Scott and I were married in Nebraska in 1994, and all of my first- and second-degree relatives came down from the northland, quite possibly because ours was the first wedding of my generation. I am the third-eldest cousin on one side of the family, and the eldest on the other, and a lot of my cousins were still living at home. (Attendance was spottier at the ones that followed once everyone moved out and couldn’t easily be gathered and piled into one family station wagon anymore.) I was rather surprised at how many made the trip, actually. But my parents held another reception in Minnesota later that summer for all the other semi-local relatives and my folks’ friends that didn’t, or couldn’t, make the trip. Which meant another round of gifts, which we weren’t too upset about, even if we DID get no fewer than 3 picnic sets and multiple picture frames, and even if I couldn’t have identified most of the relatives giving them to us in a police line-up.
Among those gifts was this quilt, once beautiful and now more than a little worse for wear.
It’s been used quite a bit over the last almost-19 years. Had it only been used to keep the bed warm and pretty, it would probably be in better shape, but we have dogs, and when you have dogs, you have muddy paws, occasional vomit, and, when they’re puppies, a few accidents, on the bed. And you have friends with new babies who need a quiet place to nap in a childless, extra-bedroom-less house (our extra rooms are our offices), and while babies don’t usually have muddy paws, they do have the other two things. Which means that this quilt has been washed many, many times. It’s not art; it’s linen.
I’d noticed it becoming raggedy some time ago, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. I’m not a quilter; I can barely sew–my sewing machine hates me for its own inscrutable reasons. So I kept putting it on the bed, and as the holes multiplied and got worse, it got to the point where I was embarrassed to put it on the bed, but I didn’t want to throw it away. It was still pretty, in a rough, wabi-sabi kind of way, and it was warm, and I still liked it.
So I decided I would find all the holes, and embroider them with a satin stitch in a complementary color, and in doing so, would prevent further unraveling in the laundry, and keep my quilt functional, perhaps for another 19 years. And by embroidering it, I could do it by hand, which is how I do most of my mending anyway. It ain’t pretty, but it generally works. Unlike my demon sewing machine.
I knew it would take a long, long time to fix all the spots that needed fixing, and figured I’d do a little bit here, a little bit there, and eventually, it’d be done. So I went through every square inch of the thing first, and put a safety pin everywhere there was a hole, so that I wouldn’t lose track later and miss some. I was surprised to find that 95% of the holes were in the same color fabric; just the one had failed, again and again.
It sat like that on my craft desk for weeks, until the other night, after I’d done some other mending in service to a fantasy of seeing the top of said desk. I decided I’d mend quilt holes until bedtime, so I dug out my embroidery hoop and set to with the cornflower blue floss that didn’t match perfectly, but was close enough.
I haven’t done any embroidery in awhile, but I picked the hobby up a few years back and found that I liked it. It was meditative, and gratifying to see my progress as I worked. And it was simple enough that even someone who generally fails at all the textile arts (the aforementioned disastrous sewing; and knitting and crochet makes my arthritic knuckles act up) could do it. I cannot sew, but I can embroider, dammit. I could rebuild this quilt. I had the technology.
As I worked on it, carefully tucking in and hiding raveled edges, I was struck by the thought that fixing this quilt was a very “me” thing to do. I don’t like to give up and throw something once beautiful away. I’m a fixer; I have a deep need to make things right, to smooth over, to find peace somewhere in the middle of my side and your side, or inside and outside. I try to bridge gaps, and stitch up rifts. Often, it’s not up to me, but I try anyway. I also let a lot of things go, in the hopes they will not get worse, but sometimes they do, and you have to confront something directly, use the tools you have, and try now, because waiting any longer will leave things unsalvageable.
I’m working on this quilt with the full knowledge that by the time I finish it and throw it in the wash again, new holes may make themselves known; and that I may ultimately have to let it go anyway, despite my best efforts. Or I might be successful, and it may last, but it will not be unscarred, trails of a foreign blue forever marking the weakest spots. I don’t know how it will turn out; all I can do is do it, and see what happens. Which is pretty much the case with everything, isn’t it?
I thought I was mending a quilt; I didn’t expect to be learning while I did it.