It may sound cliché but quilting really does bring souls together. I began working for the American Quilter’s Society at the end of 2010. Although I knew much about the business of quilting, I was woefully unable to create anything that would earn as much as a “B-“ in any grade-school art class.
Since I work with quilters, I set a goal to make a quilt worth sharing, in my spare time. With five kids at home, spare time to me is like Moby Dick to Ahab – always within reach, but never close enough to snag.
I doubted I’d get enough time to make a quilt, since I was told they took weeks/months. It surely wouldn’t be possible without a sewing machine. Sure, hand-sewing is possible, but not for someone like me. My fine-motor skills would lose a challenge with a tree sloth.
So, this beauty presented itself to me at a yard sale.
Here’s my 1940’s Blue Grass sewing machine made by Belknap Hardware Company in Louisville, KY. With the solid, wrought-iron frame, the odds of it breaking under my uncoordinated control are unlikely. Plus, it just looks pretty, and the wooden case is in excellent condition.
It included so many attachments, and even the users’ manual. Don’t tell any of my friends, but I actually read the manual! On doing that, I successfully stitched some straight-ish seams. My wife looked at them and feigned pride, as any good spouse would do when shown two squares stuck together.
Soon, the baby fussed, and I was back to being a father and husband. Thus was the end of my sewing endeavor for a while…. The machine sat on the path to my office as a teasing reminder of dreams yet unfulfilled. Someday, I’d get time and a reason to sew… maybe.
One weekend, we took a trip to Southeastern Kentucky to visit my wife’s grandparents. We had a great visit; my kids had a wonderful time with the great grandparents.
Grandpa West is a talker, and loves to share stories of his life. Since the only two grandparents I knew passed away a long time ago, listening to him was a joy. He told about buildings in my town of Cincinnati that he built years ago as a brick-layer and mason. After a few hours, he asked me what I do for work.
The mention of “Marketing Director” leads to questions about what that means. Then eyes glaze over when I explain about Circulation, Renewals, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Direct Response… See, you did it too!
To save time, I just said “I work for the American Quilter’s Society”. Instead of glazed eyes and a yawn, Grandpa’s eyes lit up and he jumped from the couch (jumped is a relative term when you’re in your mid-80’s…). Since he made a quilt for each of my kids, I knew he was a quilter. But I had no idea he’d made over 150 quilts, and given almost all of them away.
He started showing me several of his quilts in the house. Many of his earlier quilts were more elaborate, using patterns and blocks requiring more cutting and piecing. He was especially proud of one that was on the bed in the spare room, which was very nice. Then he flashed a smile, and he pulled one from the closet that he was really excited about. It was his state quilt, with each state and the year they joined the union.
With the false humility of an artist, he was sure to point out the areas he didn’t think he had done well. Plus, apparently one of the states had the wrong year. Of course, only the creator knows where things could have been better, and to me they were wonderful.
Grandpa spends a lot of time cutting hundreds of squares and sewing them together quickly to make as many baby quilts as he can. He does this so he can sew a lot at a time. Then, he walked me into another room and showed me boxes with thousands of blocks he’s cut for quilts. Without batting an eye, he grabbed a handful of 2.5” squares with his giant mallets of hands, gave them to me, and said simply, “Make me something”.
When a man with fists the size of your head tells you to do something, you do it. Even though I’ve been married to his granddaughter for years, but it’s never too late for an opportunity to impress… I determined to make him proud. Plus, now I didn’t need spare time for a quilt, I was making something for Grandpa!
This challenge was just what I needed to get started quilting. Everything was square, rather like a spreadsheet. After convincing myself that the quilt was just a colorful spreadsheet – and I love spreadsheets! – I was all set. Plus, all the cutting was already done. All I needed to do was sew some straight lines. But, I had to make it unique.
My wonderful wife had taken a picture of my five kids with their great-grandparents while we were visiting. Isn’t this just the cutest picture ever! This was just the thing I needed to personalize the quilt. I decided if I could make a square quilt, and leave room in the center to put this picture on fabric, it might just look decent. So, let the sewing commence!
After I got most of the pieces together, I printed the picture onto a fabric transfer we had in our craft supplies. It came out a little rough – apparently this only works on cotton, and the plain fabric I had was something else. Oh well, live and learn.
It took a few evenings of sewing and work to get the top put together. For a first time, it didn’t turn out too badly. Of course, when looking at it closely, it’s apparent that not all the seams hit each block, and there are a few gaps. But I hear that can be fixed in the quilting.
Now onto the greater challenge, how am I going to finish this quilt? Through pure, dumb luck the top came together decently. It would be too risky to tempt fate twice, so I decided to bring it with me the next time I went to the AQS office in Paducah.
Linda Lasco met me at the office early one day, so we could set this up on the longarm machine donated so graciously by HandiQuilter. She taught me how to use the machine, then I actually did the quilting. I finished the stitching just in time to head up the hill and meet with the CEO of HandiQuilter, who was in the office for some meetings. I was pleased to report that I quilted my first quilt on his machine, and it didn’t turn out too badly.
With a little coaching on how to bind and finish the quilt, I was able to complete the quilt at home. We sent it with my father-in-law the next week when we visited with his parents. Apparently it was received with rave reviews.
Grandpa West still looks at it with some astonishment, asking “How did he do that?” I can only assume he’s referring to how former carpenter, teacher and now marketing geek could make a quilt that didn’t look like a tree sloth had made it.
Grandpa West, you are a blessing to my children, my wife and me. May all those who receive your quilts as gifts treasure them as much as we treasure you!
Tim Langlitz is the AQS Director of Marketing at our Cincinnati, OH, office. Let Tim know what you think of his wonderful first quilt.