The Quilts that Haunt Us

I know we all have them.  I have them.  You have them.  Your friends at Guild or in your Bee – they have them, too.  You know what I’m talking about. 

The Quilts that Haunt Us.

I’m not talking about the quilts that we think about – the ones we want to make but haven’t gotten around to yet.  No.  I’m talking about the ones we made years ago that are either stuffed into the back of a closet, or hoisted high up on a shelf, discretely hidden in an old, cotton pillowcase. 

Those Quilts.

The quilts we made when we first started piecing and appliqueing and quilting.  The ones that at one time we were so proud of … until we got better.  We began to learn to match corners and seams.  We learned how to make our applique stitches so tiny they could barely be seen with the naked eye.  We mastered the art of dropping those feed dogs on a domestic machine and meandering the life out of a quilt.  You know what I’m talking about…

Our first quilts.

And while, yes, they do hold some sentimentality for us, those are the quilts best loved from a distance – like from the top shelf in our linen closets, behind the Christmas bath towels that are only pulled out after Thanksgiving.  Those first quilts are kind of like that high school crush most of us had.  We remember that person fondly, but can’t help asking ourselves, “What was I thinking?”  We can’t for the life of us remember why we thought Williamsburg blue and Old Rose were just the best colors ever or why we thought that making templates out of empty cereal boxes was the only way to cut our patches.  We love those quilts, but cringe anytime they’re mentioned or brought out.  There is just so much wrong with those quilts, we kind of want to forget them.  And in the process, we forget just how much they taught us.

This is my first quilt.

My very first quilt, circa 1988-89

It’s a homely little thing, isn’t it?  I made this little quilt for my second child, but my third pregnancy.  I had been sewing for a while, but at that point, I was only making garments for myself and my daughter.  After my second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, I hesitated in making any clothes for my third baby.  But a quilt?  That would be just fine.  This is my first attempt at a quilt and my son literally loved the stuffing out of it.  It’s sparsely quilted, then tied.  At that time, I didn’t know any better than to buy the fluffiest batting out there.  The seam allowances aren’t consistent (after sewing 5/8-inch seams for clothes, a ¼-inch seam was just so small), and the colors are typical late 1980’s.  I was self-taught and was immensely proud of this crib quilt until I took a quilting class.

Then I learned just how many mistakes I had made.  But process of making that first quilt planted a desire in my being to learn more and get better.  If I had never made that first quilt, I wouldn’t have this area of my life that I love so much.  I would have never met other quilters that have enriched my life.  So, while this little quilt is truly down-right ugly, it’s a time capsule of my progress.

Let me explain.

This is one of the quilts I finished a couple of years ago.  It’s pieced and appliqued. 

Here is top I finished two weeks ago.

And here is my Farmer’s Wife (that I still need to finish designing the borders for).

None of these quilts would be possible if I had not made that first quilt.  And while that crib quilt is safely tucked away in my closet, I do bring it out a couple of times a year.  I do this at times when I don’t feel I have grown as a quilter, or I think that everything is wrong with the quilt I am presently working on.  It’s tangible evidence that I have developed as an artist and that I will continue to do so.  It’s proof that no matter how much I may be struggling with the quilt I’m currently working on, I can master it – I have become more skillful with each quilt I make and will continue to do so. 

I think it does us all good to take a look back at our quilts – from the first ones we made to the one that’s currently under our needle.  They show us how far we’ve developed as quilt artists and reinforces our confidence – we can master new techniques and new patterns.  At one time half-square triangles were the  scariest and trickiest thing in our quilting world.  Now we don’t blink twice about them. 

This week, I’d really like you to take the time to pull out a quilt (or pictures of a quilt) that you made several years ago.  Look at it closely.  I know at first, you’re going to see every mistake you made on that quilt.  Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and then try to see everything that quilt taught you.  Was it how to nest your seams?  Was how to meet corners?  Was it how to sew on a border?  Then look at the quilty thing you’re working on now and understand how far you’ve come and how a great deal of what you’re successful at today, wouldn’t be possible without the quilts of yesterday.

If those first quilts are going to haunt you, let them be friendly ghosts and not some kind of poltergeist moving thing.  And if you’re new to quilting, know that every quilt you make teaches you something.  Don’t let them daunt you.  Keep working away at it and learn the lessons it wants to teach you. 

Until next week, Quilt with Passion!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

2 replies on “The Quilts that Haunt Us”

I keep my first quilt on the back of our family room sofa. When I’m cold, I pull it down and wrap up in it. I remember the quilter who taught me how to do everything-piecing, applique, sashings, borders, quilting and binding-by hand. She always said that once you’ve learned the basics, you can always build on them.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: