What I Learned at My First Maker’s Faire

Modern Improv Quilt made with reused materials

Quilting is a fundamentally social act.

This discovery surprised me. But, now, I wonder why it should.

My early understanding of quilting came from my grandmother and her sisters sitting in the front room, under a big quilting frame. Their fingers move, side by side, stitching together.

The very story of Quilting is riddled with Quilting bees, for heaven’s sake. But, somewhere, in the solitary hours of sitting at my machine I’ve lost sight of this truth.

Handquilting a Modern Improv Quilt at a School Maker’s Faire

I am in a high school gym when it re-emerges for me. A quilt is spread over my lap and I am directing small fingers. Many of them are taking the very first stitches of their lives. In this noisy, rowdy room, that feels a little sacred, and more than a little powerful.

There is a Maker’s Faire going on all around us. Robots wiz around obstacles. Wind tunnels churn. People fold dainty paper flowers. There is a steady hum of making.

The making happening in this quilt is slow and it is quiet. I’ve thrown some quilts over tables, and draped one over the gymnastic mats against the wall. People wander by. Students. Teachers. Parents. The community that makes up this school streams past.

They stare at the quilts. Their eyes roam over our making. Some ask if any of the quilts are for sale. A few ask if there is a place in Warsaw to learn to make a quilt. And, plenty hurry on to the next booth.

If they pause at all, I invite them to join us.

“Oh, I can’t.”

“I don’t know how to sew.”

“I’d mess it up.”

This, always from the adults.

Some of the children are shy. Some are more interested in robots than sewing. But none of them say they can’t. That’s a lie we learn in adulthood.

Handquilting a Modern Improv Quilt at a School Maker’s Faire

There are a fair few, though, who are game to give it a try. They sit for a few minutes and make their own marks on this bit of fabric stretched between us. Many still carry with them their own perfectionism, worry and fear. I tell them (honestly) that their hesitant, unsure stitches are every bit the gift as the well-practiced ones.

And then they begin to talk. They tell me that their grandmother (or mother, depending on their age) used to quilt. Some people tell me that quilting started in their country. It’s a Swedish legacy. A Finnish heritage. An Irish one. I love every version. I listen to their stories. They tell me about hands they’ve loved, and the things those hands have made.

I don’t know if they are conscious of the connections they are drawing. I wonder if they recognize the act of making and what it is doing to their souls and to their memories. But, I think their fingers know. And, through their fingers, they begin to tell stories.

Handquilting a Modern Improv Quilt at a School Maker’s Faire

Because quilting is a fundamentally social act.

It must be.  I am surrounded with people who you don’t know one another, sitting down under the same blanket and stitching.  A remarkable thing is happening.  Perhaps even a profound thing.  In the midst of our own disconnection and isolation, we are sharing this space and this goal, for just a few minutes together.

A quilt is an object, yes.  But it is also more than an object.  It is a square of space, under which people can connect.  It is its own type of small, holy room.  It is a room for reading books, watching dying fires, and listening to one another.  Elevated as the roof of a fort, it covers a multitude of adventures.  Piled high, it guards from the chill of impending winter.

We are making all of that.  We are making a quilt.  And we are making a space for one another.

Modern Improv Quilt made with reused materials

The Anatomy of the Quilt

I’ve been quilting exclusively with used/discarded materials for a few years now, and this quilt was no exception. It was made with an old tablecloth and a holey duvet cover.

The Geography of the Quilt

Finishing the hand quilting on this was my car/bus/train project for the summer, so it saw quite a few miles. It traveled with me to Krakow and Zakopane, Poland. It also went to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Modern Improv Quilt made with reused materials