Around their second birthday, I have taken each of my children on an outing to the fabric store where I let them select fabrics that I will sew into their incentive quilt. I am usually waddling through the store, seven months pregnant with the next, and the incentive is clear: get out of our bed and into your own with this lovely new quilt before the baby arrives.
The boys’ quilts are queen-sized, patchwork style, seven inch squares with bugs, trucks, spiders, flame and lava fabrics, lots of fleeces and fuzzies. I leave the bottoms open, so that I can slide a duvet in for winter months, but still enjoy them in summer, and I do absolutely no hand-quilting. These quilts would be a lot easier if I actually knew how to sew, but so much of my time is spent ripping out seams, rethreading my $99 plastic machine, fiddling with tensions. I still have to break out the manual nearly every time I wind the bobbin or replace a broken needle.
It is all worth it, though, because my boys love their quilts, drag them out to the living room to snuggle by the fire, make tents with them on the trampoline, and when my oldest spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia, he insisted on being cocooned in his. I have asked if they want new ones, if they’re bothered at 5 and 8 years old by having Scoop, Muck and Dizzy from their toddler years on their beds, but they refuse.
There was a boy I wanted to sleep with in college because I heard his mother had made him a postage stamp quilt out of all his favorite childhood clothes that graced his dorm room twin. Not only was this guy smoking hot, but I thought there must be something special, a confidence to someone who would proudly sleep under a homemade quilt with puppies and bunnies, Izod alligators and duck heads from his boyhood clothes. And I’ll confess, the creative part of me just wanted to get a good look at this quilt, see how it was put together, but I never did.
Two years ago, it was time to sew my daughter’s quilt, but it has been different. There is no coming baby, no incentive to stop sleeping in her king-sized daybed intertwined with her warm, olive-skinned limbs. I have dawdled over Piper’s quilt, partially because of the difficulty of tackling a crazy quilt, partially because her interests keep changing--“shoes, ponies, flowers!”-- and partially because life keeps interrupting us, demanding to be included in her quilt. The color scheme has expanded from red, peach and petal pink to red, peach, all shades of pink, ivory, orange, fuschia, tangerine and even the occasional bright white and pale green. Then my mother-in-law died after a long battle with breast cancer, and her loving promise to haunt us came in the form of dragonflies—we saw them everywhere, and in going through her things, I found a vest beaded with dragonflies. It had to be included in Piper’s quilt.
Cleaning out closets for my mother, I found a turn-of-the-century rag quilt that one of my father’s great aunts had made. It had moth-holes and tears, but there were sections of it that were intact, red, pink and cream, and had to be included. I also used clothes of Piper’s she had outgrown or stained: the orange and fushcia striped leggings from her 6 month old costume as a baby chicken? Yes. Her goldfish and cherry onesies? Of course. When my sister graduated from Wakeforest, she sent me the orange and hot pink paisley sheets I had given her four years earlier as her going-off-to-college present. Could I use them in Piper’s quilt? Check--putting the crazy in crazy quilt.
Flipping through the Garnet Hill catalog when Piper was at the height of her two-year-old obsession with ponies, I found sheets that had whimsical patchwork horses. I ordered a set, and then cut up the pillowcase, taking ten ponies and hand-embroidering each one on squares placed randomly in her quilt. This was the slowest part of the process—for more than a year, I went everywhere—my boys’ hockey games, toddler playtime, meetings, haircuts, car, train and plane rides, with a pony in my purse. Whenever I got demoralized, Piper would cheer me on. Last month, she told me, “You know what I will love best about my quilt? Whenever I am jumping on my bed, I can look down, and it will be like, wow I’m riding on ponies!”
She kept me company in our loft while I sewed and sewed—taking loops of fabric from my bins and blanketing her ride-on pony or wrapping her dolls, chattering away, weighing in on fabric combinations and lay outs with a keen design eye. When I was working late, bleary-eyed and accidentally sewed my finger in the machine, Piper was a level-headed three-year-old doctor, carefully bandaging and kissing it—after that, she warned me at least daily about not sewing my fingers.
Throughout all this, I finished the edits for my first novel and wrote my second. Piper’s quilt was the creative outlet when writing stumped me, the perfect escape. Manipulating fabrics, sewing crazy angles, waving off any puckering or gapping to ‘part of the vintage look’ was often easier than writing to a deadline. For two years, I dutifully recopied “finish Piper’s quilt” from To-Do list to To-Do list, along with “clean basement” and “organize junk drawers”. You can imagine which got finished first.
This spring, just after Piper’s third birthday, I knew I was getting close, but unsure about how to finish the back. With the boys’, I simply bought plain fleece blankets and sewed the two together. But I sensed Piper’s needed something different. Strolling through Marshalls one day, I found the perfect back—a king-sized, scallop-edged, pale pink and already machine-quilted in looping color-on-color paisley pattern bedspread, on sale. It was the mature and elegant flipside, the foil to the craziness I was furiously quilting. It would mean I would have to make her quilt bigger, hand sew at least two more ponies. But never mind that. I cut the scallops off, and incorporated tiny squares into the front, for congruity—there is method to my madness.
Finally, last week, I laid the two out on top of each other and tugged and pinned, then rolled the heft up and put the two sides together, using Piper and a chair to help me quide the king-sized heft through my-little-engine-that could, the bargain basement sewing machine. And then it was done. Well, mostly done. I still want to sew on more bows, flowers and embellishments, still have a throw pillow to make out of one leftover pony, and I could always do more hand-quilting…
Piper is finally sleeping under ponies in her king-size daybed. And I’m right there beside her, and usually one or two of the boys, and at least one cat, and sometimes Daddy, and the dog snoring away on the floor. One of these days we’ll all go to sleep in our own beds and stay there, and eventually the basement will be cleaned, and the junk drawers organized too, but for now this is just fine.