by Marie Bostwick
My first foray into quilting occurred more than twenty years ago. At the time, I was living in Texas, a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers, desperately in need of an activity that allowed me interaction with adults and conversations that didn’t involve the words “poo-poo”, “boo-boo”, or “no-no.”
When I saw that the local fabric shop was offering a beginner’s hand quilting class, I called a girlfriend, negotiated a babysitting swap, and enrolled. With infinite patience, the instructor taught me and the other novice quilters the basics of fabric selection, cutting, stitching, appliqué, and hand quilting. My first quilted table runner, with its wobbly seams and big, uneven stitches, wasn’t anything to write home about but I enjoyed making it and was proud of my accomplishment.
Even so, I made few quilts over the next few years. I liked quilting, but I hadn’t caught the quilting “bug”. Not yet. My real passion for the craft began about a decade later.
I was living as an expatriate in Mexico City. My family and I lived in an apartment building where (lucky me) I met two wonderful women, Cindy and Pat. They lived in the apartments above and below me, respectively – I was the creamy filling to their Oreo cookies. We quickly became fast friends, leaving the service doors to our apartments unlocked so we could easily run up or down the back stairs to talk, borrow things, and generally enjoy each other’s company. In many ways, it felt like living in great big girl’s dormitory.
Even though Pat and Cindy had never quilted, when I suggested we make a block-of-the-month quilt together, they were all for it. The pattern we picked was offered in three different colors and each of us, without consulting the others on our choices, selected a different color option – mine vibrant jewel tones, Pat’s an autumn palette, and Cindy’s a delicate pastel.
As the months passed and we stitched our quilts – talking, laughing, sharing, and developing an even deeper bond of friendship – I was fascinated to see that, though we were making the exact same pattern, each of our quilts turned out differently. And not just because of the colors. Some of us took a relaxed approach to cutting and placement, others insisted that every little leaf in every single patch must face the same direction and sit just so. Some made the pattern exactly according to the instructions while others came up with their own shortcuts and adaptations. Some decided to add on fancy borders, others preferred to simply bind it and let it be. By the end of the project, we’d each created a very special quilt that reflected our unique personalities. I found this surprising, but really I shouldn’t have. It’s a very common story among quilters.
One of my readers, Peggy Szaz, is a military wife and professional quilter – and quite a remarkable one! She creates incredible landscape quilts that could, and frequently do, hang in museums and galleries. During the years she and her family were posted in various oversees bases, she taught quilting to a truly international audience. As Peggy told me in a recent note, “My Italian ladies were the best. They would show up for class decked out in silks and lots of diamonds. Their quilts were not always the best. My German and Swiss ladies made the most precise quilts. Everything had to be perfect. My Portuguese ladies were good quilters and they wanted utility quilts for their children. I really did learn a lot from all the ladies. My students used the same patterns and all the quilts were totally different. And that is what makes quilting so special.”
My most recent novel, A SINGLE THREAD, takes place in a small, New England village. The main character, Evelyn Dixon, is a long-time quilter but it isn’t until her husband of thirty years leaves her that she reclaims her long dormant dream of opening her own quilt shop. Evelyn’s road is a rocky one but fortunately, she finds companions for the journey – Abigail Burgess, the wealthiest woman in town, Abigail’s troubled niece, Liza, and Margot Matthews, a recently downsized marketing manager.
When Abigail, Margot, and Liza, wander into Evelyn’s Cobbled Court Quilt shop, they have no way of anticipating the adventures and challenges that await them. But as the story progresses their lives will be stitched together as tightly as the quilts they create, as they are bound with the single thread of friendship that will reveal the singular beauty of their personalities and the strength of their characters.
The way that the simple and time-honored craft of quilting draws out the uniqueness of every quilter surprises the women of A SINGLE THREAD. But perhaps it shouldn’t. As Evelyn says, “No matter how untutored or timid she may be, when it comes to quilting, everyone is an artist. Expertly, or innocently, or inadvertently, the quilter cannot help but reveal something true.”
As we begin a new and challenging year, my wish is that you might find something true within yourself as well as the inspiration, determination, and courage to reveal it.