Where do ideas come from?
In January I noticed that a lot of the quilters I follow on Instagram were participating in a “scrappy hearts quilt along.” (Click on the link to see the first post about the quilt along, which was hosted by Emily Dennis.) All those images of cute, sweet, scrappy (mostly pink) patchwork made me think I haven’t ever made a quilt to put out for Valentine’s Day…
For about five seconds I could imagine my own cute, sweet, scrappy, pink patchwork heart quilt.
(a screen shot of the #scrappyheartsqal hashtag on Instagram to illustrate what I mean. SEE! Cute! Pink! Sweet!)
But then reality smacked me in the face. First off: I am still deep inside making my black and pink quilt. I don’t need another pink quilt. (To reality I said: that’s true! But I don’t have to make a pink one. I could make an aqua one. Or a purple one! All multicolor florals! All low volume! What about plaids?) Second: I get a little bit obsessive with scrappiness sometimes. Meaning, I’d start out intending to use my scraps, but then I’d think “I need something new” and then before I knew it I’d have made 27 trips to 5 different fabric stores and I’d have enough fabric to make six scrappy heart quilts, not just one, and I’d have spent enough to cover an airplane ticket to London. (To reality I said: that’s true! But…and I really didn’t have a comeback to that truth.) Third: Last fall I made three scrappy patchwork pumpkin hot pads with very similar design ideas (scrappy squares and a few half square triangles) and those things took me an entire month. If I were to make a Valentine’s Day quilt, I wanted something faster. (To reality I said: that’s true! But maybe with my new machine it would be faster?)
But reality’s biggest argument was this: I really don’t love Valentine’s Day. I’ve written about this many times so there is no need to rehash all the reasons, but I can sum it up like this: having not married a romantic man, I have zero hopes for romantic Valentine’s Day gestures, and even though he shows me he loves me in many other ways on many other days during our life together, my bitterness at wanting traditional romantic Valentine’s Day gestures anyway flares high in February. My bookshelves are a lovely romantic gesture (if you’ve read A Man Called Ove you know my reference) but sometimes a girl wants overly priced flowers or expensive jewelry—and it annoys me that I still have that want even while knowing it’s manufactured by rose sellers and jewelry stores and Hallmark commercials.
Valentine’s Day, then, sparks annoyance with myself and frustration with my husband (I mean, really…would it be that hard to just get me some damn flowers?) and then more annoyance at myself for being frustrated with my husband (because bookshelves) and then I also remember it isn’t about Valentine’s Day, really, but about unmet needs (on both sides) and just how hard marriage really is and then I’m sparked and frustrated and annoyed and sad and…yeah.
So to reality I thought that’s true! And then I thought I moved on.
But those cute, sweet, scrappy patchwork quilts still kept popping up in my IG feed.
And part of my brain must’ve continued working on it, because one morning I woke up with an idea.
What if I made a quilt that was representative of my relationship to Valentine’s Day? What might that look like?
(And, yes, I confess: one of my first ideas was just a whole-cloth quilt, black cotton and broken hearts stitched in black thread, but then I thought too bitter, Amy and besides, my almost-50-year-old eyes could never manage that.)
I made a list: angles. Sharp edges. Corners and lines almost lining up, but not quite. A tiny bit of sweetness—candy hearts and all the times I made pink heart sugar cookies with my kids—but not too much. One of my favorite Valentine’s Day conversations, when Kaleb was six or seven and his favorite color was purple, but he was worried it wasn’t a “boy color,” so he asked me if he could wear his purple shirt to school on Valentine’s Day because “on Valentine’s Day purple is a Valentine color, not a girl color” and then we talked about color and gender and personal choice and individuality (and he wore his purple shirt of course). So, purple. And, yes: pink, but mostly bright, cool, deep pinks. Black, of course. Maybe even a little bit of silver (there’s a story there, too, but it would take too long to tell it here). Flowers of some sort, but not overtly floral, to represent that resentful wish for flowers. I wanted it to be edgy and maybe just a little bit punk. A rebellious quilt.
But I also wanted to keep in mind my other little nudges from reality. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on this quilt, or cause a huge influx of new fabrics to enter my stash. And I didn’t want to spend months making it, either.
By now, with all the rethinking and pondering, it was almost February, but I decided: I’m going to try to make a…I’d already stopped thinking of it as a Valentine’s Day quilt. Instead it is a quilt that is a textile interpretation not only of my complicated feelings about Valentine’s Day but also, somehow, of marriage (we were married on February 13 so the two days are tied together anyway), and of the contrast of what society—movies and romance novels and TV shows and social media posts—tells us what love is supposed to be like and what the reality of love really is. Also me right now and me thirty years ago and me loving my husband and my kids but also those memories of other, younger, wilder loves I still carry with me. Cotton and softness both, unpredictable lines but some sort of structure anyway.
Am I thinking too much? Am I being dramatic? Reading too much into a quilt? Or just…silly?
I don’t know.
My life hasn’t followed a pattern. It hasn’t lined itself up in neat columns and rows. It hasn’t been sweet, always. There is a part of me that feels I have never been loved or seen for who I am, truly—and maybe everyone on this wide world feels that way, too, I don’t know. Has it been bad? No. But I can’t pretend it has been all sweetness and light, either.
Where do ideas come from?
Can making a quilt be cathartic?
Can pieces of fabric cut and then made into something different mean something other than just another quilt someone might cover themselves with?
One afternoon when I was quilting this quilt—I do all of the piecing in my craft room, but my desk isn’t big enough for the actual quilting and so I do that at the kitchen table—Kendell walked down the hall and said “I had a great idea! Why don’t you start selling your quilts?”
He said this in an encouraging way, full of certainty that someone would want to buy something I made. I tried to explain to him the realities of selling items like quilts, how I’d have to have an Etsy shop or develop a website, and how probably only people with name recognition sell their quilts, and I didn’t even go down the rabbit hole of how much a quilt actually costs to make. He would not be deterred, though. He was certain I could sell my quilts, starting with that one, with this one I’d been working on all month.
(All of those thoughts and the creative(?) process that brought me to this idea were in my head, and in my notebook, not in our conversations so he has no idea about this quilt’s meaning, just what it looks like.)
And then I laughed a little caustic laugh and I said “listen! This quilt is a representation of my interpretation of modern love as it is influenced by consumerism! No one will want to buy it!”
And he said “you should have more belief in yourself and besides, that’s a weird thing to say about a quilt” and then he wandered back down the hall.
And then I laughed for real because that is it in a conversation, a summary of what led me to make this in the first place, of how it is to be married to someone for 28 years and have the history of unimaginable anger and unspeakable love stored in your body, of all the ways we try to see each other’s way of seeing but almost never do because we are two different people. All the times I have been shattered and then put myself back together and he has, also, and how for us it hasn’t been smooth or perfect or light but work. And how I don’t know if that is really how all marriages are, despite the Hallmark ads and the husbands buying roses at Costco. Maybe that, really, is why I can never love Valentine’s Day, because I am unable to pretend, even for just February 14th, that marriage is represented by cheesy conversation hearts and velvet boxes of chocolates.
I can’t pretend.
For me, for us, it has been angles. Lines of communication almost matching up, but not quite. Stitching ourselves back together and trying again. Starting at entirely different points but sometimes, sometimes, crossing anyway. Meeting up, moving together. Clashing, figuring it out. Laughing at ourselves, sometimes. Bitterness, sweetness. History and tomorrow, bound up in acid pink.
That is why I couldn’t make the cute, scrappy quilt.
That is what I tried to put into this quilt.
(PS: I sat down to write this blog post thinking I would write a short introduction and then a tutorial. Obviously that got away from me. Tutorial next post/tomorrow.)