I brought my twelve completed blocks for the Fat Quarter Shop Designer Mystery Block of the Month to my grandmother’s house last weekend. She looked them over, scrutinizing my seams, checking the alignment of my corners.
“I’m not trying to judge your piecing,” my grandmother said. “But these are very good. See this?” She points to a spot where four corners meet, perfectly. “This is very good work.”
Hearing this from my grandmother is very meaningful for me. I grew up watching my grandmother sew and quilt. Like many women her age, she learned to sew as a child, and made clothing and toys for her family. I remember her sewing an army of stuffed teddy bears for a charity sale. She picked up quilting in the early 1980s, when she saw a raffle quilt made by her local guild, and has been quilting ever since. Recent health problems have diminished her ability to hand-applique (one of her specialties) but she is still piecing and hand-quilting.
“So,” she says to me. “Are you going to hand-quilt that?”
My grandmother always asks if I’m going to hand-quilt the things I make. For her, hand-quilting is the only way to quilt. And she’s good at it. She takes teeny-tiny, evenly-spaced stitches and makes intricate patterns in the negative space of her quilts. What she does is beautiful, and it takes hours. Days. Weeks. (For someone like me–years.)
It’s hard for me to tell her that I’ll probably be loading this one on my mom’s longarm and freehanding it over a weekend. But that’s probably what I’ll do with this quilt, and with several others that I have in progress. Because otherwise, they’ll never be finished.
I sometimes feel like modern quilters are crazy for finishes, but not so crazy for the process. There are link parties for finishes, challenges for finishes, contests that require quilters to complete a quilt within tight time constraints to win prizes and recognition. I won’t deny that there’s something satisfying about crossing the proverbial finish line on a project. Finishes are sexy! Everyone loves a finished quilt! But there isn’t a lot of fuss about taking your time.I’m not a finisher by nature. I always have multiple projects going at once, and I flit between them (and sometimes abandon them) at will. I think that’s why bees work so well for me–they allow me to indulge my whims and do a bunch of different things all at once.
I have a lot of respect for the beautiful things that machine quilters are doing these days. We’ve come a long way from ugly-ass stippling, which is probably what my grandmother is thinking of when she thinks of “machine quilting.” I love the look of hand-quilting, and I enjoy handwork. I want to hand-quilt something as an heirloom to be passed down to my daughter someday–right next to the quilts that my grandmother has made for my mother and for me. The issue, for me, is choosing the right project. It has to be the perfect project. It has to be something that I am willing to invest years of work in. Because I’m not a finisher. It will take me years.
But I look at my grandmother’s quilts, and I realize that when I do–it will be so worth it.
(All photos in this post are quilts made by my grandmother, Lenora Festa, photographed at her house in June 2013.)June 11, 2013
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