The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
OF PROUST, PROCRASTINATION, AND PIECING
Mr. Proust c. 1900, looking very Proustian.
Image: Wikipedia.The Quilt Scout is a column all about quilts, quiltmaking, and topics closely related. This particular installment is no different, but you’ll have to come with me while I recount a little backstory, first.
Remember in the cartoon “Happy New Year Charlie Brown!” when Charlie has to read War & Peace and write a book report on it?
I felt a lot like Charlie Brown a few weeks ago when I faced a grad school assignment to read Marcel Proust’s novel, In Search of Lost Time. My professor let us know before the term began that the book would be assigned; she was trying to be nice and give us a headstart, you see, because In Search of Lost Time is 4,215 pages long, give or take a few hundred pages, depending on the translation. We were assigned the longest translation. Naturally.
To my sort-of credit, I actually did start reading the book this summer, but I didn’t get very far because I had a lot of Netflix to catch up on. So, when I realized we’d be discussing the book in class in the coming week and I had a response paper to write, I lugged the brick over to the couch and settled in for a very, very long period of reading.
But it became clear within about 10 minutes that I was in big trouble. If I had nothing else to do for the next five or six days, sure, I could get to the end. But the last time I had five or six days with nothing to do but read, I was four years old. Those were the good old days.
What was I going to do? To read a book you have to, you know, read the book. You can’t take shortcuts. Yes, you can skim. Yes, there are Cliffs Notes and online summaries, but we all know none of this is the same thing. If you want to read a novel, you have to plunk yourself down and read the thing — and it takes the time it’s going to take. In my case, this amount of time was looking like 90,000 years.
But then, a flash of brilliance!
What if I could listen to the book while I did other things?? I could unpack the groceries, sort the laundry, do the dishes, tidy the bedroom, all while doing my homework! Maybe I couldn’t do my taxes, but I could at least … sew! I could work on my latest quilt!
Those are some good-lookin’ geese! Photo: Mary Fons
Suddenly, the prospect of In Search of Lost Time was not a chore at all, but a joy. I raced to my laptop and downloaded the audiobook from my public library (all hail the public library!), noting with some furrowing of the brow that Part I clocked in at eight hours. No matter: I had a beautiful afternoon of sewing and “reading” ahead of me and I was a very happy camper. I kept a pad of paper nearby and took notes as I listened. Score!
The quilt I was working on consists entirely of Flying Geese…that simple-but-elegant, timeless-but-versatile patchwork unit. I had cut up a huge pile of scraps into rectangles (4 ½ x 2 ½) and squares (2 ½ x 2 ½) and started to construct my flippy-corner geese. With the audiobook playing — I was super into the reader’s voice and the book really is wonderful — I began to sew.
You see, I had chosen to not draw diagonal sewing lines on my squares before placing them atop my rectangles. Please! I had hundreds and hundreds of those squares! I know, I know: Drawing a sewing line means far more accurate piecing and takes the stress out of trying to sew a straight line every time, but the prospect of sitting with a ruler and marking tool and drawing all those lines? Not this impatient quilter.
Except that my geese didn’t look very good. Sewing a straight line without any guide at all is hard — the more quilts you make, the more you realize this is true. I realized that if I wanted to enjoy my process, if I wanted to make a quilt I could be proud of, if I wanted to do it “right,” before I sewed another stitch, I needed to sit at the table and mark all my squares with a sewing line. Yes, all of them.
You see where I’m going with this?
There will always be shortcuts to take. We can skip chapters. We can forego guidelines. And we’ll get the gist of the book. We’ll finish the quilt well enough. My choice to listen to Proust is evidence of my being open to efficiencies and smart problem-solving, but the fact remains: Sometimes, you just have to park your tushie and take it sentence by sentence, square by square.
I marked them all, in the end — and it took as long as it took. Photo: Mary Fons.
It’s worth it, the taking of time. My life is enriched by really knowing one of the greatest books ever written — and my geese are kind of amazing. Oh, and anyone who knows In Search of Lost Time will like what I’ve decided to call the quilt:
Madame Swann, of course!