I have just finished a quilting marathon, making seven quilts of various sizes in 35 hours of quilting over the last week. This project had been on my plate since late last fall. I make and donate quilts to Vashon Youth and Family Services (VYFS), and my contact person there gives me names of families who could use some extra hugs and I make lap quilts for them. Usually the families are composed of one or two parents and one, two, or even three children of various ages. And usually I receive their first names, ages, and sexes as well as their favorite colors, occupations, hobbies, etc.
But this time I only received names, ages, and sexes, and on top of that it was a family of seven–a single mom and 6 children. There is an 11 yr old boy and five girls ages one through eight. I found the project daunting. I set up my quilts so that each child has fabric related to their interests, etc. and the parents have fabric from the children’s quilts as well as fabric related their interests. My theory is that even though someone is a parent, they are also an individual in their own right, something which parents of small children especially seem to forget.
This means that I make a family’s quilts as a unit, and the unit size of seven was hard to keep track of. The lack of information also made it difficult since I was trying to guess what people I have never met might like. And so I was stymied. I had other projects going, so I just kept putting this one away and hoping something would happen on its own.
Last Friday I mentioned this VYFS request yet again to my therapist. I had recently finished doing a set of four quilts for our Student Link (Vashon’s alternative high school) newborns and one sibling. Soon I will be planning quilts for our Student Link graduates. I needed to get this batch for VYFS started and finished, but quilting for me is a very creative process and it was beginning to feel like an assembly line production. My therapist suggested that since I had no way of knowing what these people might like that I needed to make the quilts in a way that satisfied my artistic and creative impulses, using fabrics I liked and patterns that I found interesting. She assured me that anyone would be thrilled to receive one of my quilts even if it wasn’t a design they would have picked on their own because my quilts are unique. They are fun and happy and bright and cheery. They are warm and soft. In a word, they are indeed portable hugs, which is what I call them.
So first thing Saturday morning I started in. I had earlier pieced the three smallest quilts, but now I started in on the other four. I used fabric that I had cut previously for other projects but never used. I tried new ideas. I sewed like mad and most importantly, I had fun! I worked straight through the weekend on them and by Sunday night I had four more tops pieced. Monday afternoon saw the making of the flannel backs and then pinning the quilts together, after a morning spent tutoring at Student Link. Tuesday I was able to cut and sew all the bindings. Wednesday had no time for quilting but by Thursday morning I was ready to quilt and I got all seven quilts quilted and squared. I quilt by doodling randomly on my long arm quilter. I sew the recipient’s name in the center, and then write words of encouragement in and around my doodles. It feels very much like dancing across the quilts and it is one of my favorite parts of the process, and also the fastest, even with my feline helpers. Then today I bound them all, and now the project is complete and more importantly, I have learned a lot about my creative process.
I am more inspired when I know the person I am quilting for. Barring that, I need to know something about the person, at least a hint. One of my favorite VYFS quilts is still a frog quilt I made for a five year old boy who raises frogs. It was fun! And I need smaller groups. I keep telling my students that if they have a big project, they need to slice it into smaller chunks. I do family units as a chunk so that I can have common themes, colors, etc. I do better with smaller units, and if I am asked to do a large family again, I will definitely insist on more information to work with.
I also discovered that sometimes I just need to get on with it. I need to find a way to make an adventure out of the project. This time I tried mixing strips with squares and some squares were made from triangles. I tried different widths on the strips. I used borders. One of them had all the strips and borders from the same fabric. The others have an assortment. I like the effects of both and will use them again in other designs.
I know quilters who are craftsmen and their quilts are quite beautiful, but not always what I, at least, would term art. I am not a craftsman in any sense of the word. I lack both the technique and the patience. My quilts are my works of art born from my creative juices and from my heart. The minute my quilting starts to look like a production line, even though I will say I am an efficient quilter, the joy vanishes. I have to play with the fabric and make it new and exciting. I think I have managed that with this set of quilts. The photos below show them from the smallest to the largest. The first two are 42″ square. The next two are 42″x48″. The fifth is 48″x52″. The sixth is 48″x56″. And lastly the mother’s is 48″x66″. These seven quilts will be picked up on Monday and begin their journey to their new home and I hope the family enjoys them as much as I have enjoyed making them (once I got going!).