The Contrary Quilter

My mother insisted I learn to sew when I was young.  She felt it was a good life skill but of perhaps greater importance (important because this is the part I remember with the most clarity), she wanted me to learn because I was a very short child who grew to be a vertically challenged adult.  Knowing how to hem garments was considered crucial.

I may never have gained much in the height department, but I did gain a Herculean stubbornness and independence which resulted in sewing rebellion.  I detested sewing clothes — every pattern required adjustment so the finished product would fit.  And to be told I needed to know how to sew because I was going to be short was just the sort of statement to prompt me to do the opposite (if only that had worked with the growing part).  To say I was contrary is an understatement.

But I still lugged a sewing machine from apartment to apartment once I’d graduated college and moved out on my own.  My mother’s old reliable Singer 401 (gifted to me when she bought a Bernina) sat in a nice cabinet that looked like a small desk.  The desk part was handy for paying bills and writing letters back when people wrote letters.  And, on occasion, I’d use the machine to shorten a pair of pants.

My mother was (is) a quilter but I refused to consider being a quilter myself.  That contrary streak again.  I got it stuck in my head that darn sewing machine was for clothes making only and I was not making clothes.  Finding garments that fit properly in a store wasn’t always easy, but it was a heck of a lot easier than me trying to make them.  (Still is, actually.)

But everything changed in October 1998.  Someone I cared about was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  His liver, lungs, and other organs were also impacted.  He was given 30 days.

My reaction when loss occurs is to do something.  In the middle of the pain, action keeps my focus pointed outward. This particular ache pushed me to make my first quilt because the disease made this strong man weak, shrinking him at a rapid pace.

He lived 26 days after diagnosis.  He stayed warm under that first quilt for the last 10.


In the next year, I went on to make birthday quilts for my brother, my father, and my mother.  I made a small wall hanging as a wedding gift and an art quilt that is a conceptual take on the original master plan for the Austin, Texas airport (my day job is in construction management).

Austin Airport
Me.  Behind me is what I think construction plans should look like.

Production slowed in the years that followed but I still made a quilted cross; a college logo quilt; a screen printed center patch with rockers wall hanging for a motorcycle club; a hand dyed, quilted and machine embroidered skirt; and a motorcycle club chapter tribute quilt.  I wish I’d taken pictures to show you.  Except for the skirt and the airport, all were gifts.

A little age, a bit of wisdom, and a lot of love tempered my contrary streak.  When I could see past my stubbornness, I discovered an unexpected pleasure in sitting down at my sewing machine.  I can’t imagine losing that.  Creating quilts for others or to display as art work is a gift I was given, one for which I am very grateful.

In what way have you been contrary?  Did anything happen to change that?  

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