This Quilting Thing

I confessed to some friends that I seemed to be teetering on the brink of a vast and possibly endless obsession. I’d just taken a beginning piecing class, and found myself enthralled by the combination of precision and creativity involved in designing and putting together even the simplest of blocks. Of course, the fabrics I’d brought were all wrong – patterns too large, colors too monochromatic – so I learned lesson #1 immediately: What works for clothing doesn’t always work for quilting. Tiny florals do have their place. Orange can be strategically deployed.


Sewing skipped a generation in my family. Granny worked as a seamstress; mom can barely darn a sock. In high school, I sewed outfits so tacky I blush at the memory today. Except for the occasional emergency tablecloth or set of curtains, my pale green Kenmore lay idle for many years. But when the time came to schlep it into class, I discovered to my amazement that my muscle-memory remembered, even if my conscious mind did not, how to thread it and even how to fill the bobbin.


I was also surprised to discover that my machine – a 21st birthday present from my parents – wasn’t the oldest one in the class. Unlike computers, the tool of my trade, sewing machines age gracefully, acquiring a patina of respect and admiration. No built-in obsolescence here; attachments are still available even for the oldest machines. Nobody makes peripherals for computers built in 1982, let alone 1968, when my trusty Kenmore was born.


My interest in quilting may have been foreordained. Years ago I played with stained glass -- designing, measuring, cutting and piecing – a similar process, with its own specialized tools, terminology, and techniques, along with a unique bonus: the finished work’s transformation by light.


But I think it runs deeper than that. I grew up inoculated with a thrifty “use everything” mentality. My family saved scraps -- dad in his workshop, mom in the kitchen, granny in her sewing room. When my grandmother died, I inherited her boxes and tins of buttons, ribbons and trim, even a pair of pink electric scissors – though not, alas, her fabric. A few days ago I decided to clean my sewing box for the first time in two decades and found, at the bottom, handwritten instructions for a patchwork pillow, along with a pattern drawn in ink on a twelve-inch square of white cloth. It was clearly a sign from granny to me.


I knew I was hooked when my husband was scheduled for a medical procedure that called for good drugs and a ride home afterwards. I rejoiced; that meant two hours to spend in Petaluma, the perfect interval for my inaugural visit -- a preliminary scouting trip, I figured -- to the Quilted Angel. I spent more than time there, of course. I found myself in a fabric frenzy, breathing hard, working my way around the color wheel and beyond, to black-and-white, white-on-cream, dusky shades of indeterminate hue, accumulating solids, textures, geometrics, abstracts, pictorials… prints small, medium and large, values dark, medium and light. I even picked up some orange. Every fanned-out handful of fat quarters suggested a new project I couldn’t wait to start.


Not that I’ve actually started any of them. But soon, when I have a little time; you know how that goes. In the meantime, it’s fair to say that I’m no longer teetering on the brink of this new obsession -- I’ve tottered right over the edge. Good thing I had that big, soft stash of fabric to break my fall.


Published in a slightly different form as “Reflections of a Baby Quilter” in the June 2001 issue of Bits and Pieces, the newsletter of the Pacific Piecemakers Quilt Guild. © 2001 Reva Basch



Here's my first quilt, a sampler of the traditional blocks I learned to make in Gayle Stewart's class on beginning machine piecing. And here are two of my cats, field-testing it.

A butterfly pillow cover that I made for my friend Tina, and the appliqué on the back.

This is my first quilt guild nametag. I'll never piece a 3" block again. Mistakes are magnified beyond all proportion.

Here's a cat appliqué (thanks to Microsoft ClipArt for the silhouette) on a background fabric of little Totoro-like creatures that I love. In early '03, I submitted it as a central block in my guild's progressive quilt event. Other quilters in turn contributed additional blocks, borders and embellishments. After several weeks, it came back to me as this quilt top.

I like the way this chile block turned out (it's a sofa pillow now) and will probably experiment with the same pattern in other fabrics.

An experiment in triangles and light and dark values. Not exactly precision-pieced. Another (large) pillow.

The block I entered in my quilt guild's block-of-the-month raffle. The pattern is a Double Irish Chain. To my astonishment, I won the raffle -- and another 21 blocks, shown here loosely pinned together and hung on the wall. Now, all I have to do is sew them together and I'll have an entire quilt top that'll look something like that.

The cat pillow, front and back (or maybe vice-versa) I made for my dear friend Libbi.

The log cabin wall quilt that I entered in Gualala Art's Black, White and Red show, January 2002. My first public hanging, so to speak. My friend Carol loves these colors, so I gave it to her.

A snail trail quilt that I started in Angie Woolman's Color Me Green workshop in February '02, as an exercise in values and gradation/color wash. I can't believe how the clashing patterns somehow work together (Hint: Step back about 5 feet from your screen). I suppose it's the triumph of a strong, repeating overall design over individual pieces.

Timber Ridge, inspired by the view out my window and entered in my guild's 2002 Challenge Quilt exhibition at Gualala Art Center. The show's theme was "quilts inspired by the natural world."

A Jewel Box block made for the Guild's May '02 block of the month raffle. I didn't win this one. Guess I'll have to make a bunch of my own.

'02 turned out to be a crazy-busy year, not the sabbatical I'd envisioned. The only thing I managed to complete between May and November was this 6" star block for our guild's president's quilt.

A top I started in Judy Bianchi's curved piecing class in January '03, and actually finished the following week. What I will do with it I do not know...

This raven is a combo of hand- and machine-quilting, embellished with silver, blue and iridescent black beads, and a ridge-line of feathers I've collected along the bottom edge.

My friend Anita Kaplan did a workshop in February '03 showing quick ways to create "out of the box" quilts. This was one of them; you strip-piece blocks, then cut them apart and recombine them. I tried several different arrangements before I decided which one to go with. Here's the quilt top with a border.

A bargello quilt made from a dog's-breakfast of assorted strips, the result of a fabric-swapping game at our guild's holiday party. I must try this with good fabrics some day...

A fun little "house quilt" I started in Gwen Marston's Liberated Quilting class. A Christmas '03 gift to Victor and Sondra.

A lap quilt for my friend Rita.

A simple coffee table quilt, for those dinners spent watching DVDs. This was my holiday gift to Libbi and David in December 2003.

A "Sea Ranch house" block; this went into a comfort quilt that our Monday group made for our friend Pam.

PPQG's 2004 quilt "challenge" was "Something Fishy." I got carried away and made and entered five quilts: Four Ways of Looking at a Flounder (sold while on exhibit); Red Sea (sold to Libbi); If You Knew Sushi (Like, I Know Sushi); TwoFish (my interpretation of our local TwoFish Baking Company's logo, and given to Hilla and Margaret, the owners, when the show came down) and the apparent crowd-pleaser, Something Bushy. Here's a link to all the entries.

Preliminary results from a "Fine Art of Fusing" workshop with Melody Johnson.

My nephew Josh turned 10 on November 9th, 2004. I made this quilt to celebrate his birthday.

Timber Ridge II, the successor to the one I did three years earlier. I began this one in a class with Ruth McDowell. It has roughly 10x the number of pieces as the earlier version, and has yet to be quilted.

Mary Austin, quilter extraordinaire and afficionado of Japanese textiles, fell and broke her leg -- at a quilting workshop, no less. Guild members were asked to contribute blocks for a comfort quilt. The instructions said to use blue, which Mary likes, and to make it funny. Here's mine.

At my friend Jonelle's house, I was taken with a calligraphic brush print, Midori, by the Japanese artist Toko Shinoda. I couldn't get the central image out of my mind. I made this wall quilt inspired by Shinoda's work, and entered it in the 2005 PPQG Challenge show, the theme of which was "The Quilter Revealed." This piece "revealed" me as a quilter in the sense that, as I worked on it, I felt totally "in the flow" as a creative artist -- so much so that I conceived this as just the first in a series of six, each of which I could picture very clearly. I've completed the second, third and fourth in the series. Number 1 sold during the first week of the Challenge exhibit. Number 2 won a 3rd place ribbon in the Innovative division of the Northwest Quilters 2006 show. Number 4, which I developed during an art quilt independent study with Jeannette Meyer at the Oregon College of Arts of Crafts, was juried in to OCAC's spring '06 student show and exhibited at the Hoffman Gallery on campus.

I began what came to be called the Mom Quilt in Jeannette's class, using a dozen damask napkins from my mother's hope chest, which I'd indigo-dyed using various shibori techniques in an OCAC workshop led by Judilee Fitzhugh. The appliqué branch is suede from a jacket my mother wore for years until I appropriated it and finally wore it out. Mom died while I was working on the piece and, after her death, I embellished it with her numerous volunteer service pins, which I covered with scraps of tulle or organza, hand-stitched in place with perle cotton. In place of a conventional label on the back, I made two fabric pockets in which I inserted her plastic laminate volunteer ID badges, fastening each with a perle cotton bow.

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