Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Escape

The Rebuild of Quilt No. 26 from 2002!

Renovations.  Have you ever bought a new bath mat and had it end up costing you thousands of dollars as you upgraded its surroundings to live up to the nineteen dollar bath mat?  The same thing can happen with a quilt, but the expenditure will be measured in hours, not dollars.

Over ten years ago I was surfing the internet when I can across the logo for a medical conference in Hawaii.  It was very simple – two palm trees, plain beach, and a blue background to suggest sea and sky.  I took the liberty of using it as a starting point for a quilt.  My mistake was that I also used it as the end point for that quilt, and it looked kind of plain.  I somehow convinced myself that quilting a single line around the trees was “good enough” - having already moved on to the next far more interesting quilt.  I decided it was fine – a nice logo lookalike.  To prove how fine it was, I hung it behind a door at the cottage but I secretly cringed at its semi-finished state every time I came across it. 

Then, after enduring more than a decade cowering behind the door, the impossible happened. The quilt was wanted by a friend because it reminded her of Florida.  It would have a chance at real love.  Could I stand its way?  I looked at it and gritted my teeth.  It was basically unquilted.  The mismatched wobbly binding wasn’t nearly as charming as it had been when I was in a hurry to finish the project many years ago.  While I didn’t mind parting with the quilt, how could I send such an unfinished and unloved object out into the world?  It would be like sending your child out with a ball of wool stuffed under each arm in place of a fully knitted sweater!

I just couldn’t do it. 

But what I could do was to quilt it now.  There are no rules about these things, no statute of limitations that runs out and prohibits you from altering a quilt.  And, how long could it possibly take, if I just removed the binding and gave it a proper machine quilting?  A couple of hours?  A plan emerged.  I could toss out that old binding since, 65 quilts later, I had a much better fabric stash where there would surely be a piece that actually matched.  Also, I had somewhat improved my binding skills.  Then there was the issue of how much I hated the boring beige fabric that I’d used for the beach/island.  I could change that too!  In my mind this was all going to achieved PDQ.

I began by machine quilting the island.  It looked pretty good.  My confidence soared.  I machine quilted the sea and the sky.  It looked…not so good.  What you do in these circumstances is set the piece aside and look at it after a few days, or in a different light. You can hold it up to a mirror for a new perspective, or have a friend who would never tell you the awful truth come over and endorse it.  I tried most of those strategies, but reality could not be denied.  The sky looked wrinkled and crappy - even worse than the original unquilted version of it!  It was painful, but this was one of those situations where I just had to tear the Bandaid off the scab.  I ripped out the machine quilting in the sky, planning to do it over.  But now, the sky fabric had stretched and it could not be re-used. Don’t think I didn’t try.

I was getting in deeper and deeper.

There was only one possible avenue.  I got out the scissors and cut off the sky.  The sea part was okay, so I left that intact.  I dyed a new piece for the sky and liked it even better than the original.  I’d also learned a thing or two about dying fabric.  Next, I spent a whole whack of time doing test pieces with various battings until I was satisfied.  I re-assembled the top, batting, and backing, and (gulp!) machine quilted it once more.  The test pieces had been worth the effort – the end result was much better. 

One little problem remained. Now the palm tree fronds looked pretty much like Day One after the hurricane of the century.  All that manipulation of the quilt had pulled off most of the fragile pieces and frayed the few brave souls that were left behind.  Yep.  They too were given a date with Mr. Scissors. But now…despite a foolishly large collection of green fabric occupying my drawers, I could not find any that worked with the other colours in the quilt.  It was a great excuse to go to the fabric store and get some new stuff!  And, of course, some other stuff.

So, in essence, I completely rebuilt this quilt, much as one would the engine of a classic car, keeping just a few key parts and replacing all the rest.  There is enough of the original left to pretend it is still the same item.  The tree trunks and the sea from the original quilt are still there, but everything else had been completely replaced, even the batting and the binding.

Now when I look at My Escape, I'm happy with it, and I don’t feel it needs to play wall flower behind a door.  And like a child who has mastered his table manners, his temper, and his zipper, I’m willing to let it go out into the world on its own. 

It was completely worth the effort.

The original 2002 version of My Escape.

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