As a twenty-three year old who grew up loving dinosaurs and rolling around in the mud, quilting would perhaps be the farthest thing from your mind as an activity that I adore. Quilting was one of those things that I used to think only “old people” and “old timey people” did because they were bored out of their minds and trapped within the societal and gender roles assigned to them. Or, I used to think that it was too “girly” to do something like that, as it was mainly old women that I saw still doing it, and since I was a self-proclaimed tomboy, it didn’t fit my “style.” It certainly wasn’t something that I thought had any place among the iPhones and television screens of the twenty-first century. I didn’t show any particular affection for fabrics as a child (I was more of a pencil and paper sort of kid), nor was there any particular familial or generational connection to the practice. It was one of those impactful accidents, where something you figured you’d try once grows into a passion project that continues to this day.
I had picked up sewing as something to do with my hands while watching TV or talking with friends. I have a very nervous disposition, and my heightened anxiety often causes me to pick and pull at my skin, leaving deep scars across my body. As this is not necessarily ideal, sewing by hand became a somewhat low-maintenance task for my hands to do. I began with sewing clothing, but since I am not really a “dressy” kind of girl, I kept getting bored with having to constantly remeasure all of the fabrics I was sewing and with making clothes that I would never actually wear. I tried making stuffed animals, but I was really struggling to create three dimensional shapes that didn’t come out looking like misshapen amoebas, so that idea was out too. Embroidery seemed like too much stitching, and as I am a self-taught sewer, my stitching was about as beautiful as a train wreck. I still loved the idea of sewing, but I had hit a wall. That’s when my mother suggested that I take up quilting. Now, no one in my family quilts. Sure, my grandmother knitted (I mean, whose doesn’t), but that was really as far into the fiber arts as my family ventured. At first, I shrugged the idea off, because again, I thought it was something that only people from the seventeen hundreds did. But, seeing as I had no real alternative, I decided that I would give it a try.
The fabric section of Joann has always intimidated me. There are so many different kinds of fabrics, and a hundred different colors to choose from. I decided to wander over to the random fabric scrap bins, as I was trying to be thrifty with my money (college ain’t cheap these days). I dug through the remnants of leftover spools of fabric, until I found a little bound package of fabrics patterned with old newsprints and old advertisements. I am a history nerd, and the moment I saw them, my interest was immediately peaked. It was the first time that I had ever seen fabrics like this before, and I knew right then and there that I had found my first batch of quilting squares. I had absolutely no idea how to quilt, or if this was even the right fabric, but I figured “What the hell? Can’t turn out worse than some of my stuffed amoebas, right?” When I got home from the store, I pulled the fabrics out and arranged them on the floor. There were ten in total, but to me, there seemed to be infinite possibilities. I decided that for my first quilt, I would cut the fabric into triangles, and sew them together, creating a Tetris-like array of designs and patterns. As the scissors sliced through the woven fabrics, I felt a sense of excitement about beginning a new project, and the first inkling that I was becoming a quilting fanatic emerged.
I’m embarrassed to say that my first quilt took two years intermittently working off and on to complete. I was a college student, so it was usually during holiday breaks that I found time to sit down and actually work on the thing, but twenty-four months (and about seven more trips to Joann to get more fabric) later, I finally completed it. As I stood back from my creation, I noted how rough some of the seaming was, and how some of the patterns contrasted with others I had added on later, but to me, it was a masterpiece. I had thought about giving up on the project altogether, but there hadn't been much else to do with my hands, so, little by little it fell into place. There it stood, a testament to hours of sewing by hand to give me a single blanket that I wasn’t even sure that I would use. But, as I held the crudely made quilt in my hands, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had never felt with any of my sewing projects before, and it was at that moment that I became a self-proclaimed patchwork girl.
I am working on a new quilt now, one which I have affectionately titled the “Cryptid Quilt,” and which features some famous monsters such as the Mothman and Bigfoot. It is more complicated than my first quilt was, with actual shapes and creatures that have to look a certain way to be recognizable from the background, but the confidence to start something as bizarre as this certainly came out of my first (somewhat) successful attempt at making a quilt. I still have my first quilt, affectionately folded up in my closet next to the blank space on the shelf where this one will live some day. I imagine that when the world gets back to normal, and when I can once again have guests over, that perhaps I will lay this quilt out for them to use. There is something strange about the idea of someone sleeping with something that you put so much time and effort into making, but also something really beautiful in its practicality. Like me, my quilt is somewhat misshapen, rough around the edges, and mismatched beyond belief, but somehow stands as one cohesive unit, able to provide warmth and protection from all who seek comfort underneath it. Quilting certainly is a strange pastime to take up in the modern era, but as I glance down at the random scraps of color shoved in my bag, I am reminded of how much I love quilting, and how excited I am to see (perhaps in another few years) how this new one will look when I sew the last piece into place.