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Saturday, September 10, 2011

At the end of my resume….

My sister is the last gainfully employed person in this house.   Her husband is retired and putters in the yard.  I’m retired and putter in government, until someone runs against me some election and I’m turned out.  She runs a quilting business.

Jan and I actually retired at the same time, me altogether and Jan because she was done weaving.  Just like that.  Digital.  She went quilting.  We were weaving all around her in the studio and she was sewing little squares on the sewing machine and quilting little quilts on a pretty little frame.  She came home from a quilting show and said there was a big machine there but she stayed well back so she wouldn’t swoon.   “Just buy the damn thing, we’ll figure it out.”  We had to sell three looms to make space for the Gammill.

Jan is an award winning quilter in this amazing art form. 
Some of her ribbons.  Transparency woven by Taria Kubini.
The studio is lined in quilts.
Actually, she no longer enters shows.  She realized her customers were not entering shows with quilts she had quilted for them because they could not compete against her quilts and quilting.  Now the customers win the ribbons, which is perfectly all right with Jan.  She has moved on to being an organizer of a teaching venue for quilters, QuiltingwithMachines.

 (In the event I never mentioned it, she is the right brain, I’m the left in our long business partnership.) 

The looms and weaving equipment were sold, the studio gradually filled up with quilting paraphernalia, and she set about establishing a customer base for her new art.   I was busy figuring out how to make my little chunk of government more effective, and really didn’t get far into the studio.  But when I did, holy cow.  When we were weavers either one of us could say “It’s only thread” and put a failed warp straight in the trash.  Apparently quilters are not able to do that.  There were bins and bins of scraps.  Apparently you never know when you will need to root through five pounds of scraps to find the perfect one inch square.

“What are you going to do with all this,” I asked one day.  Well, sometimes she used them for scrappy borders and she was thinking of a scrappy quilt in her spare time.  These are rudimentary paper piecing techniques, I learned.  Well, any fool can sew fabric to paper.  I commandeered a scrap bucket, reduced a phone book of pages to squares by the time honored method of folding on the diagonal and cutting off the excess.  When a page is covered with sewn on scraps it gets a final press and trim to the proper size.

Behind my sewing machine a quilt from odd sizes and colors.

A phone book or so later I still couldn’t stand the chaos of either the mix of colors or the mix of strip sizes (oh, be still left brain!).  So, I sorted it all by color into drawers and cut everything into one and one half inch strips.  And kept on sewing. 
Proper sizes and colors for a scrappy quilt, thank you very much!
 Both my daughters and all my grandchildren got quilts for Christmas that year.  My friend Ann has a pile of quilts that she graciously continues to accept. But the scraps never went away.  Jan’s customers would leave the studio and I would find a bag of their scraps discretely abandoned behind my chair.  One time I was so frustrated with my inability to tame the scraps that I went drawer by drawer and sewed all those strips end to end (yea, just like denim!), packed them into half a dozen thirty gallon garbage bags and hauled them off to Linda, who wove them right into rugs that now live on floors.  I had done it; the scraps were gone!  I returned to a new load of stash culling by a dear customer.  Sigh.

About a year and a half ago Jan asked me to help her figure out how to maintain her profit if she offered customers some discount on their regular quilting for every baby quilt they gave her to quilt for charity.  Now, Jan has done acres of charity quilting.  Quilts for soldiers, quilts for schools, quilts for orphans, all done by various guilds as projects.   But this was a personal challenge.  One of her guilds had asked the members to each produce one charity quilt over the course of the year for Ronald McDonald House or Pregnancy Care.  One year later one quilt had been turned in—Jan’s.  Fine.  Apparently it was down to her.

People being the busy folks they are, I doubted she’d get much for her offer.  With a gleam in my eye, I also saw a way to get rid of those pesky scraps.  To hell with asking people, if she was willing to keep on backing and quilting them, any fool could sew five inch blocks together.

Well, I’m ahead of her.  I’m closing in on quilt 150 and she has quilted and bound about half of them.  Pregnancy Care got the first fifty and Ronald McDonald House will get the next fifty.  And, you guessed right—bags of fabric continue to be abandoned in the studio.  It’s a good thing—those little suckers eat it up.
The left brain has to know this stuff.

 Good quarter inch seams + good pressing = good quilt.
More to press behind the iron.
A tub of pressed tops.
Another tub of pressed tops, and a tub of backings.
Quilted and bound, Jan will fell the binding soon.  Nice red flannel back.
Another stack for McDonald House.


  1. That is one impressive pile of textiles.

  2. Can't help it. Direct gene infusion from our mother. (And, thanks.)

  3. A few comments:
    #1: Your timeline is reversed, Cranium Sinister. Isn't this the beginning of your resume? Illegitimi non carborundum and all that.
    #2: Providence House is also a good candidate.
    #3: The Lytles can never sit still. It seems to dilute a little generation by generation, but is still going strong. Your youngest grandson was knitting before bed while talking to dad last night. Idle hands, etc. I remember Grandma, sitting in her chair with her head spinning from radiation for her cancer which had by then gone to her head and bemoaning the fact that she should be in "weaving for the girls." I told her she deserved, finally, a nap. I miss the glue...