Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm making something that could last 100 years. What's a Quilt?

A quilt is a quilt. A blanket isn't a quilt unless it's quilted. A comforter isn't a quilt. A knitted or crocheted blanket isn't a quilt. Only a quilt is a quilt.

What makes a quilt a quilt? Trust me--you want to know this unless you want to offend someone who has a bevy of little needles and isn't afraid to stick them into soft parts that bleed. They stick their own fingers frequently, so don't assume they won't stick you if you offend their over-declicate though deservedly delicate sensibilities.

A quilt is three layers, sewn together. A quilt consists of a top, batting, and back, stitched together.

If it's knit, it's not a quilt. It's a blanket, it's an afghan, but it's not a quilt. If the top and back are tied together with bits of's not a quilt. It's a comforter.

I'm making a quilt for my wife for Christmas. It's a beautiful thing already, and I'm only in the quilting stage. It's not my first quilt. I think it's my fourteenth or fifteenth. I've been a quilter for almost twenty years now, and I'll admit I'm pretty good. Okay, false modesty aside, I'm very good.

Quilts tend to last a very long time because people treasure them. They should treasure them. I make mine by hand. Every bit by hand. Takes a long time to stitch the design through all three layers, and the stitching comes at a price. Hand damage is one price, if I quilt too long. You can see burst blood vessels on the back of my needling hand, and callouses develop on the tips of my fingers. I use the nerves in my fingers to tell whether my stitches have gone all the way through, which means I don't use a thimble. Wakes me up a bit when I stick myself, but it's worth it.

The quilt I'm making my wife for Christmas it a white on white quilt. The top and back are each made from one very large piece of cloth (nearly 10 feet by 10 feet), and the stitching--called quilting--makes the design. It can be washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer and will be stronger for it, for the first forty or fifty years or so. That's part of what makes quilts durable.

Like vampires, quilts don't hold up well to sunshine. This quilt is white, so sunlight won't fade the colors. It's still going to be vulnerable to sunlight because direct sunlight dries the cotton and that makes the fibers weak. If you have a quilt, please don't let sunlight fall on it on a regular basis. Eventually it will fade and fall apart. If you have to let sunlight fall on it, rotate it from time to time and keep the fading--which gives it an antique look--as uniform as you can throughout. Take it off the bed every once in a while and use something else as a bedspread.

If you're lucky enough to have someone make you a quilt, please don't ask them to make it large enough to cover your pillows and go all the way to the floor all the way around. I've stopped making quilts for most people because of requests like that. If you want a bedspread that covers the entire bed, frame, and pillows, get thee to a Walmart and buy a bedspread. Adding a foot or two on all sides increases the area of the quilt by a lot (simple mathematics), and offends the quilter. Quilters, by the way, who are people who make projects intended to span generations, have long memories.

Darn. Can't get started yet. I'm waiting for the recipient of the quilt I'm working on to go to bed. This huge white on white quilt, the one that takes me four hours to quilt a single square foot, is a surprise Christmas gift for my wife. I'm on a deadline. Soon I will start humming a lullaby...and I hope it puts her to sleep, and not me.

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