Friday, January 11, 2008

So Little Time (Part 2)

I have to get all these stories down before we leave for England, so let's get right down to it, shall we?

I'll start with the quilting one. Now, don't panic -- it's not really about quilting, but in order to get the point across, I will have to tell you about the process involved.

I'm in the middle of making the first quilt I was prepared to keep. See, it's easy making quilts for other people -- the recipient of an original, homemade quilt is so pleased with it that he/she/they aren't worried about little flaws. As the maker of a flawed quilt -- well, I can be (cough cough) a bit self-critical.

But after several quilts, I thought I was ready to make one I could stand to look at even though I'd know where the mistakes were. I had a fat quarter set I'd bought on the Internet and the pattern that went with it. Basically, it had two different blocks (a Greek Square and a Providence Quilt block, for those of you playing at home) and four different color ways for each. That's means there were multiples of eight different blocks laid out in a 6x7 pattern: 42 blocks total.

After making all the blocks, I came up with an arrangement that pleased me. I then sewed the blocks together into rows of six each, then sewed the rows together in pairs, and then two pairs together, with the other three sewn together in another large piece. And that's where I'd stopped in November.

As you know from other posts, December wasn't a great month for me, and the whole thing just sat in my studio for week after week. I meant to get back to it, I really did, but I'd come to realize that there were small flaws in the construction that was going to be tricky when I quilted it. These flaws are the understandable result of several factors: I was sewing non-standard pieces (triangles, pentagons, and so forth) that had exposed bias edges; I'm still learning as a quilter what is hard and how to do those hard steps well; and I'm no perfectionist. (I'm thinking as I type this that it's pretty ironic then that I hold myself to perfectionist standards, hunh? There's a shortcut to neurosis, wouldn't you agree?)

So I was discouraged about the process. Somewhere, though, I had vowed not to start accumulating U.F.O.s (unfinished objects) meaning individual blocks that never quite get to the level of being one entire quilt top, or they make it to quilt top status, but never get quilted, or it's quilted but not bound -- that sort of thing. Thus, I was obligated to finish the quilt or else.

The weather plays a part here. Years ago, Hub 1.0 made me a basting table: three hollow-core doors painted a sunny yellow that fit together and rest on trestles. When it's a basting table, it has a large surface perfect for taping down the backing fabric, then the batting, then the quilt top in what's called the "quilt sandwich." This lasagna of fabric is then safety-pinned all over, making it ready for quilting. My basting table is upstairs in the loft of the barn, and while it's theoretically possible to set it up in the house, it would be a palaver. As the barn is unheated, I wanted a nice "warm" day to do the basting in. And that day was Tuesday.

I was determined to get this done on Tuesday, and as I had the pre-trial motion to do on Monday, I was burning some midnight (and 2 a.m.) oil to get the final bits of sewing done: put the last two slabs of blocks together, then sew on two borders (an inner border in a lovely leaf green, and the outer border in a nice, coordinating floral), including miter corners. I finished that Tuesday lunch time, then sewed the backing fabric, and hauled everything out to the barn around 3:00 in the afternoon.

Starman joined me in time to help lay everything out, but then he wandered off to sharpen the chainsaw. I had just started with the safety pins when I made this sad little noise. I'd known there were small mistakes with the construction, but I'd just discovered that the 42 blocks were not laid out in the pattern I had intended. I was heartbroken.

Here's where a long story gets longer.

I do some things pretty well. I can knit almost anything, I cross stitch almost as well as Coffee Jones (a professional, after all), and I make entertaining look easy. I take no credit for any of that -- my thinking is, if it isn't hard, why should I be praised?

I do some things badly. I can't play a musical instrument; when I was a small child, I would get so frustrated that my stubby fingers couldn't make the piano sound the way it did in my head, I would break pencils. I can't speak (or read) a foreign language. I can't tat (obscure lace-making technique -- I tried to teach myself but couldn't get the hang of it). And those things I don't do well, I just don't do.

Quilting is the perfect fulcrum to this teeter-totter: I really, really, really want to make quilts. And I can't do them as well as I would like. Were I still seven years old, pencils would be broken right and left. I know the EASY answer to this is to cut myself a huge break: It's quilting, not brain surgery! I should be happy that I can do it moderately well, and leave it at that. But that frustrated seven year old is alive & kicking inside me, and I really do have a problem with the gap between my ideals and my abilities.

When I saw that the I'd screwed up the block order, I could feel that tidal wave of shame and disappointment and frustration just over my shoulder. But Starman was there, and he heard my tiny cry of dismay. He came over to help me baste (which was the only reason I got done in time) and asked what the problem was. We then had this charming meta-negotiation about the conversation about to happen.

"I really need you to say something nice to me," I told him.

"Okay, but you can't correct me or tell me that I don't understand," he countered.

"Okay, but you really have to think about what you want to say. No falling back on the default of 'I really love you'," I insisted.

Done deal. He thought about it, and said that it reminded him of compiling software. He worked every evening and weekend on his principal software product, Sympathy, even though he had a day job in London. He'd get completely lost in the coding, working sometimes 12 hours at a stretch. When it was done, and he'd released it, inevitably some customer would write in about a bug Starman had missed. He would feel awful about this -- "gutted" as they say in the U.K. -- and just want to die.

It was a great conversation; among the best in my whole life. I talked about how no one in my family appreciated accomplishments, nor encouraged us through our struggles to improve. He talked about his perfectionism. It was very . . . well, healing. Before long, I loved that bumpy, ruffly, jumbled up quilt more than I can say. We even named it: the Harmony Triangle Quilt. We agreed we'd always remember the time in our lives, filled with a crazy lawsuit over a nearby triangle of land, when I made it. But most of all, I'll know it as the first quilt I forgave for being a lot more imperfect than I had wanted.

[I have photos but Google isn't letting me post them just at this moment, so I'll put them in another post.]

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