Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Anatomy of a Quilt

It began sometime back in the eighties in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a young girl, I had purchased sale fabric to make a bedspread as one of my personal progress goals (a Mormon thing). It was planned to be one of those frilly, calico numbers with many, many ruffles. Unfinished, thank god, it found a home buried deep in my hope chest.

Several years later, my father personally delivered this chest, complete with all of its forgotten contents to me in New York. I then lived in a 6-floor walkup, cold-water-flat on the edge of Alphabet City. The bathtub was in the kitchen, the toilet was in a closet on the other end of the flat, and gates secured my windows. I had no money for furnishings so discarded boxes improvised for curtains, giving my home the lovely effect of a crack house. I did, however, have a sewing machine. With a casing and hemmed edges, the unfinished bedspread soon replaced the dark and dusty cardboard.

Yards of fabric still remained. A found scrap of wrapping paper with an image of an antique quilt became my design inspiration. I had no television at the time so I often spent evenings listening to a local jazz station while hand-sewing hearts onto squares of fabric. Packs of those small squares traveled with me everywhere, on the subway, in the breakroom at work, and on park benches. It was years before I had completed enough squares for the quilt top. By then, my taste had grown up and out of hearts and calico. Again, it was buried at the bottom of the chest.

Where was I when I had finally sewn the pieces together? I’m not sure, but it may have been in the small, Brooklyn studio I occupied between relationships. It was there that I would rebuild my soul before corrupting it again through empty relationships. Loneliness is great motivation to work a project. While not proportionate, the completed dimensions would fit a double bed, although at the time I slept in a twin. I must have felt optimistic. Alas, I ran out of fabric at about the time a new man came along. Neatly folded, the unfinished quilt returned to storage.

Years passed, as did the man with his trendy, Upper East Side apartment. Rejected and broken, I returned to the simplicity of Brooklyn with its big, shady trees and wide sidewalks. Quilting stores were in vogue along Seventh Avenue and I would often wander in to touch the fabrics and drink in the patterns and colors. I had started and completed many other projects, yet the quilt remained unchanged.

It moved with me from apartment to apartment. I married, moved, moved again, bought and moved into our first home (an apartment). Had a child. A daughter. Oh joy, the quilt should be for her. I took out the old quilt top only to consider it briefly. I returned to its dusty place as I went back to school to finish my degree and took care of my baby girl.

A year later my small family and I packed our belongings once more, including the forgotten quilt. This time we moved out of the city, out of state, where we have settled in Chicago. This new place was disorientating. Sometimes it still is after four years. But as Chicago becomes more like home, I know New York less and less. We gutted and renovated a loft in an old machinist building as my daughter was almost ready for her big girl’s bed. My first task in decorating was to finally resurrect the old quilt. It was cleaned up and with new flannel for the backing and cotton batting, it was set up on stilts in my center room. The work took months, but stitch by stitch, it was finally completed.

The colors are dusty and outdated. Because of this my daughter has not fallen in love with her hand-sewn quilt (not nearly enough pink). The fabric from my youth has now found its purpose as decoration in a vacation home. It is mostly forgotten.


  1. This is such a powerful, well-told story. I love the theme of continuity and history, and this really touches my heart for some reason.

  2. Great piece Dominique. You are so damn talented. You knit. You crochet. You quilt. Are you sure you are not a homemaking leader in hiding [hiding]? Hell, I don't even cook. What happened to me?

    Hope you are having a wonderful weekend.

  3. Thanks Beth & Danielle. I appreciate your comments. Beth - I'm not sure if it's talent. I try all these things, but haven't the patience to do any of them well. Kind'of like I can buy a $40 cut of dry-aged beef but still set off the fire alarms as it burns to smithereens. The little hearts on Chloe's quilt are already coming undone.

    The Relief Society wasn't too pleased with me. I could never get called to a position because I mocked them too openly for teaching crafts instead of performing real service. I also had a tendancy to accidently curse in meetings. Funny, the sunday school leaders and primary presidency fought it out over who was going to get me. But the woman's group didn't want to have anything to do with me. All material for a new essay, perhaps.

  4. I've read your blog, but never posted. I couldn't resist this time because, WOW. Really, Wow. Fantastic post. Your daughter is going to love and cherish that quilt in days to come. No doubt about it.

    P.S. You are gorgeous. I love that photo of you!

  5. Thank you Dusty (I love your stripper name - I can't reveal mine because, well, I'm stupid when it comes to passwords).

    I'm going through an identity crises, so check back in a few days, I may look different.