I made my first quilt when I was 7 years old. The pattern was a traditional Log Cabin pattern with red center ‘hearths’ surrounded by logs from old men’s dress shirts. I don’t have that quilt anymore. I don’t have a picture of it. It probably looked similar to this:
The quilt started out as a rag wrapped around the spare tire of a friend (we’ll call him “E”) of my parents. E had a flat tire and used our driveway to change to the spare. I remember being interested in the rag as soon as he pulled out the tire.
I asked E if I could have the quilt. I remember him saying, “This ol’ rag? Well what will I wrap my tire in if I give it to you?” I immediately ran to my room and pulled a blanket (pink, from Kmart I think) from my bed and gave it to him. We made the trade.
My mother took this transaction as a teaching opportunity, something she did with every situation in the lives of her children. We went to the library to learn about HOW TO CLEAN FABRIC PROPERLY. The quilt was full of dirt, grease, and motor oil. We asked people for advice. Actually, we talked about these things and then I asked. I wrote down the advice. I made notes. I washed and washed again.Once the quilt was clean, we could see what needed repair. More study. More advice. There were trips to the thrift stores and garage sales for old shirts. Hand sewing front and back to get it right.
I imagine it took several months to finish. I don’t really remember how long, just that it was very pleasing to see the quilt grow and change under my hands. When it was finished my mother proudly showed it to everyone who visited, “look what my daughter did,” and her retelling the story of all the effort and attention I put in the piece.
E returned for a visit and I ran to show him the quilt and tell him everything I had done to bring it back to life. I was so proud!
If you are wondering why I don’t have the quilt or a picture of it, I have to say, because E took it back. He said it was his grandmother’s work, and he took it back. I think he left without saying anything to my mother. I remember being puzzled that he would use it for his spare tire.
When my mother realized what had happened, she was flame throwing mad. I don’t know what happened, what conversations were held without children present. I know she told me she wasn’t mad at me. I know she told me that adults do mean things sometimes.
What I do remember is saying, “Its okay, mommy, I can make another one.” I did make another. I kept making more. I like to think my mantra about art making came from that moment of sadness, and thinking about what would help my mother not be angry any more. I can make another. Always, make another.