I suppose there are a few among us who never make mistakes. I certainly make my fair share though. Actually with quilting, I probably make more. Last Friday I arrived at the old school house just as some of the women were putting a new quilt on the frame. An incredible rainbow colored one that a woman in Texas had lovingly made and then sent to us to be hand quilted. The fabrics – I never saw anything like them before. Truly amazing colors and Joan had a wonderful idea which pattern we would use to quilt it. During all this discussion, I was taking off my coat, sipping a cup of coffee and then decided to sew on the other quilt, the one that Judy had pieced, that was nearly finished.
It had been a few weeks since I managed to make it in to quilt and so I hadn’t sewn on that quilt much at all. When I sat down, Carmen explained that I could do a pattern in the corners of each block and handed me the stencil and a pen. The pen wasn’t the best and neither was I. Before I had stitched a few inches, most of the ink had disappeared so I had to try my best to line up the stencil and draw again. Sew, line up stencil, draw, sew, line up stencil, draw. Perhaps a mantra but one that became sloppier so eventually what I had sewn had little resemblance to the original pattern. Rather stoically I announced that I would have to pull out half of the stitches and begin again. Cursing quietly I pulled the stitches out and then decided that I just didn’t have it in me to try more with this pattern. I moved to a different part of the quilt where I could make long straight lines.
Later Carmen got to the part I had given up on, took one look and said she would need to pull the whole thing out. She said it kindly and of course I agreed, somewhat ashamed of myself after all I have been working with this group for five years. But there you have it. We all make mistakes, or at least most of us do. I was willing to admit mine and move on. I didn’t walk out of the school house resolved never to thread another needle. I didn’t argue with Carmen that what I had done was acceptable. I didn’t lament the stitches I had made which would now be snipped and pulled out. I nodded and thanked Carmen (I should have removed all the stitches myself earlier). I kept sewing my straight simple line and hoped that next week would go better. Later in the afternoon, Bev got frustrated with the pen and said we obviously needed a new one.
It starts with a seed. Actually cotton comes from many seeds planted in the spring, gradually producing flowers that when pollinated produce fruit. The flowers emerge pale yellow but once pollinated they sharpen into pink and gradually a bright fuchsia. And the fruit that is produce from the flower isn’t your typical fruit like an apple or a mango. It’s a fruit that is a boll, a tough outer shell that contains soft white fluff and seeds. Between when the seed is planted in the spring to the boll harvested in the fall, the cotton plant grows to be about forty-eight inches and it puts out those lovely fuchsia colored flowers because it is related to the hibiscus after all. And then the bolls are harvested, the cotton ginned which separates fluff from seeds, its put into gigantic bales and sent off to be made into thread and then into cloth.
Of course there are numerous steps from the bales arriving to the bolts of cloth being shipped out. The cotton needs to be combed and carded. All the fibers need to be aligned so they can be spun into thread. And then all those thousands, millions of miles of thread are woven into cloth. The cloth is dyed mauve or turquoise or that creamy yellow that Carmen likes. Perhaps it is printed with the small floral designs that Judy prefers or bright fanciful animals that Cathryn will use for the baby quilts.
This is only a very quick glance at the process from seed to fabric bolt. There is no rumbling of machines planting cottonseeds twelve rows at a time under a southern sky. Nor the grumbles of Eli Whitney who invented the cotton gin and never made money from it. Can the body-shaking vibrations in a factory full of machines spinning that fluff into cotton threads at more than 2,500 revolutions a second even be imagined? And those looms! Not just any loom will do but looms called Sulzer shuttleless weaving machine or a water-jet loom. Acres of factories producing acres of cloth. So many acres of cloth that it is counted in tons, yes metric tons, rather than the sensible yards measured out at the fabric store.
It starts from a seed and transforms into that bolt of fabric that the slightly older woman with a pair of glasses hung around her neck measures and cuts into lengths at the shop. It will be taken home and cut again into smaller pieces and sewn into a pattern that becomes the top of a quilt.