I recently received an email from Annette Pennington from the Possumtown Quilters in Columbus, MS. She wrote to thank me for an article I wrote back in the 80’s for QUILT magazine which she cleverly used as a program for her guild. The article was called, “Remember, It’s Not Your Fault: Ten Excuses for a Rotten Running Stitch.”
Wow! That was a blast from the past!
Annette read the article aloud and had volunteers from the guild come up front, one at a time, holding cards for each of the 10 “excuses.” After each excuse, Annette cued the audience who responded: “It’s not my fault!” She said they really got into it as they went along.
I pawed through several boxes down in the basement looking for the magazine with the article in it. I stopped when I found the original manuscript which I have re-typed for your reading pleasure. (Feel free to use the idea in your guild! Just remember that Ami rhymes with salami.)
Remember, It’s Not Your Fault:
Ten Excuses for a Rotten Running Stitch
(Copyright 1988 by Ami Simms)
It seems to me that quilters spend entirely too much time blaming themselves for quilting stitches that don’t measure up. They mistakenly assume that each “toe-hooker” that falls off the back-end of their needle is somehow their responsibility. It’s their fault.
Not only do they heap criticism upon themselves, they willingly accept it from others. (Witness the growing number of quilters who enter judged quilt shows for the express purpose of having their work picked apart by a total stranger.)
Obsessed with the “perfect” stitch, they browbeat themselves for anything larger than a flea dropping, and make their lives miserable if they can’t get 27 stitches on their needle before they pull the thread. What’s wrong with these people? Unless their goal is the rubber room at the local hospital, they should abandon this defeatist attitude, ditch all responsibility, and liberate themselves by learning how to blame something or somebody else! And so should you. Remember, IT’S NEVER YOUR FAULT!
Before you irreparably damage your self-esteem, learn to inflate your own ego with some creative scapegoating. Some examples:
Excuse #1: The fabric. Let’s start with the obvious. The fabric you so painstakingly selected at the fabric shop, lovingly cut and reassembled into the perfect balance of color and form, has now turned against you. Once smooth and supple, it has turned to cast iron now that you have come near it with a needle. How on earth can you possibly be expected to make small and even stitches through uncooperative fabric? It’s not your fault your stitches could snag your entire foot. Repeat after me, “It’s the fabric!”
Excuse #2: The batting. A little less obvious, but always a favorite of mine is the batting. Have you ever wondered why batting is sold in clear plastic bags? I’ve concluded that it must be light-sensitive. When exposed to light, it looks like that perfect substance to put between the quilt top and the lining. It appears soft, fluffy, and just the right thickness and density. Shield the stuff from the sun’s rays (remember, it’s pretty dark inside those quilts) and the batting somehow changes its molecular structure to that of stale cotton candy. This metamorphoses causes the batting to expand, grow globs, and resist penetration by any needle not driven home with a hammer. Examination of the batting by fellow quilters, shop owners, and interested bystanders is always fruitless, as this must be done in the light, which, of course, returns the batting to its “normal” state. Short of making quilts out of Saran Wrap, there is no alternative but to BLAME THE BATTING.
Excuse #3: Needles. I haven’t yet met a needle with which I could find nothing wrong. They’re too sharp, too dull, too thick, too thin, too long, or too short. Simply choose one or several uncomplimentary characteristics from the list above and start complaining. Feel free to add the following for emphasis: “Besides, they’re so blasted hard to thread!” Injuries resulting from sharp needles and over-achieving bottom fingers can also be blamed for unsightly stitches. “It’s not MY fault my stitches are so big. I didn’t want to get blood on the quilt so I only used one hand.” This is a personal favorite.
Excuse #4: Thread. Just think about it. If it weren’t for the thread, you couldn’t make those big ugly stitches, could you? Reason enough to lay blame on the nearest spool. Thread is the culprit that twists, tangles, knots, frays, splits, and breaks — sometimes all at the same time. Those more experienced in guilt-free quilting can also blame poor performance on the fiber content of the thread. Too much polyester. Too much cotton. Or how about the length of the thread currently in one’s needle. I would think that anything from three inches (“Too short.”) to one-quarter mile (“Too long.”) are good for sympathy. Very astute quilters recognize the adverse effects of quilting with the wrong color thread. I’d say it’s almost impossible to make decent stitch if the thread is the wrong color.
Excuse #5: The thimble. If you can’t think of a good reason to blame your thimble then there’s something wrong with you. They are always either too big or too small, too tight or too loose, too heavy or too light. How very difficult it is to make beautiful stitches under these conditions. It is even more difficult if the thimble bends your fingernail, or makes your finger sweat. Using a plastic thimble when metal is your favorite, or vice versa, can be a real hardship, as can loosing your thimble all together. I suppose the only thing worse is having to quilt WITH a thimble when you’re used to working WITHOUT one. (Forced to do ANYTHING different by some heartless quilting instructor who lives to boss other people around will surely make your stitches longer.)
Excuse #6: Light. Can’t make decent stitches if the light’s not good. Everybody knows that. And, you can never get enough light. Period. Remember that one; it always works.
Excuse #7: The weather. Now stop the snide remarks and pay attention. If you’re physically uncomfortable due to meteorological irregularities, how in the world can you make nice small stitches? Personally, I have a comfort range of about three and a half degrees. When the temperature dips below 70 degrees, I get cold. My fingers contract and stiffen, my thimble falls off, my nose starts to drip, my teeth chatter, and my stitches go to pot. When the mercury shoots up past the middle seventies, my hands bloat, my eyeglasses slide down my face, and my needle slips right out of my grasp. How in the world can one be expected to do precision work with Mother Nature rocking the boat?
Excuse #8: The Quilting. One guilty party frequently overlooked is the quilting motif you’ve attempted to execute. Anything more complicated than straight lines going in your favorite direction and you should start complaining. Feathers? Who needs ’em?! You can’t be expected to achieve perfection going around and around in circles, starting and stopping every inch and a half. Who thought those silly things up anyway? And how come nobody ever quilts the rest of the bird?
Excuse #9: Household obligations, spouses, and little people who call you mother. Just about the time you get your needle warmed up, it’s time to stop. Someone wants to be fed, another claims that clean underwear has become a fond memory, or it’s simply time to shovel out the living room. Whatever the reason, there’s never enough time to do it right. It’s not your fault! If you don’t get adequate practice time, how can you ever make great stitches?
Excuse #10: Talented others. Every time you turn around there’s somebody making stitches better than yours. At quilt shows, in workshops, at guild meetings. They make tiny stitches without batting an eye and their bottom fingers don’t even bleed. It’s enough to make you sick, isn’t it? Face it, there’s only so much talent in the world, and it’s already been passed out. It’s not your fault. Like the old joke, when your ship came in your were waiting at the airport.
Re-reading the article this morning, almost 25 years after I wrote it, I’m disappointed that it didn’t have much of an ending. Maybe it’s implied: Do what you can do. Try to get better, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Perhaps the next guild that turns my article into a program should have a mini contest afterwards: Prizes go to the best mobster-speak (picture Hugh Grant as Micheal learning how to talk like a tough guy in the movie Mickey Blue Eyes). “Hey, forget about it.”
And, of course, there’s always machine quilting or quilting by checkbook.
Have a great day,
June 24, 2012 at 11:43 am
Jennie’s bridal shower was too much fun. It was exciting to plan, wonderful to be with family and friends, and even enjoyable to clean up. (Don’t miss the video at the end!)
I had the shower here at the house in my mother’s old “apartment” when she lived with us. The room is now known as my @Home Classroom. I apologize for the very blurry “After” picture. It’s the only one I have. It’s not even taken from the same spot as the “Before.” But did you notice the seven hand-dyed tablecloths, each a different color? Just proves that 120″-wide muslin quilt backing can be used for other things. And the matching napkins? I ran out of fabric for the napkins so some are smaller than others. I randomly placed them on the tables. That took about 35 minutes. I don’t do random all that well. (It’s safe to click all the rest of the pictures to see nice, large, crisp photos without getting sick to your stomach.)
Our Jennie was named after her maternal great-grandmother, Jennie Gottesman. The “original” Jennie’s dishes, stemware, and silver were passed down to my mother and then to “our” Jennie. They’ve been stored in our basement for years so it was only fitting that they were used for Jen’s shower. In between polishing the silver and cleaning up the upstairs, I found an old photo album. Inside was a very old photograph showing a holiday dinner served on the very same dishes. Here’s another “Before & After.”
In addition to the photo album I found a guest book signed by all the attendees of my mother’s bridal shower in 1945. I wish she was still here to remind me who wrote all the heartfelt messages wishing her a happy life with my father.
As I flipped through the pages out fell the card my “Grandma Jennie” gave to my mother with her shower gift.
(I never really knew my grandmother. Shortly after I was born she had a series of severe strokes. She was bedridden the whole time I knew her. I never heard her speak.) I had no idea she was so creative! Nor can I imagine never having “found” that card before now!
When guests arrived on Saturday we asked them to take an envelope and address it to themselves, using pens stuffed with fabric. (Actually the fabric is wrapped around the “ink thingy.”)
Jennie drew from the self-addressed envelopes to award the flower centerpieces throughout the day, AND won’t have to address thank-you envelopes!
I also asked guests to write a message, draw a doodle, or just sign their names with permanent pens on a butcher’s apron for Jennie.
Years ago, after my parents were first married, my mother had a big dinner party and asked everyone to to sign a butcher’s apron. She later embroidered their signatures, drawings, and messages. I stitched that original apron into the back of the quilt I made for her 70th birthday. You might remember seeing the front of the quilt on the cover of Creating Scrapbook Quilts.
Shower games included “Who Knows Jennie The Best” and a take off on the old chestnut where items are placed on a tray, passed around, and then shower guests have to try to write down as many items as possible from memory.
Winners received zipper pins like this one. (Have I mentioned that I am the new owner of a glue gun. Totally FUN!)
Jennie’s great Aunt Elaine and Uncle Bud live in Florida, but we wanted to include them as much as possible in the festivities so we “Face-Timed” during the shower games and when Jennie opened the presents so they could be a part of it too.
You’ll notice a giant poster of Craig and Jennie on the wall framed with fabric scraps from the tablecloths. I made the poster online at www.blockposters.com. You upload a photo and it creates a PDF based on the size of the image and the number of pages you want to tape together. Just ignore the images of a crazed-looking guy with the hatchet on the website. I had the pages printed on a color printer at Office Max.
As Jennie opened each gift, Craig’s nieces delivered a rose bud to the person who gave the gift. The bud was made by wrapping two Hershey’s Kisses in red cellophane (flat bottom to flat bottom) and then wrapping the “bud” on the rose stem with floral tape.
Silk roses were 60% off at JoAnn Fabrics. It still probably would have been cheaper to buy real roses and just eat those, but math skills escape me when I shop. If anybody has any great ideas for the blossoms I yanked off to make the chocolate buds, you can have them!
Even cleaning up was fun because Jennie stayed and we washed everything up and put it all away together. Scooter provided the entertainment.
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June 7, 2012 at 7:03 am
Mom is busy getting ready for Jennie’s bridal shower tomorrow. I don’t know why they are all coming over here to wash up; nobody tells the dog anything. Here’s a picture of Mom washing windows. Not sure why that had to happen. She said she got carried away, but she didn’t. She’s still here.
People things are really confusing. I’d rather write about me.
I have been improving. I am now a much more better dog. I can walk around the whole mall without a major leash correction. Mom is taking the picture. This is Debbie. She works with Mom. This is us at the mall. We walk there every day. (Hi, Debbie.)
We went to the Frankenmuth, Michigan Dog Bowl and I was so good I thought Mom was going to hug the stuffing out of me. There were tons of dogs and after I calmed down I just walked regular, like all the other dogs. I let Mom lead me all around and I didn’t bark or lunge at the other dogs. We went two days in a row.
There were dogs everywhere.
It was hot.
We had water and we walked and walked and walked.
And then we walked more.
It was way fun!
I’m going next year, right Mom?
Here’s a video of me getting some toys from my new best friend, Cass Plott.
That’s all for now. I’m sure Mom will blog after the shower.
Big friendly woofs and tail wags,
June 1, 2012 at 1:13 am