“I’m glad [you] happened to be awake.”

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.

Month One

As the months went on, I was able to make two blocks every time:

Through Month Three

And extras:

Extras

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:

Through Month Eight

and again during Lent:

Through Month Ten

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:

Twenty-Five Blocks and a HOUSE

In the house block I used some of those extra pinwheel blocks that I had been making from the cuttings the whole time:

house block

And then I added solid sashings and setting triangles to make it square again. Oh, and a cat. Always the cat.

Finished Quilt Top

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.

House block, quilted

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.

Friday on the quilt

sashing quilting

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.

swag

And then I put the binding on it. This simple act gave me a huge sense of closure, actually.

Binding going on

And then it was DONE!

Finished quilt

from the side

more swag

draped

folded

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.

Christa with her quilt

label

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.)

19 thoughts on ““I’m glad [you] happened to be awake.””

  1. You may not have cried gifting it, but I cried reading about your gift of gratitude, Elaine. Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. Beautiful. It is exquisite.

  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. The quilt is amazing and beautiful. I’m sure it will be treasured for years to come. Wonderful way to say Thank You and keep the memory of the good parts of the events last year in mind.

  3. Hi ~ I just saw a picture of your quilt over on the Fat Quarter’s blog and clicked your link.
    Just wanted to say your quilt is beautiful ~ fresh an so pretty. It is just awesome and a true gift from the heart.

  4. As horrible as that fire was, God’s hand was in it everywhere and miracles occurred. Your friend was the biggest of them all. The quilt is gorgeous and such a beautiful way to say thank you when words will never be enough.

  5. As someone else said you may not have cried, but your story brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful way to thank such a special person, & thank you for sharing your story!

  6. What a beautiful and moving gift to a true friend. I’m not much of a crier but your story and your gift caused my eyes to leak. I know just enough about sewing to really appreciate the amazing work you do Elaine. When I finally surrender to my creative urges and attempt my first quilt, I will only have you to blame/credit with my defeat. Your work and your heart leave me speechless.

  7. Elaine — I am so thankful for you that you have such a caring friend in your life. That she is safe. That your fur-babies are safe. And that you’ve found a way to grieve and to heal through such a beautiful craft. Your work is so extraordinary! There’s a special place for your generous heart — thank you for sharing your story and your talent.

  8. Elaine, I’m in awe, not only of your talent and creative gifts, but of your big, big heart. What a treasure you are on both counts! Thank you for sharing this touching story.

  9. I absolutely love everything about this quilt. About six months ago I was searching for ideas to see how people were finishing this FQS BOM quilt and I found yours (on Instagram) and was so enamored!! I just made a scrappy apple for the 25th block and am excited to finally get the top put together. Gosh, I hope mine can be as cute as yours. You are so talented. And what a neat story to go along with it.

    XO

    Vanessa
    http://lellaboutique.blogspot.com

  10. Hi there,
    I love your quilt and the sentiment that goes with it!! I love the fabric you have on the back…any chance you could let me know what it it? I just ordered this 2012 mystery block of the month from the fat quarter shop! I love your Centre block and how you put the blocks on point.
    Thanks so much!!

  11. Thank you!

    The backing fabric is from the same collection as the rest of the quilt — Moda’s “Vintage Modern” collection, and the item number is # 55048-15 … It’s getting kind of hard to find these days though. Good luck!! 🙂

  12. Wow.. it’s beautiful. I am just now finally finishing my 2012 BOM. I was doing so good at keeping up with the blocks. I made it to 10 and then my life fell apart. But after putting it on the shelf for a long time, I finally pulled it down last night and made block 11. I plan to have it totally done very soon. Thanks for sharing your story. The quilt is amazing and what an amazing gift!

  13. Hi! Do you happen to remember what size you cut the white squares? I am just getting around to this and want to double up the blocks to set on point like this!

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