I was a kid in the late 1970s when I first saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It was fascinating to me, the idea of UFOs visiting the Earth. It became a small obsession. Anytime I was out past dark, I was scanning the night skies for signs of weirdness – flashing lights, lighted objects moving strangely, music from the stars.
Lest you think I was a bit of an oddball, I just want to point out that all kids my age, at that time, were into UFOs. It was an intoxicating idea, having an alien encounter. It only got worse when E.T. The Extra Terrestrial came out five years later.
The idea of seeing a UFO was so cool! All us kids wanted to see one – so much so that we were prone to “embellishing” our own close encounters. A simple airplane light would become bigger – a light as big as a house! (exclamation point included, as it always should be, in playground talk) A weird noise from a diesel engine – the sound of landing gear dropping to the ground! A mysterious patch of brown grass? The mark of a spaceship engine burning the ground on landing.
We also talked about what we would do when they landed. We had to have a plan! An alien encounter could happen at any minute! How would we communicate? What if they were stranded like E.T.? Could we save them, like Elliott?
Alas, despite all my plans and preparations, I never did see a proper UFO.
Until I started quilting.
Of course, I’m talking about a different kind of UFO. (I’m sure you quilters saw this coming!) Instead of Unidentified Flying Objects, quilters worry themselves with UnFinished Objects. Those quilts that you started, but didn’t complete. This past year, I had the honor of helping two other folks complete their UFOs.
The first of these projects came to me from my Aunt Carol. Carol is my aunt by marriage, and a wonderful friend. She brought me an unfinished quilt she received from an old family friend. The maker of the quilt was an elderly lady, an avid quilter, who had recently passed away. The quilt was a simple “cheater panel” with a red/blue lone star design. The quilter had started it by hand, and Carol wanted to preserve those precious stitches if possible. Her idea was that she would give it back to the family, perhaps to the woman’s grandchild.
Isn’t that a lovely idea? Quilted memories. Of course, I agreed to work on it.
Now, I’m still new to quilting, and at the time I was only a few months into practicing with my longarm. That inexperience, plus the emotional weight of the quilt’s story, made this project daunting to say the least.
The quilt was partially hand quilted, as I said. It was also a bit stained from storage, held together with some rusty old safety pins. The batting was a puffy ball, pieced together from scraps. On the surface of things, the quilt did not look salvageable. Unsure how to start, I set the quilt on the bench in my hallway, and walked past it every day for several weeks.
I told myself I was not procrastinating. I was just incubating a rescue plan for this stranded alien.
Finally, I stopped incubating. I can’t say I had a plan. I just got tired of being afraid to start. Life’s funny like that.
I decided to just pin the whole thing to my longarm leaders, get started, and see what happened. After I pinned the backing, and smoothed the batting down, things started to look doable. I decided to follow the quilter’s lead and let her hand stitching show me how she wanted it done – she had a pretty good outline emerging. Another outline here and there, a doodle loop design in between, and voilà! A fun little quilt emerged! UFO #1, saved and safely returned home. Here is the result:
A second UFO saving opportunity came up a few months ago. My neighbor, and good friend, Amy, brought me her quilt to finish. It was her first quilt, made back in 1990-something, then tucked in a closet after it was basted together. Amy’s intention was to hand quilt it, but that never quite happened. No worries, I told her. Quilts always get finished “just in time.” If it’s not finished, it just means it’s not time yet.
Amy’s quilt is a beautiful log cabin. I have no idea how she accomplished a log cabin as her first quilt – my first was a nine-patch, a breeze in comparison. I realized after examining it that the quilt must be quite meaningful: it was well cared for in storage. Considering its age, the fabric was still in great shape.
Handmade items are always made with intention. Even if they don’t get finished, they are planned for, like a wedding, or a baby. Making a quilt is an event.
Which is why all UFOs need saving.
The challenge with this quilt was what design to put on it. Amy and I agreed it had to be custom quilted, no edge to edge treatment would do. After some thought, and doing some sample blocks, I decided to do a circular design, sort of an orange peel flower. I thought it would contrast well with – but not take away from – the strong straight lines of the log cabin blocks.
On a whim, as I was quilting the first blocks, I flipped the orange peel ruler over and made a rounder middle shape – and quilted a little star in the diamond shaped center. I have no idea why, but it was perfect.
Here is the finished quilt. It was a little crinkly from the wash, but it came out nice and soft and cuddly. I’m particularly proud of the three borders…coming up with three different designs that worked well together was fun.
Got a UFO you need rescued? I’m your gal. 🙂 It feels great to help people get these finished. Have a good weekend, everyone!