Saturday, December 31, 2011

Putting The Pieces Together

As it happens, I'm a quilter too.

I mention this because Nancy, who writes a quilting blog, sent an almost unprecedented number of her readers my way. A whole flock of quilters landed on Murrmurrs and pecked around, and I don't know if they knew what to expect. Mine is a work-a-day, all-purpose blog. I figure if I don't specialize in subject matter, I'll be harder for the trolls to pigeonhole. There are a lot of great bloggers out there writing about politics, or nature, or their cats. I'm more likely to write about the nature of cat poop and tie it in with politics. It's surprisingly easy to do that.

But quilters' blog-rolls run by the yard, and if you take a stroll through their material you realize just how much talent is out there--just how many people are stitching beauty together that makes you warm two ways. I make regular quilts. Mostly the old traditional patterns. It's addictive, watching these things come together under your hands.

The way Dave explains it, if anyone asks, is "Murr takes a bunch of perfectly good fabric and cuts it into little pieces and sews it back together again." Somehow this description seems wrong, but I can't find the flaw in it anywhere. It does make the process sound like a waste of time, but in a true waste of time you don't have a quilt afterwards. Just drool stains and the theme from "Gilligan's Island" in your head.

Anyway, quilting is no different than life. We'd all like to think we see the whole fabric, but in reality we are constantly slicing and dicing what we perceive and then stitching it back together in a way that makes sense to us. We select the evidence that fits our narrative and discard what doesn't. There are people who see in every encounter the likelihood of a personal attack, and set out pickets of rage and blame to hunker behind. My own narrative tends more toward loopy cheer, but neither perspective is made of whole cloth. Even in my garden, which is just nature diced and spliced, I will admire all the flowers and mentally edit out the bindweed until the day it takes over.

At some point in any quilting project I'll discover I've stitched something together backwards and I have to get my seam ripper and undo it. Worse, I'll have run off dozens of the mismatched pairs before I notice my mistake, and that's a lot of ripping. My current project consists of 48 large blocks, each of which is made up of twenty pieces, with a potential 765 ways to go wrong, requiring roughly--hold on, carry the one--three billion stitches to be ripped out. At one juncture, there were at least three incorrect ways to sew two blocks together. I know this because I went through all three, methodically, in order. And then just for good measure I sewed it the first wrong way all over again. Even Chance would have given me better odds of getting it right. And this stuff is easy. All you need to do is hold the pieces together and say "does this look right?" before sewing them together. Which I do. Unfortunately, the dominant loopy-cheer part of my brain always answers "yes indeedy! Why, that looks perfect." Even when it isn't. My brain values optimism over the truth.

This follows a disturbing trend. Whereas ten years ago this might happen once or twice during a single project, now it happens all the way through. That's what's different. My head is fast losing the ability to hang onto two ideas at once for more than three seconds. If I get up to answer the phone while I'm quilting, I won't get back to the machine for hours, because I'll forget that's what I was up to. This should worry me, but instead I find it funny. Because that's the way I like to stitch my reality together.

So it might take me longer than it used to, but eventually, after a lot of ripping, I always get my quilt put together right. I can see my own future, though, and it looks like my elderly friend Mrs. P. I'll ask Mrs. P how her niece is doing in law school, and Mrs. P will say it hardly even itches anymore. I'll say that sounds like good news, and she'll say if it was fine with the bishop, it was fine with her; and after all, what can you expect during strawberry season? And both of us will go off smiling, all our conversational needs met.

I'm approaching my own dotage with a big grin and an even bigger seam ripper, but I know sooner or later I'm going to get all the pieces of my reality sewn together wrong too, and I won't know it. It will look screwy, but I'll still be warm.

This simple, beautiful quilt pattern was created by Cindy Carter, who is kind enough to share. I liked it well enough that I'm going to make another one for myself, because I gave this one away. Thanks, Cindy.

52 comments:

  1. This is precisely the reason I gave up quilting, my future was staring me in the face every time I had to get out the seam ripper. At least Doonas (duvets) are non judgemental.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't like piecing, but I used to really enjoy hand quilting. I think I would still like it if I had a klieg light to work by and heated gloves to keep my knuckles from locking up....
    Beautiful work, m'dear!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Perhaps, if I lived in a country with long hours of darkness and nothing else to do...I might finish the hexagons I started twenty-something years ago. Perhaps.But these days it takes me a good ten minutes to thread a needle and that's after I've found one that isn't rusty.
    Maybe I'll stick to scatological pollitics.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've been spatially disabled all my life. I made my first daughter a gorgeous kindergarten wardrobe. But, even then, I ripped way more stitches than I sewed. I could even sew one backwards piece to one forward piece.

    So while I love the idea of quilts, I'm pretty sure, I couldn't actually make one.

    Your quilts are beautiful and no one knows how many times you made it. Or at least the didn't know in the past. And I was amazed at the quilt you made for Julie Z.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My great grandmother had a quilting frame in her back bedroom and there was always something on it. She, however, made her quilts out of remnants of used material. She was stitching her past into place. There is something to be said for hind sight.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a beautiful quilt! Looks pretty perfect to me, Murr. But then again, I wasn't watching it being created. You are endlessly talented in your loopy cheerful way. I'm sure glad I found you, my life is guaranteed to be filled with smiles at least now and then.

    ReplyDelete
  7. HA! My late hubby used to say that same thing - that I would take perfectly good fabric, cut it up in little pieces and sew it back together again. When he got me a fancy new sewing machine one year, he joked to one of the nieces that it was a computer with a needle. Basically, yes. I follow a lot of sewing blogs (including your friend Nancy) and I'm amazed at their productivity, creativity and talent. Yours, too. And any blog that features the occasional picture of a cat, a Pootie or passing reference to cat poop is aces with me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Everyone sews blocks together wrong now and then. The loopy cheerfulness keeps you from throwing them across the room and lighting your sewing machine on fire. Your quilt is breath-taking awesome sauce and I am blown away. I sew pieced comforters, also known as "Drag arounds" for nieces and nephews, and if blocks get sewn together backward, I just call it a design element and carry on. I refuse to make perfect heirlooms. I just want to send out a portable hug. My quilts become floor mats, tents, sleep-in-the-yard mattresses, car blankets, curl-up-on-the-porch-swing-in January accessories, and they get worn to bits, so eccentric piecing is no flaw, just a touch of crazy Aunt Roxie.

    ReplyDelete
  9. drinking is a far less complicated hobby. if i find i've emptied the wrong bottle? i simply start over again with the correct one...

    love the bright blue of that quilt, by the way!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Most of my husband's family lives in Maine, and I send a Christmas box every year. Homemade jams, jellies, some cookies - but for my one sister-in-law I throw in some delicious looking fat quarters. I know she can't get enough of them. Our nephew-in-law found it strange, however, that anyone would consider scraps of fabric to be a reasonable holiday gift.

    LOVE the quilts!

    ReplyDelete
  11. What a beautiful way to piece together your outlook on life. We all have the same pieces, it's how you put them together that creates each beautiful quilt.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Beautiful work, Murr. You have talent in every direction.
    Quilting at our house was always from scraps of previously used material and far more a thing of warmth than beauty, though the love that went into it made it beautiful. My oldest has on her spare bed the quilt that her Grandma made for Ella and I. My youngest made me a quilt from her mother's old flannel nighties the first Christmas after she passed away.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree with DJan and many thanks to Nancy. I love your color choice for your lovely quilt. I think that tells a lot about a person. Pam

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's a beautiful quilt, Murr, but the wrong pieces sewn together would have been a design feature that no one would have thought to create. You could have gone with your gut and achieved something just as pretty!

    ReplyDelete
  15. My hubby bought me one of those "computers with needles", too, and I love it, but I still won't part with my mother's 1950's Singer. Long after the computerized machine can't find its bobbin with both hands, my old Singer will still be sewing. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  16. That old way of reusing old clothes for your quilts--that's what really made sense and love. But I can't even bring myself to make quilts out of my scraps. If I'm going to go to all that trouble, I need to pick out fresh material. [sigh]

    I dunno, Tenna, much as I like Roxie's rebranding, I don't think my accidental "design elements" do my quilts any favors. Hey, it's the one thing in my life that I try to get right. I probably shouldn't let that go too!

    "can't find its bobbin with both hands..." snort.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Your quilt is utterly fabulous!!! I took quilting lesson ages ago but never really got beyond a few pillow tops. These days needlepoint seems to be my handwork.

    ReplyDelete
  18. That is one gorgeous quilt, there, Lady!

    They say it isn't bad until you do something like putting a shoe in the refrigerator. Not there yet, but closing fast.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Once again you have taken what may seem to be ordinary and made it shine - the fabric, the quilt, your life view. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I too started quilting a few years ago (thank you Pat Kelly!) and am almost done with my first project. Sigh. It is the hand stitching around the binding that stops me - no giant leaps of glory, but quiet, boring tedium to the end. Hmmm, wonder if I can use your life analogy to explain why I don't seem to want to end the project...?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Linda! Pat Kelly rocks. About the binding: use a smaller needle and do it while you're watching TV.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I was just thinking how much I enjoy your blog, watching eagerly for each new post, and getting a big smile on my face in anticipation, even though I don't reply often, just enjoy quietly out here in the Heartland. Once again, you didn't disappoint. You stitch words and ideas together seamlessly so don't fret about that quilt - you have a gift, several, in fact - and you are truly "snorthworthy". Don't you dare go messing with this blog, either, or I'll . . . . . get out my seam ripper, I guess! I've done quilting, needlepoint (still have a few pillow tops laying around!), knitted, crocheted, gardened and now (and for the longest) painted. Made gargantuan mistakes in all of them, but as you know it's not really about the "mistake", it's how you deal with it that matters. Our hobbies are a lot like life - they teach us patience, bring us together with like-minded individuals, elevate our self-esteem and deal us crushing blows - and in the end teach us to carry on and do the best we can with what we've got! You and Dave and friends have a great New Year's, hours after ours, and I'll look forward to more Murr posts this year. I know you won't disappoint me!

    ReplyDelete
  22. That quilt is stunning. I love how the blue "stars" explode out of the background. There's just no end to the wonder of Murr, and you are nowhere NEAR your dotage.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I am in love. The quilting backwards and wrong is something I do too - mostly in life now as my hands won't let me sew much. And the cat crap and politics link? Accurate to the last truffel. And your black baby looks like the bigger of my. Reading your blog (I started to type your quilt) is coming home. Thank you and a happy new year. Blogging and quilting both.

    ReplyDelete
  24. When we moved to Wisconsin and I learned that winter was going to last forever, I took a quilting class. (I also took a vegetarian Indian cooking class, if that gives you an idea of my desperation. I made one quilt. I started a second for our son, planning to make it our of the legs of his jeans when I cut them off each summer to make them into shorts. I didn't get it made for his room when he was a kid, but thought perhaps college.... He's 46 now and I still haven't finished. Maybe it could be a christening blanket if they have a baby.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I'm with you on all-purpose blogging. Did you ever try any free-style quilting? Then backwards, upside down, etc. would be part of the pattern!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love you, Murr. Glad to know about your huge quilting talent to add to your other amazing skills. I only attempted one quilt, but I get my kicks now from crocheting afghans .......same kinds of perks as quilts and the ripping is much easier.

    When I see your name in the list of new blogs my heart beats faster,,,,,you are genius personified.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Your bed quilt is beautiful...the pattern, the colors, the arrangement of the squares. Bravo.

    ReplyDelete
  28. You have described my own assessment of my impending future quite nicely, so nicely in fact that I really doubt you need to worry about yours.

    The quilt is gorgeous. As is your furry friend.

    Happy New Year!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Interesting.... I am doing my 5 days of quilting. Finished first top yesterday before realizing that I had turned two squares wrong way... bummer... oh well! New Pattern! Working on second top today.... Finish it tomorrow and onto the next... I have three seam rippers... I think that is my sign of maturity... that sometimes I rip out and sometimes I just go with the flow... and they still cover me... Happy New Year dear Mary! love from a and j

    ReplyDelete
  30. I figure I'm just good for crazy quilts anymore. I can't go wrong and don't fuss when the corners don't come together. Beautiful quilt, but even warmer sentiments. Thanks, Murr, may you be wrapped in comfort all of 2012.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I read this yesterday and it has hung there in my brain since...the notion that we grab fabric from everywhere in our lives and weave together a blanket of our own design. (I know, 'weave' is the wrong word, but it seems to fit.) It explains a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Amazing. You just answered the question I stewed over all day yesterday: What are old people supposed to think and how are they supposed to feel? Yours is as good an answer as I've found and it means I need meds and fabric pieces, ASAP.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I've tried my hand at quilting, but gave it up after a few awful efforts because of that very problem you mentioned with putting stuff in wrong and having to rip it all out. Ditto with knitting. Embroidery, on the other hand, is something I can keep at for ages, maybe because it's such a totally rubbish skill to develop.

    Love that quilt with the blue stars. I'd love to have that on MY own bed.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Your quilt is gorgeous. Happy New Year, and may your seam ripper be so unnecessary, and sit abandoned on a shelf so long, it'll sprout cobwebs, and you won't even remember where it is.

    ReplyDelete
  35. She stitches. She puts people in stitches. She's a talent with whom to be reckoned. Or rectomed depending on which topic whe's sharing with us today. Either or anyway, it's a pure pleasure! Happy New Year, may your stitches not be crossed unless you wish them to be.

    ReplyDelete
  36. How beautifully perfect - idea, story, photos - it is a treat to read such a wonderful post!

    ReplyDelete
  37. Murr, that quilt is a beaut! I'm sneaking up on being a quilter: I've got a new sewing machine sitting there (instructions unread and machine untried)(and how I wish I had kept Mom's old Singer), and enough material amassed for six quilts. Now for the courage to make that first cut. Love your metaphors - and your cat.

    ReplyDelete
  38. And once again, I read Murrmurrs and find my meaning in life. You are brilliant, you know.

    ReplyDelete
  39. "Optimism over truth." The bane of the knitter's life too. We ignore "make a swatch" at our own risk.
    Fantastic quilt! I tried quilting once---way too much perfection is required. Every corner must match up right. I sent a box of squares partly put together to my sister, who sewed it all up perfectly, and instead of keeping it as I had intended, sent it back to me. She probably hated the sight of it.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I admire your patience and creativity, Murr. I hate to sew.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Man, I drop off the grid for a couple days, and look at all the nice comments that waft their way to my door.

    A few observations: I don't know what mistakes Deb Ward makes, but they aren't in her paintings, which you should all go look at right now at her site.

    We all have unfinished projects but Merrilymarylee is here to make us feel a lot better about that. Thank you. Now get on it.

    Jerry and Nance, what are old people supposed to think? We should know by now, right? Uh, especially you, Jer. :)

    Tiffin, courage, schmourage. Take a class. They're cheap. You'll get the hang of it right away.

    Gol, knittergran, I tried knitting once and was completely and thoroughly bamboozled. I still haven't recovered. Gigi, I used to hate to sew when I was young and in a hurry, but I got over it. Both the young and the in the hurry.

    Happy new year everyone! Let's meet up again right back here.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Beautiful Murr! I wish I knew how to make those... makes the room a lot warmer :o)

    ReplyDelete
  43. "My brain values optimism over the truth." That describes my mother-in-law perfectly, and she drove me crazy. But you are funny. Tater sure looks like he's having fun.

    Looks like you need to get your fanny on over here to Paducah come April to the annual AQS Quilt Week. We are overrun by women in their dotage trying to figure out the best way to piece together their reality. Really, it's just the thing to dissuade folks of any notion they might have of thinking they've seen quilts before. You haven't till you've seen these. We non-quilting artists are always glad for the chance to meet others from another medium.

    ReplyDelete
  44. You are truly multi-talented, Murr! I envy your patience with quilting...the only craft I'm good at is crocheting...

    Happy New Year to you and Dave!

    Wendy

    ReplyDelete
  45. And I've become hooked on quilts of a different kind (since I couldn't sew to save my life). Here in North Carolina are about 400+ barn quilts of every size, pattern, and color that you could imagine. My goal is to find as many as I can and take snapshots of them.

    Maybe that could be a project for Dave to create an outside quilt while you work on the inside ones?

    ReplyDelete
  46. My gram, who was the first white child born in the western Washington valley where she lived most of her life, was not only college educated and a local news reporter for the Bellingham paper but hosted quilting circles around her big dining room table. I can visualize all those old cotton prints in their second life being stitched by many hands and accompanied by neighborly voices. In her last decade she graduated to one-piece quilts sewn by machine, her old treadle-operated Singer. Though mine was made with new fabric, it's now in rags, but I can't throw it away.

    ReplyDelete
  47. That is an amazing quilt. I am afraid I cross stitch but do not sew.

    Happy New Year.

    ReplyDelete
  48. WOW, Murr....

    Brains, wit AND a steady seamstress hand...all rolled up in one package. Dave must be one lucky manthing.
    That is one gorgeous quilt.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Sorry, I just blacked out there for a second with the juxtaposition of "package" and "manthing."

    Karen, very cool. I just looked up "barn quilts." I tried to get Dave to make our patio in a bear-paw pattern but he didn't.

    ReplyDelete
  50. LMAO....oh, I can see how that would happen. Sorry. Take a pill and sit a while...it will pass.

    ReplyDelete
  51. "Sit a while...it will pass." Do you know who you're dealing with here?

    ReplyDelete