Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Not a Quilt if it's Not Quilted

I don't know much about the writer Gene Fowler, except that he gained a reputation for impertinence in an interview with the Army scout and Indian fighter Wild Bill Cody, during which he spent more time inquiring about his many love affairs than anything else.

But Fowler did come up with one of my favorite quotes about writing. It goes something like this: It's easy to be a writer. You just sit and stare at a white sheet of paper until blood forms on your forehead.

(As a writer almost since I could, well, print, and the 6-year-old author and illustrator of a story called "Kippy the Kangaroo" that became a minor sensation in Mrs. Bastian's first grade classroom, I also like this, by P.G. Wodehouse: I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.)

Whether I was trying to rend something Plath-like on a notepad as a teenager seated at the kitchen table ... pound out something lucid in journalism school on an electric typewriter ... or tappitty-tap a client's annual report on my keyboard, I have experienced the very tangy sensation of blood dripping from my pores known as writer's block.

But I've never had quilter's block.

The problem with quilts isn't starting them. It's the finishing.

Not the piecing. The quilting.

I hate the quilting.

I know there are many who find the rhythmic rocking motion of needle through cloth layers that produces those tiny stitches soothing, therapuetic, Zen-like.

I stab and stitch. It doesn't sound pretty, and it doesn't look good, either.

Haunted by the specter of Unfinished Objects -- yes, UFOs -- and the idea that a quilt is defined by its quiltedness, I've hired professional quilters to finish my quilts. One time, my good friend even let me try her longarm machine, an experience that was as nervewracking and exhilarating as I imagine it is to be in a runaway car.

But now, I've taken quilting into my own hands, thanks to my embroidery machine.

I'd wanted an embroidery machine for at least a decade, although I had only some vague sense that it would improve my quilting. I really didn't imagine embroidering little flowers onto squares and then inserting them into my quilts. And I found most of the built-in patterns to look like Nixon-era throwbacks.

But I couldn't shake my desire. (For the machine. I've gotten over Nixon.)

With the advent of etsy, the world of embroidery designs opened wide.

So I went to my favorite sewing machine shop and took a couple of models for a spin.

Yeah, they're fun. But will I ever use them for quilting, I asked. I don't need a completely new hobby, like embroidering duckies on baby bibs.

"You know you can quilt with this, right?" the clever salesman said. He showed me a child's quilt with appliqued letters, all done on the embroidery machine. Then, he shoots! he scores! told me about actual quilt patterns I could buy that would emulate longarm machine quilting. The Elna 8200 was mine.

My contest quilt -- shown in my first post -- would still be just a top, a batt and a back if not for my embroidery machine.

And here's my latest. I made a long, summery table runner from a charm pack of 5-inch squares and quilted it with a sun motif  from Advanced Embroidery. I like the subtle texture that the embroidery/quilting adds, even though it's not an overall design.