From my seat on the firm wooden pew bench I could see deep blue sky, white cotton clouds, and green leaves like hands, waving drops of sunshine towards me through the church window. It was a picture-perfect spring day. I imagined myself out in the churchyard, lazily walking among the close-by tombstones, maybe picking a violet or two from the grass.
The sudden boom of the preacher’s voice shook me out of my daydream. Prayer was still in progress. But I’d not been caught daydreaming. My friend, muscle memory, was covering for me. My head was still bent, my hands still pressed lightly together. I sighed inwardly. Surely the preacher was going for the record on this one. I snuck a peek at my watch – how long had we been praying?
I glanced down at my three-year old girls (twins) sitting between their father and I on the pew. They had their prayer hands together, too. Grace was looking around the room. Emma was looking up at me. She seemed confused. I smiled reassuringly at her. She smiled back, then put her head back down. The prayer went on.
I shuffled in my seat a bit. Still the preacher talked, but I’d stopped listening. Emma was wiggling, getting restless. I didn’t blame her. She patted my leg. I smiled at her and put my finger on my lips. I showed her my prayer hands. She mimicked me with the hands, but still looked confused. She patted my leg again. Again, I put my finger to my lips. She lowered her eyebrows and looked at the preacher. Looking back at me, she said – in her three-year old, huge, no volume control voice –
“WHERE’S THE AMEN?”
I was mortified. Sort of. I giggled. Kids are fun. Our neighbors in the pew behind us laughed and patted her on the head. The people across the aisle laughed. The choir laughed. The preacher wrapped it up tout de suite.
Even at the age of three, Emma was patient by all human standards. But the elderly minister of that old country church tested her, to be sure. I don’t think she wanted it to end so much as she was confused – had she missed the ending? I’ve felt that way myself many times, and not just in church. Did I miss something? Is it over and I just didn’t notice? God is good, all the time. Prayer is wonderful. But sometimes even God must be waiting for the Amen.
My first quilt was an exercise in wrapping things up, finding the Amen. I call it the Neverending Nine-Patch.
I made that first quilt under the watchful eye of the talented quilters at the Buffalo Senior Center in Buffalo, West Virginia. I suppose I learned the ‘old school’ way of making a quilt:
- How to cut strips and squares from yardage. No pre-cuts (charm squares, jelly rolls, etc.) were used.
- How to quilt without a pattern. Once several squares were cut, I sewed them together to make nine-patch blocks. Once I amassed enough blocks, I measured them to determine the length to cut sashing strips. No strip-piecing, no chain piecing, no shortcuts.
- How to measure and attach borders.
- How to add blocks/rows to increase the size of your quilt.
- Where to buy fabric locally and what to look for. Fancy quilt shop fabrics were deemed too expensive by my instructors, although sometimes they splurged.
Once I got the pieced quilt top finished, I laid it out on my bed. But it wasn’t big enough. I hadn’t measured the bed before I started. I had Googled reference charts for average quilt sizes, but they didn’t match my actual bed.
Working without a sized pattern + not measuring your bed before you start = Neverending Nine-Patch.
I kept trying to fix the size. I added another row. Then another. I added borders. Not one, but two. Like Emma in church, I kept anticipating the end – but I just couldn’t get there. I was looking for the Amen.
In the end, that first quilt was huge – 96” square – a king size quilt. Here’s a picture:
Since then I’ve been thinking about what a Newbie Quilter should do differently. Here’s my list:
- Plan ahead. Don’t start that quilt before you know how big you want it to be. Do the math and keep it around for reference.
- Start small. Don’t fall into the ‘I may never make another quilt so better make this one count’ game. Starting small – a table runner, wall quilt, or small throw – gives you an opportunity to practice all parts of quilting on your home sewing machine. There’s more to quilting than just piecing the top! A small project can be easily batted, backed and bound on the machine. And a quicker success story will keep you interested.
- Get the big picture. With many quilt patterns, blocks can be arranged in a way that creates a secondary pattern across the whole of the quilt. As you can see in my quilt, I gave no thought to that! But my mom – who took the quilting class with me – did. Here’s a picture of her finished quilt.
Note how the white blocks align to make a plus sign/cross and the pink blocks criss-cross the quilt. By not having a big picture in mind, I missed the opportunity to create extra visual interest.
- Try a sampler. As much as I like nine patches, I wish I’d learned how to make HSTs (Half Square Triangles), flying geese, sixteen patches, and stars. These blocks/techniques will build your skills and fuel your imagination.
Finishing that monster of a quilt could have scared me off quilting, but instead it felt great! And not just from relief that it was done. You see, I made it for Emma. It’s our reminder that looking for the Amen is just as important as finding it.