I can't remember exactly when I promised myself that I would make a quilt, but I must have been around twenty. Making a quilt seemed like an enormous task--like running a marathon. It seemed like the kind of project that you only get around to doing once in your life. Growing up, I remember seeing the ironing board perpetually positioned at a forty-five degree angle to my Aunt Kathy's dining room table. It would be dressed with trips of pieced cloth alongside a cool iron. The sewing machine took up post in corner, frozen mid-stitch. The two seemed to beckon my Aunt Kathy who was busy making dinner after a long day at work. I imagined her thinking, "I'd rather be quilting".
So, somewhere in my college years, I decided that I was going to make a quilt--that I had to make a quilt. The call came from no certain place, but it was as true as can be. Fifteen years ago, I graduated from college, and two weeks later, got married. After such enormous moments, came a strange liminal place--the kind that I dread most. (I loathe being in between.) Pat and I were waiting on a Peace Corps placement and living with my parents. It was a strange time with no studies, no work, and a heap of wedding presents with no home to put them in. We were in a state of suspension. Meanwhile, my Mom's neighbor was cleaning out her spare bedroom and offered me her old singer sewing machine. Her timing couldn't have been better. I'd never used a sewing machine before, and I had no idea how to begin a quilt, but it was time.
With an armful of library books, I taught myself the basics of piecing quilts. On graph paper, I excitedly scratched out a design--a simple green and white ninepatch. I called it my "wedding quilt" because it featured fabric with a fern motif. (Ferns were a big part of our wedding theme). Anyway, by the time I worked through numerous glitches in the sewing machine --troubleshooting my way through tension problems and hand winding bobbins (because I didn't know any better), I was ready to start quilting. By then, It was also time to begin our volunteer work at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. (Peace Corps didn't work out, another story for another time).
I finished that first quilt at Annunciation House, and almost immediately began a second (pictured above). Turns out living in a homeless shelter and confronting your own unearned privileges is emotionally taxing, and sewing is immensely therapeutic. I had to keep going, and therefore had to keep sewing!
One of my responsibilities at Annunciation House was maintaining order in the basement clothing bank. I pilfered some homemade moomoos and a tie-dyed t-shirt or two. I also purchased some bright knits at a local shop. (I was choosing all the wrong types of fabric, but I had no idea.) I cut up each garment and fabric into tiny 1 1/2" squares which I HAND pieced into 12" strips, which I then I HAND pieced into 12" squares. Once I was reunited with my singer, I machine pieced the 12" squares together before hand quilting spirals over the entire quilt--which my Aunt Kathy pointed out I was doing incorrectly. I had started from the end--instead of the middle! So, maybe I didn't read those books so thoroughly. . .
A dozen quilts later, I found myself in grad-school finding my way through my thesis. I really wanted to make quilts with the young adults I was working with at a Chicago homeless shelter, but making an entire quilt was too much for the residents and me in the time we had together. My supportive advisor recommended pieced pillows instead. It worked out brilliantly. Together we made dozens of pieced pillows, and I made a quilt commemorating the project--pieced from documentary photos from the project printed on fabric. I hope that making pillows brought some comfort to their liminality. I know it really helped me.
So, it turns out that I sew through uncertainty, and when I heard that my good childhood friend had cancer, I knew I had to make her a quilt (pictured below). Since she lives in another state, it felt like something concrete that I could do to alleviate her suffering --even if it was just to keep the cold away for awhile. The design was inspired by a collage by artist Ed Cheverton. The spiral is pieced from fabric scraps and upcycled clothes. The navy is Kona Cotton fabric. For me, the spiral is a powerful symbol of finding finding one's way through life--it's joys and challenges. It also represents creativity and new beginnings.
I made my friend's quilt and immediately after, a second one like it to sell. I'd like to make the same design in various color combinations. I've never made multiples of a quilt design before. I am curious to find out what I learn from this experience. It feels very exciting, for sure. Sew, here goes nothing! (sorry, not sorry)
PS if you are interested in purchasing the Margo Snake Quilt or subsequent MSQ's check out my Etsy Shop.
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.