By Patricia Belyea
OTTAWA ON For my mother’s 92nd birthday, I decided to make a really bright comfort quilt. One that would be perfect for Mum in her wheelchair. I dove into my scrap bin, where I store little bits of solids, to gather fabrics for the project.
Sewing the small pieces together, I made big blocks filled with a random assortment of color. I tipped the blocks on point and, along the edges, added triangles of yukata cotton with a playful floral motif. I used the same yukata cotton for the back of the quilt.
I pin basted the quilt sandwich together with Hobbs Heritage Natural Cotton Batting with Scrim. For fun I tested all the decorative stitches available from my 30-year old Bernina, using Aurifil 28wt. cotton thread. I chose a simple blanket stitch to crisscross the small quilt with a regular presser foot.
In the final week before my trip to my hometown Ottawa, the Storm of the Century hit Seattle. That meant five days at home while three blizzards battered the city and dumped almost 10" of snow. This storm impacted my quilt project in two ways.
First, I couldn't go to the store to buy fleece or another soft fabric to line a planned muff pocket. (Don't know what a muff is? It's a tube pocket where you can put both hands for warmth.) I resolved the issue by cutting apart an old polar fleece jacket to glean fabric for the pocket lining.
Second, my basement flooded with the runoff of snow melt from our roof. I discovered the shallow lake when I headed downstairs to lay out the quilt, fresh from a tepid bath, for blocking. Michael and I spent two hours sucking up the water on the carpet with a wet-dry vacuum, and redirecting the downspouts outside. When I returned to the wet quilt, rolled up on a towel, I found that some of the dark solids had offset onto other areas of the top.
The biggest area of damage was right where I planned to put the muff pocket. That was a blessing! Still, ten small patches of offset dye looked like bruises. I tried Grandma’s Secret and OxiClean but nothing changed.
I was in mourning for the happy quilt I had wanted to make. Now it just looked sad to me. For one full day, I was ready to give up.
My internal design director impelled me to use this setback as a way to do something unexpected—something I wouldn't have thought of otherwise. So I finished making the pocket—with daisy embroidery stitching and homemade bias-tape letters for my mum’s nickname Jane. Then I used the same silk-screened orange fabric to make ten wonky appliqué hearts to cover the ten problem spots.
Once I placed a few hearts on the quilt front, the composition went from lively to crazy busy. So the editor in me spoke up next and told me that I just had to live with the minimal offset damage. No added hearts.
I finished the quilt with a facing and label, and delivered it to Mum at her full-care home in Ottawa.
I'm not sure exactly what Mum thinks of her comfort quilt as full sentences are no longer in her repertoire. All I know is this: I did the best I could with heartfelt love. Happy Birthday, Mum!
POSTSCRIPTI pre-wash all fabrics before they go in my stash. So I was completely taken aback when some of the red-toned solids offset onto other fabrics. I presume that leaving everything wet and touching for two hours caused the unwelcome mess.