Quilting Habits and Instincts

I’ve come to the conclusion that spiders may not be the dumb creatures of evil and malicious intent that I’ve always thought them to be; maybe they’re just creatures of habit and instinct. Now I say “may not be” because I’m really not quite ready to consign them to the ranks of the innocent just yet considering that one was crawling up my leg this morning at my computer, so I’m not quite so sure about that one, and I’m sure he has brothers and sisters somewhere.

But you know, I was in the shower this morning and I looked up, and there was a spider in the corner. Well, it’s a tall shower and it was a small spider, and so it didn’t require screaming and running from the room as it might have on another day with bigger spider in a different shower. Besides, I was all wet and still had conditioner in my hair, so it just didn’t happen. I decided I would just share with the spider for a few moments until I could finish, though I did try for a little more alacrity than usual.

So I watched the spider, because, well, I wanted to keep an eye on it, since if it got too close I really would leave the shower, or at least try to spray water at it and wash it down the drain or something. I hadn’t been in the shower all that long since who has time for long showers these days, so the walls weren’t completely soaked from condensation or splashing water, and it was probably pretty dry up there in the spider’s corner. But pretty soon, he (she?) started heading down the wall, and I could see that he/she, okay IT was having trouble on the wet wall, and I could tell things were getting a little slippery up there.

But does the spider turn around and go back the other way? No. It keeps going. So I’m waiting for this spider to fall off the wall into the shower with me and thinking “Well, that’s dumb!” But then I realize that it’s not dumb, it’s just acting on instinct and looking for it’s next meal (though with any luck the next meal won’t be me). It’s just traveling around doing it’s instinctive and habitual thing; it’s not stupid, though obviously this is just my opinion and conclusion, considering that I’m not an entomologist and the only studying of spiders I’ve done is about how to kill them or otherwise remove them from my immediate vicinity without grossing myself out to badly and/or being squeamish about it.

So why am I standing in the shower thinking about this spider? Well, I can’t not think about it since it’s sharing my space, and it’s been a bad week for the little suckers around here so maybe they’re just on my mind; ITMan is in the States for a conference, so I’ve had to man up and be the family spider killer, and this is number five in about three days. Number one was already dead thanks to one cat or the other, but I still had to clean it up since said cat couldn’t be bothered to make a meal of it; number two was most definitely not dead and it was way bigger than number one (like I had to get the combat boots out for that one), number three was a little smaller but still bigger than “kill it with a tissue” size, number four met it’s death under the desk this morning after I flicked it off my leg and smashed it to the carpet with the power switch box from the nearby torchiere lamp. More on number five (that would be shower boy) in a bit.

But as I was drying off after leaving number five in possession of the field, I started thinking about how this relates to quilting. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but stay with me here. Yesterday, I was putting the facing on a small quilt, and if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have read something about that. And after watching this spider in the shower this morning, I realized that I was that spider yesterday. I was acting on habit and instinct and not really thinking it through before wielding the rotary cutter.

Again, I realize that nothing I do here in my studio is really earth shattering, and even if I mess it up, I can usually fix it, or redo it or whatever. On this particular quilt, I hadn’t touched it in maybe a month because I had to put it aside to finish some other things, and while I knew what the general plan was for finishing it off, somehow I couldn’t remember the details of that plan. I measured it, and I looked at it, and in the back of my head I was thinking “I don’t know whether this is right, is this right? Why doesn’t this look quite right?” But then I thought yeah, this looks right, it is right, and so I started trimming the excess border, batting and backing away from the edge.

Just then, my Skype phone rang and it was my buddy G, and we started chatting about the graphic novel he’s writing and how he’s going to go about getting it published and whatnot, and while we’re chatting, I kept on trimming the other edges of the quilt. I’d already cut and pressed the facing strips, so I just kept going, and I sewed the facing on while G and I talked. I do this all the time, talk on the phone and quilt, and it’s usually not an issue. So the whole time we’re on the phone, I’m thinking about what we’re chatting about, and I’m also thinking about the facing that I’m working on, and I do remember having an occasional niggling little feeling in the back of my head that something wasn’t quite right with the quilt and the facing, but I kept going.

At some point we finished our convo and hung up, and I trimmed the corners of the quilt, flipped the facing, steam burned my fingers pressing it all to the back, and pinned it down. When I turned it over, I realized that it was all wrong. I’d trimmed the quilt too close to the quilting, and then it was just not going to look right. It was obviously wrong, and it wasn’t just going to look obviously wrong to me, either, it was going to be obvious to anybody who looked at the quilt. And you can’t just leave it and say yeah, it’s okay and walk away. See, the circles were supposed to be centered in the squares, and it’s completely obvious that they’re not:

I was actually stunned for a minute, because I couldn’t even figure out what happened, and why it didn’t turn out right. Looking back, I think it was a combination of not remembering the entire plan from the beginning of the quilt and not taking into account the bulk of the fabric when it’s flipped to the back which eats up an eighth of an inch or more. Right then, it didn’t really matter why it happened, and I did assure G later that I didn’t mess it up because I was on the phone with him; the fatal cutting decision happened before he called. At that point, I just needed to figure out how to fix it, and I couldn’t simply take off the facing and put it back on farther out because I’d already trimmed the corners and graded the seam allowances so there was no going back.

I decided to brandish the rotary cutter a bit rashly and cut it down even further, and to be honest, the quilt is better for the “mistake.” The circles are now half circles, and I managed to cut and sew it pretty well so they really are half of a circle, and not three eighths or five eighths of a circle. Instead of being predictable, now it’s interesting. It’s not so planned looking and it’s more spontaneous. I got lucky and all is not lost.

And I remember having a couple of those kinds of thoughts in the back of my head during this “sewing while on the phone” episode too: thoughts like “I’m not sure about the border; it’s not quite what I envisioned. It’s not looking quite as good as it did in my head.” If I hadn’t been on the phone and already multitasking, maybe those thoughts would have moved a little farther forward in my brain, and the outcome might have been the same in the end, but who knows?

So here’s the point: I’ve been quilting for 20 years and sewing for 30, so a lot of what I do is just plain instinct and habit, which isn’t always a good thing. It’s great to just “know” what to do and how to make something work and come out the way you want it to a lot of the time, but sometimes things need more conscious thought and planning. Yesterday I wasn’t really thinking and planning what I was doing; I was acting on instinct and habit and figuring I knew what I was doing. Sometimes that instinct and habit can turn right around and send me sliding down the shower wall into the drain, which is sort of what happened yesterday.

Unlike the spider though, I won’t die of it, which means I can learn from it. Sure, you’d think I’d have learned this one already, because it’s not like I haven’t ever trimmed a quilt wrong before, but hey, sometimes it takes more than once, or even a refresher course years down the road. This was probably my refresher course in quilt trimming and what not to do.

Spider number five? He probably doesn’t get a refresher course. He was a tough little sucker, requiring a switch to the heavy massage setting with the handheld shower head to get him to let go and take a slide down the wall and wash down the drain. With any luck, it’s the last spider I’ll have to deal with this week though I’m not counting on it. I’m keeping the combat boots handy and thinking that a call to an exterminator might not be a bad plan.