Accidental Quilter

The Accidental Naturalist has taken a short break from the Great Outs of Door and writing to work on creating a quilt for my college-bound son. I am not handy in the homecrafts, though I can turn out an indestructable potholder (yes, the loopy things on the metal loom) in 15 minutes. The quilt I decided to undertake began as an idea 18 years ago when my son was 5 months old. A neighbor had created a cottage industry out of turning cotton T-shirts into commemorative quilts. She had made dozens of quilts for amateur and professional athletes from their drawers full of T-shirts (triathlon, marathon, fundraiser runs, football jerseys, etc) as well as quilts for her kids from their favorite childhood T-shirts. These quilts were her gift to her kids when they went off to college.

My son was in a Onesie at the time, but I felt relieved that I had already decided what to give him for his highschool graduation present. I started collecting T-shirts in a drawer, then a suitcase, then a footlocker. Eighteen years later, my son finished highschool and it "suddenly" dawned on me that I had not started his quilt. I had planned to send all the T-shirts back to my neighbor to make the quilt, but found enough local quilters, Internet resources, and friends who offered advice and loaned me their sewing machines and equipment to tackle the project myself. A quilt is light-years beyond a potholder, but I was ready for a challenge, though I knew there was a very real possibility of the whole thing looking like a raggedy dog blanket when I had finished. 
Sorting through the T-shirts was fun, cutting out the design was not. First, it was tricky getting precise measurements to turn the stretchy T-shirt fabric into nice flat squares. The pieces needed to be squares, not parallelograms or rhomboids. Second, I found myself reluctant to cut the T-shirt. I had some 70 T-shirts laid out in front of me--from tiny, infant-sized ones to Mens Large. I still had strong memories of my son in those T-shirts--of his body in them--the chubby newborn, the toddler, the frog-collecting kid, the elementary school kid, the soccer player, the growing adolescent, the rock guitar player, the muscle-amassing high-school wrestler and rower. Cutting them up produced a nice square for the quilt, but meant I lost the physical reminder of my son's body in the T-shirts. But I had to cut. And, yes, I had to use the leftover T-shirts as handkerchiefs on more than one occasion.

Because this was a more emotional experience than making a potholder, I worked on the quilt when my son wasn't at home so that my son did not see this as the gift that reduced his mother to a weepy mess. Imagine, every time he got into bed at night he was accompanied by images of me sobbing over a pile of his T-shirts! The quilt would end up in the back of his closet for sure. This was not going to happen. Luckily, once I had finished cutting and starting piecing together the squares, the joy of creating something replaced the sadness of losing something and saying goodbye to my son's childhood as he gets ready for college.
I worked at the kitchen table, pinning and sewing and pinning and sewing. I could actually feel the adrenaline kick in as I watched the quilt grow from a few 8" x 8" squares into a queen-sized extravaganza. It didn't look like a dog blanket at all. Now, it is in the hands of a professional. I know my limits. Assembling the top, batting, border, and backing into an actual quilt was well beyond them. Soon, I will soon be stitching the binding--by hand I am told. I imagine myself sitting in our rocking chair in our kitchen, sewing in bad light in a hideous pair of green reading glasses. I will hand the needle to my son to thread, the way he remembers his great grandmother doing years ago. I will sew my way around the edges of the T-shirt, holding a different part of the quilt in my lap as I go. I hope to cherish each tiny stitch. I hope the quilt is not soggy with tears when I finish.

My younger son has watched the progress of the quilt and my slightly manic work habits (talking to myself, running from room to room for scissors or pins, putting on reading glasses for the first time to thread the needle, hiding the quilt from his brother) and is probably hoping for a car for his highschool graduation present. Or a gift card. Not a chance. I'm going for King Size.