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Harold F. Hester

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The (quilting) Needle and the Soul
By Harold F. Hester
Sunday, June 07, 2009

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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Just a fun short story about and for quilters.

Are you a Quilter? Now…..think before you answer and I will ask again a bit later.


If one complete room in your home is devoted exclusively to fabrics, sewing and embroidery machine(s), ironing boards, cutting tables and walls and racks filled with every color thread known – please don’t bother answering because the smile on your face is the response. A whole room is not essential to be a quilter but if you have all you need/want at your fingertips it just means you are one of the chosen.


Aristotle said Quilting and quilters are artists with an infinite ability to create art. Quilters have a keen eye for detail and with needles and thread they have no fear of ripping seams that have been meticulously measured. Quilters are special people.


Quilters and quilting is not yet out-of-this-world and into outer space but one day it just might be. Outer space is limitless and is noted by the layperson and scholars as infinite, symbolically represented by (a lazy eight). Over 2400 years ago Aristotle said, "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance."


Marc Chagall is quoted with "Art must be an expression of love or it is nothing." And Georgia O'Keeffe "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way-things I had no words for." How can you argue with these giants of colors and shapes?


If you have ever touched a foot-petal, filled a bobbin, opened a bolt of fabric with visions of how it would look as draperies, a blouse, a shirt or a quilt for the new baby or mutter under your breath, damn, damn, damn when you hear a sharp cling and look down to see the tip of your last needle hanging by a thread…you are a quilter.


Quilting is more than hobby, more than an's an addiction. It is an addiction so strong women, and men alike feel so strongly toward their Quilting they repeat their lives. They have too. Quilters will look you in the eye and swear one lifetime is not enough time – and mean it. 


Do you believe in reincarnation?


Me neither.


I am not a quilter but I have spent some time learning the foot/knee-feed and keeping my fingers away from a needle moving at lighting speed while seemingly trying to stitch my fingernails together. Mostly I am quick enought. I have to admit however, I never mastered buttonholes. One fault I have is while concentrating on one thing I would often screw something else up. For example, have you ever been so preoccupied sewing that maybe you sewed a pocket to the back of a shirt. I have. I would manage to do some things just dumb enough I became expert at ripping seams.  There was that one time I sewed a sleeve and my right index finger together in a perfect stitch in the ditch. Not sure what hurt the most; the finger with eleven holes in it; my pride or the pounding my finger took under that damn presser-foot. 


Do you believe dog’s hearing is so sensitive it can hear a range of sounds between 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz, whereas human’s range is only 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz? Some sounds that can not be heard by humans can be felt, but that is a whole other subject besides you will need to know this later.


To be reincarnated is a bit scary to think about and I’m really not sure it’s worth the effort. I know I can’t control it or my fate one way or the other so why worry about it. There have been times on dark stormy evenings I would play the what-if game between my ears. You know the game, “what if I did come back and be a chicken or jack-ass. What if I came back a male again but this time – stupid or ugly? I really don’t have control of what my brain decides to think about so even unwittingly I do subconsciously think about it – and wonder?


Sometimes on quiet evenings I will curl up with a warm computer and research my genealogy, and wonder.  It’s kinda fun and some of the stuff I find seems to cover the whole spectrum for reality I didn’t know; for example my grandfather, Louis Canute when he was young and sowing his oats owned a bank, and a small town in Oklahoma and a few thousand acres of land that has, I’m told, a vast deposit of oil and natural gas needing to be tapped. Needless to say I didn’t believe Google, that is to say, I was very doubtful but my tune changed when my first royalty check arrived. The bank grandpa owned in Mexico is a matter of record and I hear he made it out of the country by the skin of his teeth ahead of Mexican general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in 1836. At the same time grandpa was recruited by Jim Bowie to fight in the Alamo but declined the offer. If you think about it….if grandpa had been more patriotic and stayed to help at the Alamo… I would not be here and you would not be reading this story.

But… if he had stayed and helped at the Alamo, I could have been reincarnated as a female that liked, no loved quilting and be writing this story in first-person and not as an outsider writing about a subject near and dear to my male heart just maybe not as passionately as would a true quilters.


When you look at a quilter you may see (in your eyes anyway) a person with no interest in life and trying to kill time doing mundane sewing. You couldn’t be further from the truth to reality. Behind those eyes cast downward concentrating on needle and thread and design is a dedicated, passionate and artful person. There are some males that profess to be quilters but they lack a quality found only in the female - concentration.  Who else but a female has the ability to visualize a completed pattern; measure cloth with such precision that after folding and ironing then sewing delicate cloth/fabric that all points, corners and curves come out exactly as envisioned? What makes this so difficult? Time, energy, cost and sheer numbers.  Try these three numbers; 20,000 and 800 to 1,500.


20,000 pieces of fabric (all different colors and patterns) that must be measured cut, ironed and sewed and those two other numbers are dollars. Quilts are not cheap! 


In this story I will not be talking about are discussing Long-armed quilting.


Quilters are special. Quilters have uncanny hearing and a bodily chemistry imbalance that standard and normal medical test are not designed for. For example, a recent government study has indicated that fabric gives off certain pheromones that actually hypnotize women and cause them to purchase huge amounts of fabric. When stored in large quantities, the pheromones (fer-ə-mōn – a noun) in the fabric cause memory loss and induce a nesting syndrome, similar to squirrels before the onset of winter when they store food. Sound tests have revealed that these fabrics emit a very high-pitched sound, heard only by a breed of women know as quilters. When played backwards on an LP, the sounds are heard as chants; Buy me! Cut me! Sew me! In order to overcome the feeding frenzy effects that these fabrics cause, one must wear a face mask when entering a storage facility and use earplugs to avoid being lulled into their grip. These same studies have also indicated that aliens have infiltrated earth, helping to spread the effect that these fabrics have on the quilting population. They are called Fabric Store Clerks! These same pheromones cause a pathological need to hide away these purchases when taken home when asked by a significant other if the fabrics are new, the reply is, No dear….I’ve had it for awhile.


That small town in Oklahoma? Norman, but having a difficult time convincing the town council Grandpa’s father and he surveyed and bought the land in 1886. He made it out of Mexico with a bit over $50,000 that was the purchase price of 36.44 square miles that is now that small town. Grandpa’s dad name was Norman.


Is that true ? Sure, but always remember there are things, elements and facts that are sometimes hard to explain. However we still have the Elm tree to prove it - ask Dixie.


Dixie is part Indian – American Indian - not the place on the other side of the world all telephone 1-800 numbers are answered. I mention Dixie’s heritage because The Isha Upanishad of the Yajurveda (c. 4th to 3rd century BC) states that "if you remove a part from infinity or add a part to infinity, still what remains is infinity". I have know Dixie to exercise her Indian heritage in quilting where she would take a Fat-quarter, cut it in-half, sew it on the other end to make it longer.


Trust me. I have seen her do it.


According to minimal estimates, there are 2,500-3,000 idioethnic languages in the world. There are 21.3 million active quilters in the U.S. and an estimated 30 million quilters worldwide that have an annually budget of more then three billion USD. Dixie speaks Quilterezz and with a personal budget of whatever makes her happy.


This story was inspired by Dixie, her many lives and 30 million of her needle comrades.


Think I’m kidding about the language and budget? Quilters use their own language in every day conversations, on-line, in E-mails, land-lines and texting. What makes this language so different then any others? Try using any of these words in a normal sentence then tell me what you just said: appliqué - beeswax- bias binding- chain piecing- cheater's panel- curved piecing- cutting mat-  darning foot- directional rint- double fold French inding-dual feed foot- dye magnet- fat eighth- fat quarter- feed dogs- thread basting- rapunto- tufting-  wadding- walking foot- warp view- weft view- yo-o - zinger-


Who is Dixie? In the 1835 image above Dixie is on the bottom row far right. She is holding her two year old Annie, born in 2007. Dixie has been reincarnated nine times and she tells me we knew each other in one of her other lives. I didn’t want to know any more details so I let that sleeping dog lay.


What is the big deal about being a quilter? Are they special with special needs? The short answer is YES.


A true quilter has room(s) specially designed for her needs: Materials, sewing machine(s), Stash, cutting boards… you know… stuff.


I once tried to pull Dixie away from a quilting project and discovered it would have been easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle then me to pull her away from her machines.


Such a setting and environment is not possible for everyone. Many homes are too small. For example, not all of our ancestors could afford a large house and westward settlers usually started out living in a log house or even a dug out. This didn't deter women from their love of quilting. Although one or two women could manage to quilt on a frame propped between furniture in a crowded room there was another innovative solution. Quilt frames were rigged so that the frame could be dropped down from the ceiling while quilting was in progress than lifted again to get it out of the way. Some such arrangements dropped over a bed so that a woman could work on the quilt during the day then leave it on the frame to be raised above the bed during the night.


We have entered into serious talks about adding still another room to the house.


Do quilters need lots of room to quilt?


Most do but there are exceptions. One lady I meet in Wal-Mart buying fabric is the wife of a long-haul trucker. She told me she normally sits quietly in the cab sewing as the truck dodges traffic at 75 MPH. Her eyes showed a slight twinkle as she told me a few stories how she alternated driving with her husband. Mostly her turn at the wheel would be when the sun went down and her light was not good for quilting, but OK to turn eighteen wheels pulling 129,000 pounds of freight up the side of a mountain range and down through lush green valleys.


See what I mean when I say, Quilters are special.


The truth about Quilting or Quilting Bees

The most romantic view of a quilting bee is that of the quilting party. Old books and stories tell of neighbors all being invited to a quilting. The women would quilt all day, perhaps taking turns around the frame while others cooked up the grand meal that would be served to the men folk that evening. Then it was a time for singing, dancing and courting among the young people. The song "Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party" tells of a couple strolling home after such a party.


Although such gatherings did occur it is hard to get the facts beyond the idealized image. Fiction written in the mid nineteenth century puts such parties as early as 1800 but it is more likely they began to occur later in the century.


Many a quilting or quilting bee included only women helping a friend or neighbor finish a quilt. Such a feminine gathering would be a great way for women to get together to socialize. Women could share family news, exchange recipes, give child-rearing tips and all in all support each other. It has been said that next to church going quilting bees were the primary contact for women. But even this view has been romanticized a bit.


“Our world has become so complicated with our cell-phones, Blackberries, computers, and microwaves and automatic transmissions we no longer can really say what we are thinking nor as far as that goes, can we even write it out... you know... longhand using all the words and letters. Also called Cursive Script. 24 hours in each day just is not long enough - anymore. In many cases we, or I do anyway, guess at the meanings of "Acronyms". DMV I've mastered as well as CNN, Fox, Idol and Survivor. I have a new one that may be the death of me, or I hope not anyway... It’s STABLE. Stables are where horses live, right? Yes and no. Yes they do spent lots of time crewing hay in their stable, but stable can and does also mean '...a person of equal equilibrium in society. Their head is on straight and they know right from wrong.’ That’s all true . For the quilter, STABLE means “Stash That Accumulates Beyond Life Expectancy”. The UPS just used a fork-lift to bring me another shipment of fat quarters. Forgive me as I salivate and re-arrange my haven … I'm told I LOVE IT.”


The above is a semi-confession of Dixie the Quilter.


Quilters are not exclusively female. There are prerequisites to be called a quilter but gender is not one of them. I personally do not know any male quilters but have seen some on TV and read books that feature men. I think one reason there aren’t as many men as women quilters is you need to have more skills then simply running a machine. We talked about their male/female relationship earlier. Remember, a quilter needs an eye for designs, artistic feels and math skills that rival structural and architectural engineers.


Do you know or remember Barbara Eden? Yep, she’s the one that could wiggle her nose in or out of her genie bottle and produce most any type merriment or mayhem that came to her mind in their 1965 TV series, I Dream of Jeannie.  


Weeeeeeeell… Just last week I was walking along the beach and found that same bottle. I looked around and didn't see anyone so I loosened the cork and out popped Barbara as spry and beautiful as if were still in the ‘60s. With that same twinkle in her eyes she said, "I am so grateful to get out of that bottle that I will grant you any wish, but I can only grant one."


Money, riches, fame, and health I could now have it – and all I need do was ask. My mouth was dry; the sun was bright and shinning in my face and Barbara was beguiling and my brain was as blank as a sheet of bleached note paper.  


Finally after what seemed an eternity my brain told my mouth to say, "I have always wanted to go to Hawaii. I've never been able to go because I cannot fly. Airplanes are much too frightening for me. On a boat, I see all that water and I become very claustrophobic. So I wish for a road to be built from here to Hawaii.


That was a new one for Barbara but she wrinkled her brow and looked concerned before saying, "No, I don't think I can do that. Just think of all the work involved. Consider all the piling needed to hold up a highway and how deep they would have to go to reach the bottom of the ocean. Imagine the entire pavement needed. No, that is just too much to ask."


OK. She had a point. There was ONE other thing I have always be curious about so, again my brain finally said, "There is one other thing I have always wanted. I would like to be able to understand women quilters. What makes them laugh and cry, why are they temperamental, why are they so difficult to get along with sometimes or when they want attention, when they don't. Basically, what makes them tick?"


Barbara’s expression was beyond bewilderment but she said after a few minutes, "So, do you want two lanes or four?"


I love my quilter.









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Reviewed by Jean Pike 10/15/2009
Excellent article, written with humor and eloquence. Educational and delightful. Very much enjoyed.

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