Back when Janine Vangool, publisher of Uppercase magazine as well as a line of superb books all written "for the creative and the curious," first introduced her second collection with Windham Fabrics, I was taken with the mix of prints. The line (officially titled Uppercase: Dots, Dashes, and Diamonds) seemed just as much at home among modern designs as they were in my collection of vintage reproductions. She was kind enough to have a bundle of fabric sent to me in order to make what I originally intended to be another version of my Big Bear Cabin Quilt. I've learned over the years, though, that plans change, and sometimes the fabric takes you in a new direction. I had no idea that this project was going to alter my entire approach to quilting.
When I started this quilt, I was coming to the end of the crazy schedule that always happens before Quilt Market in the spring and fall. I had been churning out projects for different fabric companies as well as sewing up samples with my own first fabric collection, Five & Dime. It was enjoyable work but stressful, as it always is when you're trying to make a lot of different things of as high a quality as you can manage while still meeting all your deadlines. By the time I picked up the stack of Uppercase fabric, I was riding the raw edge of burnout, feeling physically drained and creatively exhausted. Suddenly I craved nothing more than simplicity, a project that would be crafted with care over time.
I scrapped the Big Bear Cabin pattern in favor of starting a log cabin block in one corner of the quilt and building it out to the opposite edge, placing the prints in color order and alternating between darker and lighter fabrics. After basting the quilt, I spent a month of evenings hand quilting along each of the rows in black thread. Once that was finished, I framed it all in binding made from a black print peppered with tiny white diamonds.
This was by far the largest quilt I have ever quilted entirely by hand, and it was the first time I've hand stitched the binding on the back of a quilt in at least four years. With the simple design and hand quilting, it looks as if I could have just pulled it out of a trunk full of vintage quilts. It feels so different from any quilt I've made before, and I really believe it all lies in the fact that I made this piece slowly by hand over a long stretch of time.
There's something almost mystical that happens when you hand quilt a project for weeks on end. It becomes part of you in a way that a quick project or even a machine quilted project just can't quite equal. You enjoy the hand stitching at first and then after a while it grows a bit tedious and perhaps even challenging but you keep going. And the more you sew those even stitches along the rows over and over again, the more of your heart goes into it. The tedium remarkably transforms itself back into enjoyment, and what seemed like monotony becomes a peaceful sort of contentment. Life happens around you while you're sewing, and that becomes a part of the quilt too. You have conversations with people and you watch favorite movies and you think...you think a lot. It becomes a part of your day that you look forward to, that quiet meditation with your hands that also quiets your heart. And the day comes when you sew those last few stitches and you feel a strange mixture of joy and sadness. It's so wonderful to have it done, but you'll miss it somehow, these nights with this particular quilt in your hands.
I've been a champion for small, quick sewing projects for a long time now. I love sewing little things that can be made in an afternoon or weekend. But over time, I've watched myself neglect some of the projects that I wanted to make because my schedule was too full of commitments to projects that I had to make. There is a danger sometimes, I think, for us to turn handmade pursuits into our own version of a sweatshop. We produce item after item as quickly as we can, needing fresh material for our blogs or our social media accounts. We feel compelled to accept every invitation that comes our way for fear of offending someone or missing out on an opportunity that we'll later regret passing by. Yet I'm reminded again how important it is to have priorities, to make peace with the fact that sometimes I will have to say "no," to set aside time for projects that have no other purpose than to bring me joy -- especially the slow sewing and hand quilting which I've been too busy to attempt for too long.
My Uppercase quilt will always be a reminder to me that the journey of making is just as important as the finished creation. And I'm truly eager to begin my next adventure in the days ahead.