Commissioned quilts are always a little nerve-wracking.
(OK, a lot nerve-wracking.)
I struggle with balancing what I like and what I think will look good with what I think my client’s vision is. Because even for the clients who say “Oh you’re so talented, I know you’ll do something great for me,” you know there’s still some level of expectation they have about how the finished project will look.
I recently had a conversation with someone about a small project she wanted me to do. I asked how she wanted the finished product to look and she said “Oh, you’re so creative, I know you’ll come up with something. I don’t know what I want, I’m not creative like you.”
(Don’t even get me started about the whole “I’m not creative” line. Nothing sets me on edge like hearing someone say “I’m not creative.” It’s like someone saying “I’m not smart” about themselves. It’s a load of crap.)
So without any direction on this little project, I tossed out some ideas. “How about using this or that or maybe how about that?” I suggested. She said nothing.
“Well, I could try doing this? Or what about if I do it this way?” I offered. She was silent.
Then she sighed deeply and said in a quiet, retiring voice “I guess you and I have very different visions for this.”
I’d failed before I’d even started! And how exactly was I supposed to know what she wanted without any input other than “You’re so creative, you’ll think of something!”?
So while I appreciate that some people want me to just make what I think looks best and is suited to the materials and recipient, I know that deep down, they probably have some kind of picture in their head (even if they’re not willing or able to voice it). Getting my inspiration and execution to match their mental image is where the sweet spot lies, and sometimes it’s hard as hell.
Back to this quilt commission.
In June I received a box of childhood clothes to be made into a memory quilt for a teenage boy. I had every intention of getting it done before leaving for vacation in July but for multiple reasons, that didn’t happen.
Part of the delay was me, I tried and tried and tried to come up with the exact right design, wanting to make something special for a boy likely to be homesick but also feeling downright challenged by the materials I had to use (it was a Project Runway moment but without Tim Gunn teasing the best solution out of me).
Looking for inspiration, I asked the mom to tell me which piece of fabric she sent was most special to her son, hoping to base my design around that.
She said that by far, it was the 1970’s purple and white polka dot sleeping bag remnants.
Now that’s a first for me, making a quilt from an old sleeping bag, one that had been loved so much that the batting was both shredded and matted.
So that didn’t help my creative process too much either.
But finally inspiration did strike with another option, which I floated by her and she loved (thank god).
I still had the challenge of incorporating quite the assortment of fabrics, which ranged from a tie-dye t-shirt to a threadbare gray sweatshirt to some tattered floral print cloth napkins to a child’s thick terrycloth bathrobe. And let’s not forget that polka dot sleeping bag.
And in addition the fabrics she sent me to include, I had challenge number 2: to come up with other supplementary fabrics to use, the ones that would actually hold all the memento clothing together into a functional quilt, be suitable to the boy the quilt is for, and not compete too much with the memory fabrics. No small feat there either.
My idea introduced a whole different element into the quilt, one I hoped would unify the mishmash of fabrics. My fingers were crossed the whole time.
The quilt is nearly done. I’m very, very happy with it. I just have the binding to go, which is always my favorite part. I find binding a quilt to be a lovely, meditative experience, manipulating the needle through so many layers of fabric, burying all the open edges and making the stitching invisible. Invisible stitch by invisible stitch. Inch by inch ‘round the quilt.
Binding is practical as much as it is symbolic - all the raw edges tucked, concealed, and secured, turning the quilt from a stacked sandwich of fabrics into a functional object. It protects what’s inside. It’s closure. It’s when I reflect on the collection of fabrics on my lap, what they started as and what they’ve become, and how my hands have transformed them along the way. It’s my own personal zen experience with each quilt; it’s the part of the process I covet the most.
I can only hope this little quilt brings its recipient as much. My fingers are crossed.
(picture of the finished project to come)