112 Pieces, or so
The idea of constructing a quilt first came to me with a gift from my very important friend Michael. He was taking an architecture course for which one of the projects was to design a permanent home for his university’s quilt collection. Michael intuitively sent me a catalogue of the collection for my birthday, and thus provided the first real stimulus to the project currently under completion.
Although the catalogue’s illustrations of quilts emphasized the more elaborate museum pieces, a few simple block piece works gave me the idea that I might in fact have a hand at this craft. What made me so susceptible to the charms of quilting? The idea of working with fabric had intrigued me since the years I had lived in West Africa, where some of my happiest moments were spent going from bench to bench at the marketplace, looking at the bolts of choice lagos, the simple printed cottons of Senegal.
The actual construction of the quilt began late December as I visited my lover John at the hospital.
At this point it is absurd to begin a quilting journal, as the piecework is practically finished. At best all I could do is write a memoir on the quilt, but then there are so many details involved that I can no longer begin at the beginning. That, I suppose, has always been the charm of quilts, which stand on their own as silent biographies whose narrative can only be understood by the quilter. Unless the quilter kept a journal, her project (for it was usually a woman) would be a relic of a riddle to later generations who might appreciate the curiosities of fabrics or patterns chosen without understanding the stories behind those choices. Inversely, the quilter may be at a disadvantage for knowing too much of what there is behind the actual appearance of the work—well might the quilter envy the curiosity of the onlooker generations later, who reads mystery into a shirt scrap and some deep Freudian interpretation for an accidental pattern or color scheme.
The vantage point of an outside onlooker provides a point to begin this memoir of the quilt for the child of Debra Stretch and Mark Kitchell. As the child has yet to come into the world, the quilter hasn’t been able to take his or her tastes into account and probably wouldn’t wait to consult the child anyway. Interestingly enough, it is thanks to this unknown child that the quilt ever happened. As it was to be the quilter’s first project, the occasion of a baby gave the prospective quilter an excuse to make his first quilt a smaller project. The project thus shrank from a wedding quilt for Debra and Mark of 60” x 80” to a baby quilt of 40” x 50”. If the parents regret having missed out on a wedding quilt, they can only blame their reproductive precocity as well as their scheduling the wedding considerably in advance of their first estimate. Having thus missed the boat, Mark and Debra can only hope for the longevity of the quilter, who may be able to throw something together in time for their silver anniversary. In the meantime, perhaps baby will lend them his/hers as a lap warmer as long as baby rests on top, of course.
The size then is 50 inches in length by 40 inches in width, which have been very comfortable dimensions for a first-time quilter who deserves a modest début into this craft. It also allowed for a certain degree of mobility, since the majority of the construction has taken place during the quilter’s long vigils at the hospital bedside of his companion. If anything good can be said about John’s stay of over three months in the hospital, the quiet moments provided to the quilter for his craft may be a slight glimmer of the positive in that very difficult medical sejour.
As the hospital has provided the quiet time, so has the quilt provided a refuge for the quilter. Very little of anything positive can be said of the course of John’s illness. Many good people suffer, of course, and it is never fair, but these generalities couldn’t diminish John’s pain or the despair of his bedside companion. The quilt, with all the imperfections built into it by its neophyte creator, has been a faithful, silent companion through the nausea, tube feedings, injections, chemotherapy, surgeries and recoveries. It has brought some color into John’s room, and some comfortable finiteness of purpose to the quilter. When the quilter was powerless to do anything for John, at least he could make a stitch in the quilt. Even before the baby, who has been the unknown patron of the project, has any use for the quilt, it will have already served its quilter and companion very well indeed.
The size alone thus says a great deal about the quilt’s conception and creation (neither being immaculate). Another formative element in this quilt’s development (child psychology language—prospective parents and children alike must accustom themselves to it!) was the source for some of the fabric. The paisley prints originate, in fact, from handkerchiefs purchased by John, the quilter’s companion, at the Oaxaca marketplace after New Year’s, 1988…