The unfinished quilt has sat in the cupboard since before Christmas, waiting for its time again. Finishing it requires hours on end of peace, in which thinking is not interrupted, momentum builds, and the dining room table can remain covered with the complicated workings of it all.
Spreading out the almost finished top, on a day when all conditions seem to be met, I am struck again by the last problem I was grappling with - how to finish the border. And just as quickly, the fresh view of it affords me the answer that eluded me before. There will be a lot more cutting involved. Arithmetic. How many squares of the twelve different fabrics, and of what size? One hundred and twenty six, two and a half by two and a half. (Measurements in quilting are weirdly, but somehow comfortingly, in inches.) Measuring, cutting, pinning, sewing, ironing. A wave of excitement when it's done - it works! And as so often happens in quilting, the end result throws up a surprise, a revelation about the pattern that is above and beyond what I planned for. Here, the similarity in tone of the batik fabrics I've used in this quilt, produce an effect when they are placed flush together, almost of a single, new fabric.. Only the red pieces stand out, like jewels in a rich garment.
Now I lay out the three layers. (First vacuum every scrap of dog hair off the carpet.) Two backing pieces must be cut and sewn together. The whole is smoothed and centred, decisions made about edging, then all three layers are pinned together with dozens of bent-back quilting pins, starting in the middle. I crawl around the floor on my hands and knees, putting the pins in, taking them out, smoothing again, putting them back in.
I believe lots of people take their finished quilt tops to professional quilters at this stage,, but even though I am a poor amateur at machine quilting, the thought of someone else doing it is anathema. I decide on the simplest quilting pattern I can think of that does the job, and enhances the pattern of individual batik squares. It's hard physical work now, handling the whole three layers of a queen size quilt, and feeding them evenly and smoothly through the machine, without getting the dreaded bunching, puckering, creasing, and layers sliding about leaving gaps and folds that shouldn't be there, and which stick out, to my critical eye, like dog's balls. When all is finally done,, the job of unpicking all the mistakes I can't live with begins. Hard to find the black threads to unpick on the black backing fabric. I feel as if I am going cross eyed. I put some opera on - the drama seems to fit the moment.
Then it is all spread out again, and the edge turned and pinned. I decide to slip stitch the edge in place rather than machine it, It takes six times longer, but looks much better. Mitre the corners. Find and snip off all remaining cotton ends. Check for tiny places where the stitching has not caught. Press, carefully, with the iron. Rush finished quilt into bedroom and spread it out on the bed. It is beautiful. It is everything I wanted it to be. Rush up and down house calling to D to come and look. He has seen it a million times in the making, has taken his last few meals at the kitchen bench without complaint, as the dining room table has been out of action. But he hasn't seen it FINISHED. He is suitably impressed and admiring.
It's the only quilt that I have considered giving a name, something like Bali Memories, or Bali Dreaming, It captures the two weeks we spent with C and M and the children in Bali two years ago, the exotic, rich, exuberant feel of that time and place. I was so struck by the beautiful batik fabrics that you can buy so cheaply in the markets there, and I was so excited by the diversity of them. It became a challenge to find different ones in different markets. When I got back to our hotel room, I'd spread them out on the bed, and marvel at their rich beauty, the warmth of the colours, and the intricacies of the traditional designs. I was already thinking of the quilt I was going to make, and it would of course be for C and M.
On this day that I finished the quilt, they called in to see us on their way home.
'Wait here,' I said, 'I've got something for you.'
I had folded the quilt up, with the top facing inside. I'd considered wrapping it, or putting a bow around it, but these things seemed to put it on a level with any other present, which it wasn't.. So it was unadorned, and without ceremony, as I handed it over. Books get launched, gardens and houses are opened, yachts have champagne broken on their bows, artworks are unveiled. I know of no ceremony or tradition for the handing over and unfolding of a new quilt, but the thudding of my heart as C and M spread it on the bed and saw it for the first time, told me that there should be one.
C and M's pleasure and delight in it was my reward. And - days later, seeing it on their bed, its dark colours gleaming among the other bedclothes, a jewel from my life, that I have hope will outlast me many many years.