I started quilting a few years back when I was living with my Mom shortly after my Father’s death. It had been a whirlwind six months since his death. When I stopped to compare one world with another there were vast differences. The changes were drastic: a move from Hawaii to Arizona; working full time to staying at home; a once a year visit with my parents changed to living with my Mom fulltime; a suspicion of my Mom’s Alzheimer’s Disease evolved into a bona fide diagnosis.
Quilting had also transitioned from “That’s-what-my-Mom-does” to sewing every evening while Mom watched Family Feud. Has anyone watched four episodes of Family Feud every evening? That’ll drive anyone to quilting!
We settled in on our favorite host of the four that were available on reruns: Steve Harvey. The show hadn’t changed much in 20 years of airtime but Steve infused it with verve and humor and that big, big smile he dished out for those contestants he could work his magic on. I lay out quilt pieces on the carpet while Mom sat in her easy chair and tried to follow his humor. “Jess, what did he say? What does THAT mean?”
In six months I’d made five quilts. I also made the decision I wasn’t the best caretaker for my Mom. My next government contract was in 29 Palms, California. I left my Mom in the competent hands of my siblings and took a small stash of favorite fabrics with me to the desert. I also took lots of my Mom’s fabric stash with me. She wasn’t able to quilt any longer but was thrilled that I wanted some of her fabric.
The ugly quilt had a dozen or more of Mom’s fabrics incorporated into it. I was so pleased—I had enjoyed using her scraps in each of the quilts I’d been making. Using my Mom’s fabrics had become a way for me to honor her legacy of quilt making and each new quilt had some of her fabric tucked into it. I don’t believe using my Mom’s fabrics, (because some of her fabrics were definitely dated), contributed to this quilt’s ugliness although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it.
Each and every quilt I’d made thus far (a dozen or so) I’d experienced a huge learning curve. One quilt had severe angles that made the points difficult to match. I learned that making a quilt pattern wasn’t as easy as one would think. One quilt incorporated fabric from my Mom’s stash that wasn’t 100% cotton. “”Jess, it doesn’t matter that it’s polyester; the color matches perfectly.” But the polyester didn’t look and feel like the cotton.
I purchased fabric from a popular mega-store because at the quilting shop my Mom said in a loud whisper, “Jess, this store is too expensive. Let’s go to Wal-Mart.” After I purchased the less expensive fabric the difference in quality was apparent. I was well into sewing another quilt and using my Mom’s stash of thread when I couldn’t help but notice that the thread continued to break over and over again. My sister said, “Jess, didn’t you know that Mom’s thread is old?” Nope, I hadn’t known that!
This new quilt was the first quilt that I meticulously followed the pattern instructions. It was the first queen size quilt that I’d attempted. It was a color set that was out-of-the-norm for me. And it was lots of matching diagonal triangles. Within the first few days of sewing another learning curve moment arrived: “Ah, I bought the Kona solid at two different times. I can see the subtle difference in dye lot color.” The quilt was well on its way to a diagnosis: ugly!
But I didn’t just learn about quilts for those six months of caretaking my Mom. I learned some things that I’d never known about my Mom, things that pleased me and things that depleted me. One of those things that I’d never really given much attention to was my Mom’s tendency not to finish things. Meaning, that my Mom had lots and lots of projects around the house all in various stages of “un-finish”.
When I gently asked her about all of the unfinished quilts around the house, she said, “That’s just the way I am, Jess. And your Father knew that about me when I married him.” That’s a touchy response from someone who’d been married 60+ years! I had asked in my very best counselor’s voice so I knew that her defensive response had been triggered by a topic that didn’t sit well with her. But it taught me something about myself.
I recognized that I am a finisher even though my Mom is not. That ugly quilt is not going to sit around in a state of “un-finish” for the remainder of its life. It is going to the quilter’s today. All of us know that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and that ugly quilt may just be someone’s favorite.
The chances of every quilt made being a beauty is unrealistic. I can live with a quilt that I create that is not what I anticipated. The critical piece of the equation for me is to learn from those experiences, to complete the project anyway, and to find a home where ugly doesn’t matter.