Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Falling Up

My first major art project this year is this lap quilt I put together from some random red and gold fabrics in my scrapbag. I also used some black broadcloth leftover from the MegaCon booth drapes last year as the backing and sashing, and simply strip-pieced the patchwork to create long straight lines for me to hand quilt.

I haven't made a quilt since my eye surgery, and I've missed sewing. I'm also seeing some of my quilter pals this month for our annual in-person get together, and I didn't want to say I'm still on hiatus while they talk about all the projects they've finished (we're not really competitive, but I wanted to have one good story.) After struggling with beading and sewing on some tote projects this winter I knew in advance my needlework would probably suck, though. With my flip-flopped vision I can pick out a stray thread hanging from across the room, but it now takes me about ten tries to thread the eye of a quilting needle.

I still felt pretty optimistic when I pieced the top, even when I saw that I had mixed up the order of the strips, and the two dark wide black floral print strips I had ended up practically side by side instead of opposite sides of the quilt. It irked me a bit, but it was a practice piece, so I kept going.

And the going? Was very slow. My stitching did suck, quite a bit; I couldn't seem to quilt one straight row. What should have looked like ----- was more like /~\\~/. My thread kept popping and knotting and raveling. All that color in my face didn't help; I forgot that anything red tends to work like a matador's cape on me when I'm frustrated. The only good thing about the red is that it nicely disguised the fact that I kept stabbing myself with the quilting needle and bleeding on the fabric.

I refused to give up or start over. I can be mule-headed that way. I didn't care what the damn thing looked like; I just wanted to finish what I started. I felt like if I could just get this piece done I'd finally have my quilter self back. I miss her. She's fun.

I think my final straw snapped after I'd quilted my way to the center strips and found two small rips and a hole in two of the fabrics that I hadn't before noticed. That's the quilter's equivalent of completely falling down on the job. All that work I'd done was instantly reduced to a complete waste of time. What was I going to tell my pals now, that I was an idiot? I felt like ripping it to shreds.

But I didn't. I believe in falling up, not down. As in, if you can't learn from your mistakes you'll never improve.

Finishing the ripped-up holey quilt took me two months. I spent a couple of hours almost every night stitching up and down. I quilted over the hole and the rips and tried some different threads to see if anything would be a little easier for stitch practice (and weirdly enough, rayon thread turned out to better than glace or waxed for me.) Once I finished the piece I looked at the damaged spots in the fabric and decided to cover them both with with the strategic placement of two heart appliques. Sappy, I know, but by then I had worked through my frustration and come out the other side with my love of quilting intact -- and maybe more balanced.

I'm going to keep practicing, because that's what you do to get better. I may never again be able to quilt the way I did before my vision failed, but it doesn't matter. This piece taught me that the love of quilting isn't about perfection or doing everything right or even what others think of the final product. Quilting actually doesn't care when I mess up. It's always there, waiting for me to make it into something that I see inside, where no one can see. That I can take that and make something out of nothing, something that will comfort and keep someone warm on a cold night, is never a waste of time. And that's the story I'm going to tell my sewing sisters when I see them.

Now apply this to writing.


  1. I think your quilt has turned out very well. I love the explosion of red with the black background and even the hearts. It's gorgeous. As a fairly new quilter I have to say that perfection terrifies me, so I'm just happy if I can finish a project and it looks ok. I like looking at other peoples perfection though! It's good to know you didn't have to give up.

  2. I'm not a red enthusiast, but I love the way this quilt turned out - cheerful instead of angry. The hearts work like beauty marks, making a sweet quilt downright gorgeous.