Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Unpick of the week: how to deconstruct a quilt in four hours

Among every quilter's top ten movies must surely be Witness, starring Harrison Ford, a detective who goes undercover in an Amish community where he takes part in a neighbours' barn-raising, while the womenfolk cook and serve a meal and engage in a quilting bee, gathering around a large wooden frame for the communal stitching of a quilt.

The Quilting Bee, Grandma  Moses, 1940                                           Wikiart

But wait: pause the DVD, then rewind it. In a few minutes the barn roof beams are lowered, the nails unhammered, the walls horizontal, the windows unframed, the piles of wood re-stacked on the ground. The lunch is unserved and the quilt unstitched.

Barn-raising in Lansing, c1900                                       City of Toronto Archives

Thus it was this week when I helped to unmake a friend's quilt.

A beautiful quilt top, meticulously pieced, but with a fatal flaw...

This particular king-size bed quilt had been many months in the making, and involved the sewing together of strips. Quilting wisdom dictates that you should sew each alternative strip in the opposite direction to avoid distortion - an instruction so very easily forgotten or overlooked in practice, so disastrous as a result. And it could have happened to any one of us. Advice had been sought, but the answer was inevitable: unpick it, or consign the unfinished skew-whiff quilt to twenty years in limbo at the back of a cupboard.

Unpickers at the ready, girls!

Enter the Quilting B Team, brandishing scissors and unpickers and roaringly ready to rip those seams.

Coffee. Gossip. Bitching and unstitching.
 "What would be  your Desert Island Discs?"
Cats shooed off the table. Getting into the rhythm of those plucked-apart threads, those fabric furrows.
 "Surely you can't like Rod Stewart?"
"It's so wonderfully BBC4, but probably only 300 people watch it."
"It was like kissing an over-ripe pear."

Soup and salad. More unstitching, The warp and weft, the snip and snag, the indigo fabric and navy thread, the slicing through knots and tangles.
"You did WHAT with Roy Hattersley?"
"They've sold out - they were playing at the O2 Arena."
"I know the book's a best-seller but I really didn't enjoy it."
Unpickers meeting in the middle of the final seam, a pile of loose threads on the floor...

After four hours the room felt like a pathology lab (I've never been in one, but I've seen the TV shows), a magnificent quilt dissected and lying eviscerated at our feet.

Time to catch the Tube or bus home, to reflect on the value of friendship and to congratulate ourselves on a job well undone.



  1. This was a lovely post , that was read with a damp eye! You wrote the tale beautifully.
    Feel very envious of your wonderful gift that is friendship!