I don’t think of myself as an artist. I’m useless with paint and pastels. I don’t care much for cooking. But uncut yards of fabric are another story. In fabric, I see worlds of possibility—puzzle pieces just waiting to be sewn together.
A quilt begins with imagination. Energized by the colors, motifs, and pure tactile goodness of the fabrics, my creativity kicks into high gear. Picking the block pattern that will integrate stars, squares, and flying geese is delightfully complicated. Project management begins as soon as the pattern and fabrics have been chosen. My persnickety side revels in exact measurement and cutting. The quarter-inch increments on my ruler guide me—a couple of threads off, a slipped rotary cutter (heaven forbid), and I’ll pay later when my seams won’t match.
It’s funny how I impose perfect-seam standards upon myself when my favorite quilts are those that show their humanity.
I’ve got a lot of respect for artists who can turn lumps of clay or blobs of paint into something beautiful, and I appreciate the edginess of the art quilt avant garde, but they don’t inspire me to race to my sewing room and knock off their work. Give me a Lone Star quilt whose 1940’s feed-sack colors vibrate within hundreds of symmetrical diamonds any day.
It’s not just the design and workmanship of a quilt that fascinate me, but the story behind it. Gazing at a quilt made decades ago, usually unsigned and undated, conjures up both emotion and imagination. Who was this woman (we can presume) who made it, and what was her life like? Did she know she was an artist?
Although I am a master fabric collector, I must admit that I have made only a few quilts. Let me rephrase: I have finished only a few quilts. Like most quilters, I have started many more than I have finished. The first quilt I ever made was for my beloved cat Calvin. Its green triangles were inspired by the live oak leaves he loved to sit underneath; the blue triangles by the vivid Texas sky. The windmill pattern they formed was inspired by the movement of everything in our backyard that he loved. That quilt—it’s a mini—is draped over a chair next to my bed.
I made a Christmas quilt in the winter of 2000, assembled in large part while listening to round-the-clock TV coverage of the Florida-ballot-hanging-chad debate. This is the most elaborate quilt I’ve ever finished. Unfortunately, I can (tastefully) hang it only two weeks out of the year.
I was once 45 minutes late for a baby shower because I was still putting the finishing touches on the quilt. I thought affectionately about my friend (a fellow needle worker) and her soon-to-arrive son the entire time I was working on it.
I suppose I should write these bits of background down somewhere, perhaps on pictures of the quilts. At the very least, I should get around to signing and dating them. That is what an artist would do.