Category Archives: My Story

Trip for Two to Boston

Last weekend, I was my baby sister’s “quilting buddy” for a workshop called Trip for Two to Boston. Betty has been bitten by the quilting bug after many years of exposure to me. (Don’t call me contagious.) I was thrilled that she asked me to join her, and we imagined the reactions to a brother/sister quilting team.

The pattern is basically a Trip Around the World (square), or Boston Commons (rectangle). One person cuts and presses, the other person sews. Betty wanted to sew because she recently got a new sewing machine and wanted time to get a feel for it and put it to use; I agreed to cut and press.

Fifteen fabrics were cut into strips, arranged, and sewn together as panels:

Strip-pieced panel
Strip-pieced panel

The buddies work together for two different-looking quilts from the same strip-pieced panel. Here’s Betty with her Trip Around the World (the quilt in the background is “LOLLOO,” a piece I made for her years ago):

Betty holding her Trip Around the World
Betty holding her Trip Around the World

Here’s my Boston Commons:

Boston Commons
Boston Commons

My next step is pin-basting before quilting. I see a lot of Stitch In The Ditch (SITD) in my future.

“Come Out, Come Out, Wherever you are . . .”

I came out of the closet in 1998.

No, not the closet you are probably thinking about.  I came out of that particular closet long ago, but that is another story for another time.

I went public as a quilter in 1998.

Back then, I was a member of Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican/Episcopal). The dean and his wife were retiring.

I heard one of the canons at the cathedral was planning a quilt. A canon is a hierarchical rank; a cannon is artillery. Cricket, the canon, planned to send each member of the cathedral a square of muslin to decorate.

I opined she ran the risk of getting blank muslin squares or muslin squares covered in marabou feathers and bugle beads (not that there’s anything wrong with either of them, but they were not appropriate).

I volunteered to design and make a signature quilt for the entire cathedral to sign.

No one at the cathedral knew I had been quilting for twenty-two years by then; no one at the cathedral had seen any of my previous quilts.

When I showed people my proposed design and fabric choices, all I got was a smug, self-satisfied “oh, that’s nice.” (Well, that’s the way it felt to me back then.)

The quilt was nearly complete when I presented it to collect peoples’ signatures.

I heard, “Oh! That’s Nice!!” in awed tones. (I felt vindicated, but did it really matter??)

The Signature Quilt Nobody Signed
The Signature Quilt Nobody Signed

The congregation refused to sign it.

They said it looked “too good to write on.”

They wrote on the back of the quilt instead. They wrote way more than would have fit in the bars for merely signatures. They just needed a blank canvas, and my quilt was just the thing.

This quilt was mentioned in a national quilt magazine as an example of what NOT to do when making a signature quilt . . . Go figure.

As for me, I made a public declaration. “I create quilts.”

I still do.

Why I don’t enter quilt shows . . .

Snail's Trail/I
Snail’s Trail/I

Many years ago, I entered my first quilt show.

I entered the Snail’s Trail quilt shown above. I was very pleased with it for a number of reasons: I played with scale and transparency. There are two different sizes of spirally arms overlaid on each other, one dark blue and the other teal. In places, they show a third color, as though you’re looking THROUGH the arms.

After twenty years of quilting, I felt it was my best quilt to date.

Then, I entered it into a local quilt show . . .

I wondered about the judging process, since the judges didn’t know me from Adam, and had never seen any of my previous pieces. I figured they would judge it on its own merits. I felt I had a winner on my hands.

About a week later, I received a phone call informing me that I hadn’t won a thing, and I could pick up my quilt at my convenience.

WHAT?? I was SURE it would win!!

When I went to retrieve my quilt, I was given the judges sheets. There were three judges and over a dozen criteria they were looking at. Without fail, one judge would like what I did, and the other two didn’t (and never the same two).

Some of the criteria made sense, but I was at a loss on others. Two judges didn’t like my choice of color . . . Really?? What color should it have been?? Two judges didn’t like my choice of pattern . . . Oh, come on!! Two judges didn’t like my border treatment . . .

I think the judges needed to make their own damn quilt (and keep their criticisms off mine)!!

The woman next to me asked to read the judges comments, and said, “I don’t get it . . . I don’t agree with a single thing they say. You made a great quilt!!” I put on my best face and graciously thanked her.

Then, I looked around the room. All of the other quilters in the room wore the same expression as me.

It dawned on my that they ALL expected their quilt would win, too!!

You know what??

I vowed never to enter another quilt show . . . And as for judges, FLICK ‘EM!! I’m sure I can point out the flaws in my quilts more readily than THEY can!!

I enjoy quilting for its own sake. I had no idea there was an entirely separate realm of “perfect” quilts, with their own rarefied standards. What was the point?? Did the winners quilt for the money, the glory, the bragging rights?? More power to ’em . . .

Every quilter who quilts is a winner, whether another person bestows the title upon them or not. I feel you should take pride in your accomplishments; learn from your mistakes; and do what feels right to YOU, rather than give someone else power over your sense of joy.

Now, you may think “sour grapes.” But I never tasted the fruit, so I wouldn’t know if it’s sour or not . . . I moved on.

About a month later, I made another quilt with the same pattern (only larger), followed by a smaller piece made from the leftover blocks:

Snail's Trail/II
Snail’s Trail/II
Snail's Trail/III
Snail’s Trail/III

The clients who bought them, loved them . . . and didn’t give me a single criticism. They were my kind of people.

How a dare changed my life . . .

Image credit: <a href=''>alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

“I double-dog dare ya!”

Well, no it wasn’t like that at all, but I DID take up sewing on a dare.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a classmate whose mother was a seamstress.

Valerie (though that wasn’t her REAL name) wore the cutest outfits to school saying, “My mother made this,” and “My mother made that.”

It made me sick.

One day, I said, “Valerie, ANYBODY can sew.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, let’s see YOU do it.”

Mind you, this was in the early 1970s, and there simply weren’t many (read any) books on sewing for men. I went to the local library and found several books on dressmaking and adapted what I learned. The only difference between men’s and women’s clothing was whether closures lapped left over right or right over left, right?

I bought a pattern. I took a razor blade to several velvet gowns I found balled up in the back of my mother’s closet (with her permission, of course). I hand-stitched a black velvet buccaneer shirt with high Edwardian collar, deep lace-up V-neck, and gathered sleeves with red velvet inverted pleats down the length.

I wore it to school and announced, “I made this!”

(Valerie never said another word about the clothes her mother made.)

No lack of models . . .

I am the oldest of seven children: five boys and two girls.

After my success with the shirt, I convinced my parents to buy a better sewing machine (my mother’s machine was older than me, and sewed fitfully at best). I took to sewing clothes for my parents and siblings.

At the start of the school year, we would go window shopping to get an idea of the latest styles. Then, my siblings would pick the fabric, I’d pick the patterns, and I would sew their clothes.

My first attempts were not pretty (sorry to say), but my skills slowly improved.

My parents soon learned that “making” clothes cost more than simply “buying” them.

Sometimes, on Saturday afternoon, my mother would say she’d like a new dress for church on Sunday. I would sew through the night, and hem her dress in time for church.

My father wondered, “What the Hell does THIS mean?”

Well, of course it meant exactly what he thought it meant, but THAT’S another story for another time.

One day, he asked if I could teach him how to make a pair of jeans.

I told him, “Sure. Let’s buy some denim, and a pattern, and . . .”

“This is my pattern,” he said, tugging on the jeans he was wearing.

So, he took a razor blade to his favorite pair of jeans. (Do you sense a theme here?) I showed him how to press the pieces flat, lay them on the denim, pin them, and cut them out.

First, I showed him how to reassemble his original pair of jeans, then, I showed him how to assemble his new pair.

He was hooked.

Father/Son bonding

Some fathers and sons bond over baseball games. Some fathers and sons bond over hunting and fishing.

My father and I bonded over a sewing machine.

When I graduated high school and moved away from home, my father took over sewing for the family.

My mother and my two sisters never touched the sewing machine (that I know of). My father still uses it to this day.

Whatever happened to that first shirt? Well, the books I read taught me a lot about sewing techniques, but I must have skipped the fabric care section. My velvet buccaneer shirt fell apart in the washing machine.

I never sewed velvet again.