Saturday, April 2, 2011


So, here is the scoop, but not the only reason I haven't been caring for my blog. I seem to have been spinning around since I got back form Tucson, always busy, busy working, making busy work. But here's the first quilt I made after I joined, yes joined, the Empty Spools Quilters on Friday mornings at the Chelsea Senior Center. After making a video about them, hanging around all those weeks, drinking coffee and eating cookies, they invited me to join and make quilts for babies in the Intensive Care Unit of Boston Medical Center. I couldn't resist. I'd fallen in love with these ladies, all of them in their eighties, some in their upper 80's... (I am particularly fond of Helen, a tiny woman with the eye of a hawk, telling me what I've done wrong and insisting that I rip the stitches out. "You don't have to go so fast. Slow down," she says.)

Being with them, I realized that in the past I'd find a way of inserting that I have an inter-racial daughter and wasn't married to her father in conversations when I met a new person. That set up my political and social stance so that I never had to say much more. People, more-or-less, knew what was appropriate to talk about around me. And it wasn't negative racial statements. I haven't done that at the Senior Center, so sometimes I hear, "My mother wanted me to marry anyone, just to get married, as long as he wasn't black, of course." And I don't flinch. These are ladies who've grown up in a poor, close knit community, haven't gone to college (I don't think any of them have), worked in factories, are Catholic and think about going to mass and who has just died, some friend they've known all their lives. In other words, I don't wave my usual political banners, but fly under the radar and am, actually, quite happy there. Except that something I'm doing bothers my back horribly.  I leave there at noon on Friday, barely able to walk because my sciatic nerve has kicked in. My daughter says I'm crazy to go somewhere, do something, that makes me feel to rotten afterwards, but I love being there. I just HATE making quilts.

In the olden days, when it made sense to do it because I was too poor to buy many clothes and when cloth and yarn were so cheap, I made wrap-around dresses, long three-tiered skits,  Krissy's jumpers and long skirts, and knit sweaters. It no longer costs less to do that than to buy them. It's a luxury to knit yourself a sweater. A simple one costs, maybe, $90 in yarn...   But I sewed. And was terrible about finishing anything. I hated to hem, but eventually I got everything done....after much stalling around.

At any rate, I just wanted to make a red quilt, red and red and red. And didn't think at all about how the squares would fit together. It took three of us to find a decent pattern so it looks alright from a distance, not that any mother wrapping her baby in this will ever see it from a distance.
I thought that if I finished a quilt, about 40"x40", I was done. But oh, no, you've got to make a back for it. Naturally there isn't enough cloth to easily find a whole piece that will look decent with the colors of the front, since the cloth is all donated...  I was crushed when I had to make my first it is.

Then, damn it all, you've got to cut a batting to put between both of them. And then you have to pin it all nicely so that Mary can sew the quilting...she takes it and whirrs it through the sewing machine. That was once done by hand, women sitting around the frame, finishing a large quilt. Quilting the quilt. Or perhaps they stretched it on a table in the kitchen and sewed alone...but I think that much of quilting had a component of shared work, like raising a barn. So, here are the components of my first quilt which is now waiting for Mary.

All this reminds me of my friend, Marion, who made many quilted photos based on specific, historical patterns when she was getting her Masters. (I was very impressed by her premise.) She has always been interested in women's work and must have read a great deal about the history of quilting, the origin of certain traditional patterns...a long, unrecognized, but important form of creativity, decoration, art. I've always admired her ability to delve into what's behind the surface of what I notice -- oh, a nice quilt on the bed -- and then don't bother to think about. This was long before quilts, like those of the women from Gee's Bend (is this right?) were shown in museums and became high-priced collectors items.

And it reminds me of how often she and I laughed about our projects all those years ago -- those patterns, those damn dresses, that fabulous fabric store on Second Avenue and 5th (?) Street, all that earnest work we did.
This is my second quilt. I knew that I didn't want to sew so many 4" pieces together so I made 5 squares of four inchers...then used for solid 8" pieces and then the larger 16" pieces. When you've sewn together 4 little squares,you have to cut them all down so that they're the same size. I didn't know that...this involves a rotary cutter, a cutting board and a clear, heavy plastic gismo with measurements on it... so for the first quilt, I had to do quite a bit of cutting down.

Yesterday Eileen put together a quilt that I liked, but she didn't. But it doesn't matter to her whether she likes them. She just zips them together. I could't do that, though I haven't been making baby quilts for 31 years like she has. Maybe I'd just work on whatever is available, have the philosophy of using up squares that have been hanging around...  Well, anyway, I liked what she'd put together.
So, then I was done with the front and started the back. No easy thing since all the fabric is donated and there aren't necessarily pieces large enough for a back. Therefore the back for the purple quilt was pieced...five strips of fabric that I found by rummaging in the backstairs closet, taking out the big roll of batting, and various plastic boxes, digging around. 

But, by the time I got it pieced together and held it up so that Eileen could take this picture, they decided it will work well for the front of a quilt. So, next Friday, I will have to find TWO backs, put batting between them, tape it all down, pin it and I'm done with three quilts...


  1. A whiz! Two already. You're among stalwarts.

  2. i have to say, i never saw this coming! MSHOOK, quiltess! amazing, indeed...

  3. What lucky babies - to be tucked under such vibrancy. (I think the one under the red quilt cot will be especially lucky.) How could they help but thrive?!

  4. Thank you...I appreciate the comments...I hope that the red quilt gets to a mother who really loves color...naturally it's for a girl....someone whose cultures adores color...maybe Hatian? I am now making a bad-boy quilt which you will see the soon...