Once it’s pieced, the top becomes the top slice of bread in a sandwich. Batting is the filling, and the bottom slice is a wide, long piece of fabric backing. The sandwich is quilted together by stitches in a pattern. Some people do that part by sewing machine, and I have, on occasion, done that. I don’t have a very good machine, though, and I don’t like to sit hunched over it.
Instead I quilt by hand. Yes, I sew every last stitch by hand, and, believe me, there are a lot of them. I quilt when I’m doing something else like watching TV or, well, TV is about it. The show takes up most of my attention, and the sewing goes on slightly below the conscious level. You get into it like you do with any repetitive activity, and I’d name one if I could think of it. If you think about how much time it will take to make even a baby quilt or how many single stitches you have to take to complete a quilt, you’ll never begin one. If you just work on it without focusing, well, it’s like that proverbial march of a thousand miles: it happens one step -- one stitch -- at a time. Quilting does not take the patience of a saint, my friend says, it takes the patience of an idiot.
First, you slide the needle in and out, easily, smoothly. You use a very small, slim needle, and the challenge, to the better quilting, is to see how many stitches you can collect on the needle before you pull it through the fabric. The quilt I’m currently working on is a collection of appliqued kitties separated (or joined, depending on your viewpoint) by sashing with little black birds on it, shades of Heckle and Jeckle. The whole thing makes me laugh.
I usually quilt in straight lines or a wandering sort of bee’s path. For the first time, however, I have a quilt that lends itself to using a stencil I bought long ago and have stored for years in the bottom of the closet. The stencil is the kind of old fashioned pattern I’ve long wanted to use. A wreath of leaves encircles the backing beneath each kitty, and vines travel up and down the sashing.
I have to admit I like the pleasant mental fog of watching Judging Amy reruns while my needle goes in and out, up and down. I try to solve Inspector Morse's latest murder while the leaves take form, the circles complete themselves. It’s not a quick process. You have to be stubborn.
But the patience of a saint? The patience of an idiot? Oh, dear, are those the only choices?