My grandfather mail-ordered his clothes and frequently received tiny fabric swatches in the mail. Those tiny rectangles of pinked, mostly double knit were always given to me, of course, from the time we moved in with my grandparents when my birth mom took a permanent and unauthorized field trip. I was four years old, and Barbie dolls were the coolest things on the planet back then. Grandpa's little "quilt squares" were just the perfect size for outfitting red-haired and rigid Midge with comfy blankets for her cereal box bed.
Oh, how I wish I still had one of those masculine, drab little quilts. I'd never seen bright, colorful fabric back then, so browns and blacks and dark navy blues of my grandfather's wardrobe were as good as the color of the wool blanket on my own bed.
My grandmother was a very crafty person, always into something new. She was part of a quilting bee that met every Thursday for a day of quilting, and I got to go with her. My brothers got to kick around in the garage and backyard with Grandpa.
All the bee ladies were so impressed I could thread my own needle, it wasn't long before they had me quilting on a corner of the latest baby or wedding quilt right alongside them. My stitches had to be consistent, and the under side of the quilt had to look as good as the top side. I've had that drilled into me since I was about five years old.
About five years later, my new mom announced we'd be getting a new baby brother or sister. I thought by making a girly quilt, I could guaranty the new addition would be a sister, which would help with the odds of our newly blended 4-to-2 boys-to-girls clan. Off to TG&Y (which my new mom tongue-in-cheek told us stands for Turtles, Girdles and Yo-Yos) I walked to scope out the latest in baby blanket fabric. I don't know what ever happened to the lime green and pink floral quilt I crafted for that new little baby sister (Yes, the quilt magic worked! She was a girl!), but Susie carried it around with a baby doll for a few years after she learned to walk. So my babysitting money was very well spent on that wild "go go girl quilt."
I'm sure I made a few more square patch quilts before the next one I actually still have proof of, but I can't remember too many details, only that I loved bright colors, and my new mom trusted me to keep her sewing machine in my bedroom. We didn't have a sewing table; my mom would move everything into the dining room when she needed to sew, and she'd sew with the machine on the dining room table, then cart everything back into a closet. I suppose she saw keeping the sewing machine in my room as a lot easier to get to than buried in the closet.
I didn't have a table or a desk in my bedroom. I sewed on the floor. Sometimes, when I couldn't sleep at night (which still happens today, darn it), I would get up and sew by turning the wheel on the side of the machine. That way, I didn't wake anyone. It was a slow process, but it worked.
The next memorable quilt was begun after my first quarter of college. I got homesick and returned to live with my family, but they'd given my room to my little sister. I spent the next year on the couch in the living room, which conveniently had a small table in front of it, and Mom let me keep her sewing machine there.
I was working full time by then, so I could afford nicer fabric than I could buy in high school. I was really drawn to the shimmery prom fabrics, and I'd buy up remnants and clearance satins and crepes. I didn't have a real plan at first; I just loved the fabric. After buying a yard of silver satin, I got the idea to embroider favorite album covers onto the satin. Later, those squares were combined with embroidered squares of my favorite song lyrics and a few fake fur squares in a pillowy quilt I gave to a boy I hoped to marry one day. Each of the 12-inch squares was made into a slender pillow, and once I had 12 floppy pillows, I sewed them together to make the quilt. My first quilt-as you go project, so to speak.
I had one square left over, and I still have that square. I've always thought maybe one day I could make a few more album cover squares from prom dress fabric and make a new quilt that I don't give away. Mine! All mine!
Today's quilt would be much different. I would make a real quilt, not floppy pillows, and I would quilt the entire piece rather than simulated quilting along 12-inch pillow edges. The new quilt might include different songs than the 1980 version featured, but I think a modern version would be every bit as fun and memorable as the original creation.
It's just a little more difficult to design a quilt square from a piece of artwork the size of a cassette box or CD case than it was when 12-inch vinyl was still the meaning of life.