Thursday, August 16, 2012

Learning to Quilt

Last Mother's Day, I traveled to California to visit my Mom. While I was there, we talked about her quilting projects. She had a lot of them -- so many she worried she'd never finish them all. She had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (a smoker's disease, although she'd never smoked). I helped her with one of the quilts, a very detailed Christmas quilt, by ironing the patterns onto the fabric. I was careful to make sure the pattern in the fabric followed the piece it would represent. The stripes slanted so that they appeared to twist around the candy cane. The horse's mane flowed in the direction it should.
A few weeks later, she told me she'd finished the square we'd built together. She was pleased with how it had turned out.

When she passed away a few days later, I promised myself I would finish what she'd started. In the week following her funeral, I realized just how daunting that task would be. I chose half a dozen projects and brought them home with me. The Christmas quilt is too complex for a beginner, but my goal is to finish it someday.

Part of the border -- my Mom's work
About a month passed. The projects sat packed in the suitcase. Eventually, I brought myself to begin. I chose an appliqué project -- a Halloween quilt for my niece. My Mom had already completed the borders. All I had to do was complete the center piece, stitch it together and quilt it.

Another part of the border - my Mom's work
My Mom had already partially appliquéd the cape, so I finished sewing it on, struggling to make my stitches disappear the way hers did. She had left a scrap of paper with the words "Witch's hat," on the table near her bed,  so that's where I went next. I dug through the fabric and realized I had not brought home the fabric for the hat's brim -- perhaps Mom had not even chosen it yet --  so I visited the local quilt store and chose a fabric. When I started to pin the hat onto the fabric, I realized the cape was not angled correctly. Lesson 1: Even Mom didn't always get things right the first time. It turned out to be a valuable lesson.

I unsewed the cape, repositioned it and appliquéd again. This time my stitches were better too. I added the hat. As I stitched around the tricky curves, I could almost hear my Mom's voice directing me in how to take the corners, how to make the points lie flat.

Hat and face
Now it was time for the arms and face. The face required embroidery. A skill she'd taught me many years ago. I was surprised how easily the rhythm of the stitching came back to me.

The skirt and legs were easy. As I stitched, I thought about my Mom...the things we'd shared over the years, her beautiful smile when she saw me in May, the twinkle that never ever left her eyes. Those thoughts made me sad and happy all at once.

The bodice - satisfied at last
The bodice gave me fits. I sewed and unsewed three times before we were satisfied with how it lay. After the second time, I let it sit on the ironing board for a week. It was close enough, I told myself. If I keep unsewing I'll never finish. Last night, I unpicked the stitches, laid it out again and sewed. At last, I've got it right. I'm satisfied and so is Mom. I still need to add the bra, but the framework's there. I'm ready to move on, with the quilt at least.
The witch so far