If you don’t know that line, it’s from Jane Eyre, and it was posted on Facebook on the morning of March 19, 2012 by my dear friend, Christa.
You see, the night before, she had been house-sitting for us when the smoke alarms went off. She rescued all four of our geriatric animals from our house before the fire department arrived. She ran back into the building again — in bare feet — and opened the front door so that the firefighters wouldn’t break it down. And she threw a quilt onto the fire, which horrified me at the time but ultimately probably kept the fire from reaching the ceiling and attic. She saved our house from being more damaged than it was, and I had been uncertain about how to repay heroism like that. Jokingly I had told her “I’m going to make you a superhero cape,” but decided that would be a little silly. And not really practical. We live in Alabama, after all. People would stare.
In any case, we saw her once after the fire, after the house had been fully gutted but before any real work had been done to put it back together again. We took her out to dinner, and that was all we had done to say thank you. It bothered me for a year, really — I wanted to do something more tangible than just thanking her, you know? But how do you really say thank you?
And then in May of this year, it hit me. I was pressing the final block in a Block-of-the-Month program from the Fat Quarter Shop that I had signed up for last summer. Suddenly, I knew who that project had been for the entire time and why I had been so driven to stay caught up with it. Even the colors were right — Christa’s favorite color is red. She also likes green, but not usually those two colors together because her birthday is really close to Christmas. I know this because I asked her last winter, casually, what her favorite colors were so I could start formulating a plan for a quilt for her. I was going to do library books on a shelf — she’s a graduate student in English Literature, after all — but that felt kind of cheesy, somehow.
… To tell this story right, I have to go back to last summer.
Last summer was REALLY hot here. And it was really hot very early, too. There was a week in June that it was 106F for the whole week, and that was the week Helen was at Camp McDowell without any air conditioning. That was also the week that Alice and I were trapped inside with all of the blinds down and closed in the rental house because the air conditioning didn’t work. We had managed to get the house functional, but I was very frustrated that I didn’t have a design wall and yet the summer was stretched out in front of me and I needed to sew for the therapy.
Fat Quarter Shop had a new Designer Mystery Block of the Month, and so I signed up for it. I wasn’t familiar with the fabric line that they were using, but several of my local friends had done the FQS BOM in the past and had raved about the quality of the instructions and the amount of fabric you were sent each month. If you were really careful with your cutting, they said, you could actually get TWO blocks cut from the supplies sent each month, and have enough for two quilts at the end of the year. So I signed up. I decided that it would be good “prescription sewing” — the fabric and instructions would tell me exactly what to do each month — and the lack of a design wall wouldn’t be a problem.
The first month’s fabric and instructions came, and I made one block, some extra pinwheels and half-square triangles, and I still had fabric left over. Not quite enough of the white to make a second block, but almost. I did go find more white locally and make the second block, though. Couldn’t stand it.
As the months went on, I was able to make two blocks every time:
And then school started and Jerry got hurt and we moved and I got a little behind. But I caught up again at a retreat in February:
and again during Lent:
and then the end of school ate up all of my free time from mid-April until the end of May. But in May, I finished the last two blocks. And that’s when I realized that this quilt had been for Christa the whole time.
So I had 24 blocks. I could set them 4×6 and it would have been 58″ wide and 84″ long before borders, which just seemed like a weird size to give to a person. Then I realized that if I made one more block, it could be 72″ square for a straight setting before borders, or about 80″ square if I set them on point. I tried them on point, and LOVED the look — they were beautiful blocks before, but they just SANG when on point.
So I made a house block to go in the center, and tossed them up on the design wall, which I finally had again:
In the house block I used some of those extra pinwheel blocks that I had been making from the cuttings the whole time:
And then I added solid sashings and setting triangles to make it square again. Oh, and a cat. Always the cat.
Once I knew who the quilt was for, I couldn’t WAIT to get it finished for her. While Jerry was on his scuba trip in June, I layered the quilt and basted it, and started quilting it from the center.
In the window, I quilted a cat to symbolize the four animals she saved: Emily, Tango, Linus, and Logic.
In the door, I quilted the panels that she had protected.
In the rear right of the roof, I quilted flames. And there are smoke puffs all around the house on the ground.
Helen wanted me to quilt “THANK YOU, CHRISTA-SAVE-THE-HOUSE” (which is her name, of course) around the house, but I told Helen that this needed to be, first and foremost, a quilt. To Christa, it can have more meaning, but she shouldn’t have to explain why she has it unless she really wants to. So I wanted all of the symbolism to be subtle.
And then I just had a wonderful time quilting it. The whole machine quilting process took me less than a week, which is just insane for a quilt this size. But I kept the plan manageable so the quilt will be soft to snuggle under.
Friday interfered as much as possible.
I used my grandmother’s lampshade to get the curve for the swags in the setting triangles… Took a while to find a curve that was the right size for that space. If Jerry had been here he would have said, “Use a MIXING BOWL!” like he did when I shared this with him the night he got home. But he wasn’t home, so I used a lampshade.
And then I put the binding on it. This simple act gave me a huge sense of closure, actually.
And then it was DONE!
Today, I gave it to her. She wasn’t expecting a present, which made it even more fun. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry when giving it to her, either. That’s completely weird for me. I cry very easily, and would have expected that. But I didn’t.
So thank you again, Christa. I’m glad you happened to be awake, too. (And I did write that on the label after I took the picture… Decided that phrase needed to be there too.)