The Quilt Scout

by Mary Fons



Column #19

You can tell a lot about a person by their answer to the question: “What’s your very first memory in life?”


I believe this is because it’s tough to remember the first thing that happened when we emerged from the fog of being a baby. That was a long time ago, for one thing, and the majority of the things we remember in our lives are partly fact, partly narrative. It’s not that we’re lying; it’s that time is weird and we have to remember what to get at the grocery store more than what being two was like.


Photo Above:Me and Mom: I know, right? Mary and Marianne circa 1981.


My first memory—or the one I’ve selected to be my first memory, anyway, and I’m 100% sincere about it—is this: I’m sitting on my mother’s lap, out on the farm where I lived for the first eight years of my life. We’re in a rocking chair in the living room of the white house, and she is hand quilting a wholecloth quilt. It is lavender and she is quilting intricate feather motifs. I can hear her heart beating in her chest, I can hear the vibration of her voice when she speaks either to my father or to my older sister Hannah, the two other members of my family at that point.


Photos Right: This isn’t the quilt Mom was quilting but was hand quilted nonetheless. The story of what happened to the purple wholecloth quilt coming in a future Scout.


What is fact for sure is that my mother did lots of hand quilting back in the day, and she absolutely made a lavender wholecloth quilt featuring her exquisite hand quilting; she could do sixteen stitches per inch, something I couldn’t have cared less of a flip about until now.


This is because I am now attempting to hand quilt for the first time, and I’m averaging about three stitches per inch. My hand quilting looks like sashiko, but I’m using regular hand quilting thread. It’s not good.


What’s really discouraging about this is that I’ve chosen to hand quilt this particular quilt because I think it’s one of my best ever, piecing- and design-wise. It’s a kaleidoscope in fizzy florals and a deep blue-black for contrast, and because I paper pieced it, my points look amazing. I thought to myself, “If there ever was a quilt to hand quilt, this be the one.” It’s also throw-size and I’m not the sharpest knife in the block of knives, but I know better than to attack a bed-size quilt with a small needle and a hoop.


Question: do hoops work? Because mine does not seem to work. The hoop is perfectly fine; I even got it as a hand-me-down from Mom. But my quilt stays tight in the hoop for approximately five minutes before sagging down again, which makes me think I ought to re-hoop, but aren’t I stretching my lovely quilt to tarnation? Perhaps my big, meaty paws are the problem; I’m going at this hand quilting thing with the delicacy of a bear. A drunk bear. A drunk bear who does not know what she is doing.


Photo Above: My quilt. I’m actually standing behind it, holding it up. It’s good, but it’s not good enough to float in space.


A wise thing to do would be to ask my mother to help me. She’s very good about helping me do things, e.g., walking for the first time, hand quilting, etc. But our collective list of things to do is Santa-on-Christmas-Eve long and I’m not sure if you knew this, but hand quilting takes a really, really, really long time. My quilt is in my periphery as I write this, and when I look over at it, I get this tired feeling, not because I don’t want to do it, but because I see in it being half-done for the next year of my life.


I don’t have a child, yet. I’m thirty-six, so there’s still time, even though my eggs are beginning to look at me with narrowed eyes. Misty and wistful as it sounds, I have a mind to allow myself as long as it takes to get this quilt hand quilted; perhaps I’ll have a baby on my lap at some point as I quilt and that tiny future quilter will sit on my lap and hear the sound of my heart beating.


First memory enters stage right.