My life as a quiltmaker (for chronological order, read oldest post to newest)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

49. Suedecloth quilt

Life really can turn on a dime. Making quilts suddenly seemed a bit irrelevant when my younger brother suffered a stroke. It was immediately clear that he would never return to his job, and it gradually became clear that he would be living alone, an hour and a half away from where I live, with limited resources and limited abilities.

While he was still in rehab, I got a phone call from an interior decorator in my town who was moving across the country and wanted to know whether I had any use for hundreds of sample fabrics, beautiful silks and cottons, embroidered textiles of all kinds, wonderful colors...a real treasure trove for someone like me. All the fabrics were bound in sample books and would need to be cut out of them; paper labels and identification stickers would also have to be removed. Many hours would be needed to prepare them for use.

My brother had more hours than he knew what to do with as he sat alone in his apartment trying to come to grips with his life. So my work became relevant in a new way. Every week when I'd visit, I'd bring a batch of sample fabrics and take home the ones he'd cut apart. The repetitive action of cutting fabrics apart was soothing to him in the same way that the repetition of the quilting stitch is for me, a meditation of sorts. Spring-loaded scissors assisted him, as his stroke-affected hand could do no more than hold the fabric, while his less dominant hand did the cutting. Then I introduced him to the rotary cutter, and he would cut free-hand curves after selecting two fabrics and stacking them on top of each other; I would take the results home, stitch the curved pieces together, and then return them to him so he could stack them again and cut more curves. Finally, in an effort to keep things interesting, I brought out an extra sewing machine, which he learned to use despite being essentially one-handed. He could sew basic shapes together; as long as we allowed a lot of "leeway" in the seam allowance, I could trim the excess later.

He was smart enough to know that if I had to trim all the pieces he cut for me, he wasn't being much of a help. Since he really cared about doing useful work, I wanted to make some quilts in which I didn't have to do anything to the pieces he gave me other than put them up on a design wall and sew them together. The quilt pictured here is one of the results of that process; after the pieces had been arranged, they were top-stitched onto a batting and backing. It was a novel way for me to work, and we both appreciated the results.

During these visits my brother and I reconnected in a way we hadn't since childhood, reminding each other of events long-forgotten and talking about things that were important to us, as though we had all the time in the world. It turned out that he didn't have all that much time: barely enough to make a few quilts and pillows, but more than enough to create memories that will be with me always.

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