A Quilt for Ben

This fall, I started working on a Scrap Vomit quilt using the small bits of fabric that I had been finding in my stash, mostly to see if I could do it. I was also preparing for the Something Out of Nothing presentation that I was going to do in November.

First, I cut and cut and cut strips out of my stash. The straightening cuts would end up in piles on my floor, and even those were fun to look at.

I happened upon fabric combinations that inspired me, but didn’t allow myself to act on those impulses. I was on a mission.

While cutting up my fabric stash, I found a lot of treasures. I found the last remaining pieces of some treasured fabrics from early quilts that had been lost in the fire, and I cut all of those treasures up into strips and squares for future projects. I can’t enjoy them if they’re buried in my fabric stash, so I want to try to get them into quilts where they’ll be loved again.

Progress was exciting to watch. I have a nasty TV habit on Tuesday nights in particular, so I would take my little box of squares and pins down and watch my ridiculous amount of TV (NCIS, NCIS:Los Angeles, and now Person of Interest has sucked me in), pinning squares together.

Pairs would turn into strips…

…and then strips into blocks…

…and before I knew it I had enough for a large throw.

And most of the components of another quilt built already too. I pressed all of the seams in alternating directions.


I discovered with the odd number of squares in each block, this meant that the quilt top lies incredibly flat, even with all of the potential stretch added by the seams. My accuracy improved greatly with the matching of all of the seams, and it was really a fun exercise.

Naturally, Friday helped a lot with the construction process. As always.

My favorite aspect of this quilt is how I can look at it and have lots of little memories. Most of the squares in it have been in other projects — quilts, outfits for the girls, bags, gifts, all kind of things I’ve made.

The only struggle I had with it was what to DO with it. It’s not a traditionally “beautiful” quilt, although it’s beautiful to me because of all of the memories in it. The colors are brash and loud and rowdy, since the main colors were chosen from what I had on hand rather than being purchased with a harmonic outcome in mind. It would be great as a picnic quilt, if we were prone to picnicking. We aren’t. It would be a great sofa quilt if we didn’t already have a stack of them. So I was conflicted. I wanted to finish it but I didn’t know for whom I was making it.

And then I was talking to my friend Jenny over the Christmas holidays by text message. Jenny lives in Minnesota, and her 12-year-old son wasn’t feeling very well. As the holiday break went on and Ben didn’t get better, she and her husband got increasingly concerned, so they finally took him to the hospital on New Year’s Eve. He had a lesion on his back that wasn’t healing and his cough was getting nastier and nastier. He was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and what Jenny and James and their family went through for the next two weeks is nothing short of horrific. Ben was in the ICU for pneumonia, and tested for everything under the sun. Doctors were flummoxed — they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with this child. Ben was put in isolation because they feared tuberculosis or some other highly transmittable disease, and Jenny said that at times it felt like they were on an episode of “House.”

And then, after two weeks of test after test after test and biopsies of the lesion on his back and lymph nodes in his armpit, Ben was diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. It’s rare, more common in males, and there’s a treatment plan that involves 7 courses of chemo and lots of time in and out of the hospital. Ben started chemo while still under sedation, and didn’t know he had cancer for a full week of his treatment for it.

And I suddenly knew for whom I would finish the quilt. This was Ben’s quilt.

Jerry and I went out to lunch a few Saturdays ago and got navy blue flannel for the backing, since I knew it would be soft. I layered it on the floor in front of the TV while watching “Downton Abbey” on the 19th of January.

Then I quilted flowers in an all-over meandering pattern on it. These would be flowers that would last and last, unlike many hospital flowers. And they would give the quilt a soft texture that would be nice to touch as Ben looked around at the different fabrics in it.

I used a variegated gold fabric for the quilting because the yellow and blue that would be visible on the back are his school colors.

Friday “helped” with the quilting, too.

I chose a black and white animal print binding because early on in the diagnostic process, I had suggested to Jenny that Ben was a “zebra,” in hospital terms. My dad has always said that when doctors “hear hoofbeats,” many think of zebras when they should really think of horses — most illnesses are just simply horses. But Ben actually WAS a zebra, which was all the more confusing.

Initially I was a little concerned that a zebra print binding would be a little too loud for the quilt, and then the absurdity of that idea made me laugh. Really, Elaine?

Tango helped me with quilt testing as I was hand-sewing the binding down.

And even Tucker, our recent impulsive acquisition, got in on it:

And then it was finished. Before school one morning I rushed outside and took photos of it on the fence before I put it in the washing machine.

It was a little windy. And navy blue flannel is a lint magnet. Super.

After it was washed, the texture was amazing.

It went from my dryer into a 3-gallon Ziploc bag without touching any more surfaces in our house.

And then I shipped it to Minnesota and held my breath. I told Jenny it was coming because I knew that they’d probably have to sign for it since I insured it.

Ben was just starting his second round of chemo when it arrived, so it was able to keep him warm for the first few days of that process. He and the hospital chaplain apparently played a memory game trying to find the same fabric in multiple places on the quilt almost immediately after it arrived. (Photo by Jenny Puzzo, used with permission. Ben’s wearing a hat that was sent to him the same day by Sarah Fleming. It was a great day for care packages!)

My hope is that Ben will feel the thousands of people all over the world that are wrapping him in prayer when he feels this quilt around him. And my hope is that Jenny will know that it is to be used, even if that means it gets worn out from all of the washing. If it gets worn out that means it has been well-loved and that’s the goal for any quilt, in my opinion. If you wear it out, I’ll make another — and next time in a color palette of Ben’s choosing… Although I do have to say that a “scrap vomit” quilt is quite hilarious as a chemo quilt.

(Funny story — for some reason I got it in my head that there are 49 blocks in this quilt, so in my card to Ben I mentioned that there are 2,401 squares in it. Nope. There are 25 blocks of 49 squares each, so 1,225 squares total. This math teacher stinks at arithmetic. This should not be a shocker to any other math teacher. I realized my error less than 5 minutes after leaving the quilt with the good folks at UPS.)

I included more zebras on the label on the back.

We’re all praying for you, Ben!


5 thoughts on “A Quilt for Ben”

  1. It’s beautiful, Elaine. Brought tears to my eyes. We’re all praying for you, Ben and family!!

  2. I love it! I am so glad I came to read the story and not just see pics of the quilt. You are a very good storyteller and I agree….a quilt is meant to be used and worn!!!!

  3. Elaine, the quilt is such a blessed piece of you and I’m so glad you gave it to Ben. Also, I love all your helpers!

  4. I love this quilt. It reminds me of the quilts my great-grandmother used to make of scraps of her families clothes. My grandmother could tell me which pieces were from my great-grandfathers work shirts, and would point out some pieces from her own “flour sack” dresses.

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