Hand quilting is a craft that requires real skill

Sometimes special jumps on your head and beats you until you can’t take any more of it.

That happened to me last week when I joined my friend Sandi Butt at her new home near Ackley. I’d been there before, but this time I went to help hand quilt a topper she bought at an Amish sale.

I didn’t know how to hand quilt, but nine Amish women from Fairbanks came to turn the topper into a finished quilt, and I was invited to join them. I still don’t know how to hand quilt, but at least I’ve got an idea. I was shown the proper way, but now realize that ideas without dexterity are merely thoughts blowing in the wind.

Oh, I tried. I ran that little needle up and down any number of times, but my number of times fell far below what these women accomplished. Before I could finish one 9-inch line, they’d be rolling the quilt to get to another barren spot.

Finally I just watched. It was rather like a step back in time, only because they occasionally fell into speaking German and I could pick up a word or two. Grandma Frieda sometimes lapsed into speaking German.

Four mother-daughter teams, and an extra daughter for one of the mothers, were ferried to Sandi’s house for the work. Ages ranged from 30 to 77. As each staked out a spot around the frame, she said “I haven’t quilted in ages.” Or words to that effect.

But each proved quilting, to them, is like riding that proverbial bicycle because their fingers seemed to move on their own accord, leaving each stitch the same size and same distance apart. My stitches ran all over the place.

I’ve heard the Amish leave a mistake in a quilt because no one is perfect, but they didn’t have to give up any of their skill with me there. Before we’d worked half an hour, I’d made several mistakes. Bad mistakes. The lady spearheading the work said it would be my trademark.

We can only hope not.

Sandi has another quilt top she’s having the women finish, and I will be invited back, she said. This time I’m taking Barb Kelly, of Jolley, with me. She does beautiful hand quilting and when she sits next to me so much will get done, it will look as if I’m actually helping.

That’s my plan, anyway.

Likely I would have been better at it if I’d gotten more sleep the night before, but I was so worried about messing up, I couldn’t put two hours of sleep together. Finally I just gave up, got up, cleaned up and drove. Even being the left thumb of the group, I felt I’d spent the day well, learning and watching.

Finally back in Dodge, I went to our Fort Dodge Area Quilters meeting, always the second Tuesday of the month. We had an auction. Everybody brought something to sell; many bought it back. And now we have extra money for instructors.

There’s always a way to learn.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at mcsalt@frontiernet.net