Writing 101 – Day 2 – A Room with a View

The challenge: We’re all drawn to certain places. If you had the power to get somewhere — anywhere — where would you go right now? For your twist, focus on building a setting description.

With this whole wrist pain thing, I got to speak to a couple nurses this past week to get some help with pain management and preventative measures.

On the follow-up call yesterday, I said, “Hey, I can’t have this! I’m a quilter!” and the nurse told me about how she went over to her Grandma’s house as a teenager to help her do quilting by hand and tie quilts. I had to admit I had never done this – oh, but now, how I wish I had. Maybe I can imagine it . . .

Walking in the front door of her small house in town, I can smell that kind of musty, mildew smell that must have been because of the damp cellar. The air is thick with the smell of freshly baked cinnamon coffee holiday bread, a braided handmade delicacy she was famous in the family for.

I walk into the middle room, where she had her rotary dial phone on a green painted stand, an old green well worn sofa, her 1937 New Home sewing machine in the cabinet, the paneled walls, the corner table with crocheted doilies and family pictures – mom and Aunt Sarah as a baby, John’s graduation picture, my confirmation picture, and a few more.

On into the kitchen where the smell of coffee cake, as we called it, was overwhelming my senses. None of us could take one whiff of it without wanting to slice off a big piece and spread on an excessive amount of butter, and of course, immediately consume, with barely a breath between bites.

The table is set up with vintage fabrics, scissors, pencils, and cardboard templates cut out of cracker or cereal boxes.

She shows me a pattern, and together, we sit and trace and cut, and trace and cut, and trace and cut, stacking up the pieces as we go along into stacks of 10 or 20 so we can keep count. A patchwork quilt requires an insane number of pieces. Do the math. If you have a queen size quilt, 80 X 100 and are using 2” squares, that’s 40 squares x 50 squares – or 2,000 pieces. This task alone takes one or two sessions.

Then, since Grandma, I think, exclusively sewed the patchwork by hand and borders by machine, we start piecing. I can only guess how many sessions this would take, and I would be grateful she worked on it while I was in school or doing other things.

I can’t imagine the advice or tips she would have given me, since today I use rotary cutters and mats, plastic templates, and sew by machine all but the finishing touches on the binding – but I’m sure I would have picked things up quickly.

I can imagine once the top was all pieced, we’d do the quilt markings again by a thin pencil taking some larger templates from her box of patterns, these templates made from gift boxes and brown paper grocery sacks or brown craft paper. How excited I would be to finally get this quilt on a rack to quilt it!

Her racks were 4 long boards with fabric nailed on the edge, I guess to attach the edges of the quilt to. They sat on four racks that looked kind of like small saw horses with notches on top for the long boards to fit into. I remember there were screw down clamps. This part, I must admit, I’m at a loss to fill in the details of how the quilt was basted or mounted with backing and batting, as I never once saw this process happen. I believe the quilt sandwich was rolled up on two of the longer boards, so one could start quilting in the middle.

I know I would have struggled with everything – finding the right thimble, how to thread the needle,  how to best knot the thread, and finally how to make those perfect little stitches. I would have been frustrated by her agility and speed, and she would have encouraged me to just keep quilting – expertise would come with time and experience.

After quite a few more daily sessions, and her working on it in-between, I can see us finishing up, starting on the binding, and her letting me finish that part. And, voila! A new quilt. Since we worked on this together, I imagine this quilt would be mine, or would have already been earmarked for a wedding gift, a gift for one of her grandchildren, or just one to add to her stack (which I don’t think ever had many). And, then, perhaps, we would have started again, another quilt. Maybe this time, I had money from babysitting so I could pick my own materials, and she would help me pick a pattern and teach me how to get the right amount of fabric. Oh, so many things I could have learned.


Q-Tip #8 – The first step in completing a quilt is imagining the finished product.

And, here’s an example of something we might have made.



21 thoughts on “Writing 101 – Day 2 – A Room with a View”

  1. Being an avid quilter once up on a time myself, I can follow this. My grandma pieced quilts, too, but her blocks were more like 6″ square.

    I avoided her. I don’t know why, but she never liked children — especially not the children my mother produced. She came to visit sometimes, but took no interest in us except efforts at reform –and tell us how clever our cousins were. 🙂

  2. Christine, too bad your Grandma wasn’t friendly. Mine was, though she could get frustrated with a child asking too many questions. I remember her snapping at me once while she was babysitting and I can’t even remember how old I was or what the questions were. What can I say, I wanted to know things!

    Wished I had learned more from her.

  3. I love your story and can totally “see” the scene through your description.

    I also used to do some quilting although it was never my major craft. I still have two of the quilts I made.

      1. Karuna is Sanskrit. In 1989 I asked for, and received, a Sanskrit name from my spiritual teacher.

        Yes, I may visit quilting some day. I have that thought every time I look at the two quilts I have at home. One of them I made for my mother. It was returned to me when she died. The other one I made for my daughter, but by the time I finished it she had moved to India! A quilt is most definitely not need there. Both of them were the kind where every square is different. I don’t remember if I made others. I don’t think so.

      2. She lives in an ashram and the rooms are very small and simple. Wouldn’t work there. It will be here when and if she ever moves back!

  4. The coffee cake was real alright, I could smell the cinnamon. 😀 Lovely writing.

    2″ squares? yikes, it would take ages. I’ve just remembered I once started a large cushion cover with 3” squares cut into 2 triangles, all handpieced from leftovers.I didn’t get too far, a four or five rows, before I gave that away.

    Thanks for popping by my blog and following. I love reading about quilting and looking at quilts – maybe I’ll finish my pieces one day (with the machine).

  5. My grandma did a few 2″ square quilts usually broken up with some strips or larger blocks, check out my post Fanfare if you want to see really small grandmothers fans.

    1. That’s a gorgeous quilt, and your grandmother had a wonderful eye for colour, the peach is lovely. The white is very effective, bringing out the fanshapes. Thanks for directing me there.

      1. Christine,
        She did and I’m still working on that pink fan quilt, having trouble matching the pink for a border. Thinking of going white and with a curvy border, but taking the top to a hometown local quilt shop to see if maybe something can match.

  6. That’s a good idea, the white is so effective, and brings out the stitched quilting patterns beautifully. Or you could try adding another row of fan blocks all around, incorporating whatever pink you get for the border.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s