Badlands Quilt Talks!

We have all known that quilts tell stories, but did you know they are able to talk too? Some even SHOUT! My Badlands quilt is a screamer!

Way back in the early 90’s when my children were very young, I thought it would be adventurous and educational to drive cross country in our brand new minivan, following my sister-in-law and her two kids back to their home in San Diego from our home in New Jersey; just two adults and five kids, visiting the National Parks and camping along the way. It was a trip of a lifetime with many wonderful stories to recount 30 years later.

What I remember most about that trip was how awed I was with the Badlands. Visions of wagon trains pioneering through that beautiful yet treacherous terrain made my head spin. Set with perseverance and determination quite a few of them made it through to the other side. Many others were not as lucky.

Speed ahead thirty or so odd years to the summer of 2017, and I find myself back at that very same spot, and just as awed as the first time. Except this time I am alone, with only the ghosts of the trails to keep me company.

I began this cross country trip for two reasons, one to spend some of my retirement years enjoying all our country has to offer, and two, more importantly to arrive in Seattle for the birth of my grand daughter. Driving, listening to books on tape, pulling over for any interesting attraction that caught my eye, and marveling in our vast lands were the only things on my agenda… until I heard a voice while staring off into the Badlands.

It was quiet at first. It was female, she was humming contentedly, rhythmically as if keeping in time with a hand quilting project as the wagon swayed with the pull of the horses. Immediately I felt the urge to make a quilt.

The odd thing about this decision was that I was already collecting fabric on my travels. I had no intention of doing so, but the moment my car crossed the New Jersey state line into Pennsylvania I made the conscious decision to stop each day at a locally owned quilt shop in whatever area I was in, not to purchase fabric necessarily but more to soak in the talent and creativity of others. OK… so who am I kidding, what quilter can walk into a quilt shop and not buy at LEAST a FQ (that stands for a Fat Quarter to you non-quilters)?

Normally I gravitate to bold clear colors and lots of graphic design elements like polka dots and stripes, with bright white backgrounds as I am considered a ‘modern’ quilter. However, at this particular moment I chose to purchase some creams and tans with small tone-on-tone florals. Recently while flipping through a quilt book at a friend’s house, I had seen a quilt with those colors and took a quick photo for future inspiration. That vision stuck in my head as I paid for the fabric.

Now, a few days into my trip and another fabric purchase of tans and creams tucked into my trunk here I am standing in the Badlands with this woman’s humming in my ears and the urge to make a quilt. So guess what I did? Yup… I made a quilt.

It wasn’t easy. I felt like a pioneer woman with no pattern, no idea other than a photo from a book in my phone, no rulers, rotary cutter, self-healing mat or sewing machine. All I had was a pair of small scissors that I keep in the car for emergencies, a pencil, and a few pamphlets of where I’ve been. That night in the hotel I pulled out my fabric and meager supplies, and began forming a plan. Folding and cutting the pamphlets I made a rough pattern, drew around it with my pencil, and began cutting the fabric, little tiny snips at a time. It was laborious!

By the time I got to Seattle the quilt had been cut out and was ready to be sewn. Thankfully I gifted a sewing machine to my daughter-in-law for Christmas a few years back. Working around the joyful delivery of my grand daughter, tiling the floors of the condo, and dog sitting 2 big black dogs, I was able to sew the main top of the quilt together, in addition to the half square triangles needed for the border.

Each time I made a mistake, noticed a wobbly seam, or ACK sewed a fabric backwards, the calm female voice told me to leave it alone. “This quilt is not supposed to be perfect. It’s meant to have all the lumps and bumps and mistakes. Keep on sewing, don’t stop to fix it, just enjoy it”. Let me tell you how stressful that was! Really? To see a mistake and NOT fix it goes against every fiber of my being!!! Doesn’t the voice know that we current day quilters are JUDGED by other quilters and THEIR standards??? I sighed and continued calmly on.

Packing the quilt away in the back of my car, I headed straight home without another thought. Five days later I tossed it over the back of my sewing chair where it has happily stayed, until I got the flu four months later.

Feverish, achy, coughing, and fading in and out of consciousness, the quilt began to speak to me.

“Hey, wake up, I want to be finished”.

“No”, I said to myself.

“Yes. Now”.

“No. Go away”.

“NOW! NOW! NOW! I want to be finished NOW”!

“Ugh”.

It took three days, but I hauled myself up off the couch long enough each day to sew a little bit at a time finishing the border. Laying it down on the floor and placing the border around the edges I stepped back to take a look at my work. Something was wrong. The quilt looked sad. It wasn’t speaking. Maybe it was just this stupid flu playing tricks on me. I went back to bed.

The next morning the quilt was still on the floor, looking sad. I kicked the border around a bit and I swear I heard the quilt giggle. I moved the border around a little more creating an off center kind of thing, and again I heard giggles, then laughter. YES! The border was the problem; it was too predictable, too traditional, too planned. With a few more snips of the scissors, a couple of new seams, and turning some upside down, I recreated the border and sewed it on. I now have a happy quilt.

Happy Badlands Quilt

All that’s left is the actual quilting and binding. I’ve got the binding under control… it’s the quilting part that’s speaking to me now. My original plans were to hand quilt the entire piece, just like the women on the wagon trains did many years ago as they passed through the Badlands… but this quilt is insisting on being a bit more current day and wants a hint of machine quilting along with the hand quilting. Ah…. She wants it all! Typical female!

Check back while the story continues as the quilt gets ready for the ball (Quilt Fest) in April 2018.

Happy Quilting!

Deb