrong. More sewing, more ripping. Ask a quilter about seam rippers and even the best ones can go on forever about which ones they like and why.

It’s hard work to make a quilt. Your back hurts and your eyes go blurry. Sometimes you just have to stop in the middle because the instructions don’t make sense or you’re getting it wrong or you just don’t like the way it looks or if you have to sew even one more little bitty seam you’re likely to hurt someone. But even as you walk away you know you’ll be back. Because the pleasure of a finished quilt helps you forget the torture of the process.

And you know that every time you sit down to quilt it’s a continuation. We are sisters with our foremothers who ripped and cut and sewed old clothes to make coverlets that kept their family warm through cold cold winters with no central heating or double-paned windows or that pink insulation stuff. Quilts were made with little bitty pieces because even a scrap couldn’t go to waste – fabric was so precious then. And they were beautiful. Because as women we hunger for beauty even when we’re cold, tired and have to use up every little scrap.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to those women and say, “Here, here’s my fabric stash. Help yourself.  I can buy more.” I’d even let them take those fabrics that I don’t have the heart to cut into. Because that kind of beauty is made to be shared.

So you see the community of quilters goes way back before the days of shop hops and $13 spools of thread. And every time I sit down at my sewing machine or in my comfy chair to finish hand-sewing the final binding, I am one with those amazing women. And I am in awe.

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11 thoughts on “Why I Quilt

  1. Oh, yes!! You express so beautifully why I think I am a quilter also – the stash beyond control, the toys and gadgets to make it easier to cut, rip, sew and then do it all over again, the weariness and pleasure that keeps bringing me back again and again and again … Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in this! 🙂

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  2. I read your words and nodded my head in total agreement. Then I scrolled back up and looked at your quilt again and realized…OMG I have some of that gold fabric with the raspberries in it. Isn’t it amazing we always know what we have in the cupboard!

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  3. That fabric was in my “never cut” stash, but when I designed this quilt I realized it worked perfectly for the 4″ squares and they were large enough to really see that fabric, so I broke down and cut it. It had been in my stash for at least ten years by then!

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  4. I’d be happy to do without the shopping, if my stash would magically be stocked with the colors and amounts I want. Shopping isn’t a source of pleasure for me. Instead, I love the process. All that pressing cutting sewing ripping sewing pressing sewing… When things go right, when things go wrong, all that is mine. So process and product are what fill me.

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  5. I understand what you’re saying Melanie. I have to admit I can get wrapped up in the process – seeing the quilt of my mind come together before my eyes can be enchanting. But for me walking into a quilt store and seeing those racks of possibilities sorted by color and type – one of the best parts of quilting for me.

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  6. The story of my life there. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “the one who dies with the largest stash wins”. I would have won, except for the carpel tunnel, the broken shoulder, the torn rotator cup, the move to a 2 room apartment and my kids taking my sewing machine and stash away without my permission. So now I crochet, and my yarn stash has taken over the place of my fabric stash. They only thought they beat me down. Afghans don’t require a sewing machine, so I have saved some space there. But each time I see fabric I have to slap my wrist to keep from buying it and go to the yarn department instead. I have enough yarn to last another hundred fifty years, but still have ordered more. They keep coming up with new colors, what do they expect?

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  7. Your kids are lucky you still speak to them after raiding your stash. I am not much of a knitter – have made a few afghans using a simple stockinette stitch. The only crochet I’ve ever been able to do was a circular potholder pattern my grandmother taught me, although hers always laid flat and mine had excessive rippling. Any other attempts to crochet led to many knots. I do have a bit of an addiction to yarn also, although I generally use it to make hair for rag dolls. I’ve been able to keep it down to one basket.

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    1. I’m afraid the only thing I said to my kids for a couple of years was to tell them I was going to come back and haunt them after I die, and that I plan on being cremated, my ashes put in 3 urns, and it will be written in my will that each of them MUST take an urn and place it on their dining table so they will have me with them for every meal for the rest of their lives. I’m a little more civil now that I need their help with things. They do take me seriously though when I make those threats, much to my amusement after I get over my anger.
      I used to make rag dolls too–had them all over the place. Knitting is the easiest to do because you know when you are at the end of the row, unless you have dropped a stitch, God forbid. I have two crochet afghan patterns that always turn out for me, and one that sometimes does. And a stack of patterns I would like to try, but since I seem to add a stitch at the end of each row when I crochet I hesitate at using new patterns. Just wish I could still quilt, and that I had kept more of my quilts when I could do it.

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  8. I really enjoy handwork so love to make crazy quilt things covered with embroidery and beads and other things. I misplaced all of those when I moved but will do a blog on that and post photos when I find them. I too tend to give my quilting away, but have kept my favorites.

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  9. Maria, Love the story although I have to say I did stop buying fabrics quite a few years back as I haven’t done any quilting for way too long. When we moved it confirmed my stash is big enough to last for several lifetimes … so guess I get to enjoy my fabrics sitting on the shelf.

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