The Guest Bedroom Quilt
Five years of garment scraps and one year of stitches
This is Clouds Form Over Land, weekly writing about resilience, imperfectionism, and our relationship to the earth.
6000 miles ago I started piecing together squares of fabric.
The intimidating rounding of Point Conception was behind us and the breeze and water hinted of the heat of lower latitudes. Ventura was the first destination of many that we hadn’t previously visited and we were welcomed into a little marina neighborhood by two couples around our age. We shared sailing aspirations, recipes, and rounds of a new card game and received advice on adding a feline crewmember.
Before we set out to sea, I had a sewing workshop at Alameda Maker Farm, and my stash of supplies had bloomed and then been quarantined to a small closet on the boat. A bag of treasured scraps loomed large as space is limited aboard our vessel.
Earlier that year, I spied Sienna making a scrap quilt and documenting progress on her blog, Not A Primary Color.
Our sailing mission is to deliver our boat to the east coast of the US — a sort of intermediate hurrah in a lifetime of hurrahs. We want/ed to become land people after living on our sailboat for six years and packing the boat onto a semi-truck was a bleak prospect after years of dreaming and preparing for blue water.
My brain loves almost nothing more than a painstakingly slow burn fiber project to accompany transitional times. See the early pandemic constellation quilt. The cross-country hand-quilted jacket. The long-distance relationship knit blanket. The fingering weight knit throw that has been absconded by the cat.
If self-soothing with fabric is wrong, I don’t want to be right. H/t to Ani for naming this so I could notice too.
Back in Ventura, I folded down the table, loaded all the scraps, and kicked off what would soon be a familiar loop: Scott processing piles into uniform squares and designing the nine-patch style to be sewn in our two-person assembly line. This 3x3 square dates back at least to the mid-1700s and was popular amongst pioneer women in the American West. There’s not much of a fossil record for textiles. The National Park Service article calls them documents of history.
My quilt contains leftovers from numerous homemade dresses, pants, and shirts. Bits of my wedding dress next to scraps from masks sewn in the early days of the pandemic. Like my wardrobe, it is a display of neutrals and pops of warm colors. The thread holding the whole thing together was a sweet gift Xela picked up from an old lady’s garage sale. The wool batting and navy binding and neutral linen stashed away during provisioning in San Diego in case I got this far.
The quilt was my project between projects, gobbling up scraps of time and fabric along the Pacific Coast, in early mornings waiting in the Canal Zone. A way to relax and look to the future that just makes sense to me.
In the humid stupor of hurricane season, I felt itchy to begin something new. Decoupling identity from what we get paid for is tricky in our capitalist society, and the pangs to be part of something bigger than our boat hits at odd hours. As was becoming my habit, I considered what was available to me: time, space to spread out sewing supplies, the jungle, and connecting with those around me or reachable by WiFi. I went full tilt into the quilt, sewing the last of the ~350 or so scrappy squares.
“Serious” quilters are amongst the most precise individuals on this blue planet, perhaps working as brain surgeons in this or another life. I lack the space and patience to create uniform squares and instead baked imperfectionism into the design. I pieced the squares together peacefully and then trimmed them down to a uniform size before uniting them into the blanket.
A month or two ago, Melissa helped me lay out all of the patches on the big wooden floor of the house we shared for the summer. We stepped back and saw how the random colors melded into a cohesive quilt, adjusting very few to distribute like fabrics. Kevin visited Panama and shared stories of a friend who ran a mending station on a busy street in San Francisco while I stitched away. Andrea brought me a bag to mend and yerba mate to share as I stitched the final rows of the quilt together. Sewing is often solitary and it was a delight to pull the quilt top away from my machine for the last time in the company of a friend.
Working on the quilt with these friends reminded me of objects in orbit around a star. In the moments spent around the work in progress, we are enjoying alignment before splitting separate ways, pulled on our unique routes. With luck and effort, we will intersect again at one of our homes or places unknown.
Today I’m stitching the last of the binding — a double-folded strip of navy fabric that encases the edges. The final corraling of unruly pieces before completion. The Caribbean breeze is dipping ever so slightly that it feels almost cozy to have the blanket lay on my lap while stitching. My right middle finger is wrapped in a makeshift thimble of green masking tape. When the quilt drapes over the couch, Cypress the cat can be found hiding in the cool cave beneath.
My current guest bedroom is a 3’ x 6’ berth in the salon of our sailboat, the room that houses all but our bed and bathroom. Despite its stature, we’ve hosted a couple dozen guests, initiating them into life afloat and commemorating the time with a label on the wall that reminds me of my grandpa’s labeled workshop. For years we’ve loved listening to “Guesthouse” by David Wax Museum, an anthem of sorts for interconnecting in a time of transition.
I yearn to have a larger platform to host. To have a few extra walls and space to stash a suitcase. To reciprocate the many couches and air mattresses and guest rooms I’ve inhabited along my way, to make it easier to say, “hey, stay awhile!” and wow you with delicious breakfasts and parts of my city that appeal to your unique interests. I long to know a place after a decade of moving around.
This is all on the way for me and us. Even when miles aren’t floating under the keel, we are moving closer to living less adrift. After eighteen months of slow sailing, I understand the old saying “the journey is the destination” in a unique way. When way out here, the destination can be a steadying notion and creating something for the destination is even steadier. At five miles per hour, the journey is all-encompassing. A rate of progress similar to hand sewing. We live brief lives, often focused on getting somewhere faster, then missing what we had before.
As the quilt comes to a close, the 3000 miles to the Chesapeake feel a bit closer too.
Make time for a lingering project. What do you know you want to complete?
Prepare something to enjoy in deep winter. Applesauce, fire cider, a letter to your future self, a requested day off to do something fun.
Dial back the self-criticism for going slow.
For more scrappy creativity, check out the Plant You series on scrappy cooking. This week shows how to use the whole pumpkin.
Written in the spirit of not letting what we can’t do get in the way of what we can.
Did you try any of these? I’d love to hear about it.
Quilt curious? Check out Marlee’s classes in November and make yourself a blanket
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