"Now let me get this straight…"

Gaiam.com, Inc

Said the quilt shop owner earlier today, with a noticeable measure of alarm in her voice, “you don’t have any sewing skills whatsoever?”

Moments before, I had come into the shop out of a pouring rainstorm, dripping wet and wearing a motorcycle rally t-shirt, to find myself in the quiet, respectable company of about a half-dozen older women sitting at sewing machines and chatting. The walls were covered with lovely quilts and bolts of fabric. I had figured picking out colors and fabrics would be the easiest part, a really fun part, a breeze. Looking at all the hundreds of choices, I began to realize the vast possibilities.

The proprietor was chatting about the weather with a customer and I tried to cover up my bamboozlement by pretending to become absorbed with the fabrics and patterns, desperately trying not to look as out of place as I felt.

A Quilting Bee - Exclusive?

A Quilting Bee - Exclusive?

Everyone ignored me, for the most part. Everyone except the tiny, tiny, light brown poodle, so small she nearly fit into the palm of my hand. She and I hit it right off. In exchange for cuddles and tummy rubs, she gave me a welcome distraction until the woman at the counter was at last unoccupied. I walked up to the counter. She was watching two other customers have a conversation. I stood there, awkwardly, for a good three minutes before bending back down to play with the dog again. Finally, she seemed to notice I was there.

“I’m brand new,” I began. “I’m interested in quilting, but I have no idea what I need or how to get started. Can you help me?”

Normally, when a newcomer arrives at a specialty shop of any sort, people are excited and eager to help. I’ve seen it all over the place in all genres of hobbies and I’ve often helped newcomers myself in various endeavors. It’s fun and exciting to see things through their eyes and to get them hooked on whatever it is. This woman blinked at me for probably 20 seconds without saying a word. “Well,” she began, and then stopped. “You’ll need a mat, a cutter, a ruler and a sewing machine.”

She gathered a few things up, slowly, and then went off to look for a book that had log cabin or other similar beginner’s patterns. I asked more questions, which led to, “now let me get this straight; you have no sewing skills whatsoever?” As if to say, “how have you gone through life to this point without learning even the basics? What kind of woman are you?!” I choked back a response about how my mother never taught me anything useful and said, simply, “no.”

She clucked once, precisely.

As if she were explaining to a small child, which perhaps isn’t too far off the mark, relatively speaking, she took me to the cutting table and showed me how to use the ruler and rotary cutter. Trouble was, there are so many sewing terms that are completely a foreign language to me, I had a bit of a hard time following bits of her explaination. I mentioned I’d like to try hand-quilting first, to see if I like it or not, before investing in a machine. “You’ll want a machine,” she said. Oh. Ok.

She doesn’t sell machines. Off I went to the local Joann Fabrics to have a look around at what they had to offer. I remembered I needed such things as pins, needles, a bunch of things called “fat quarters,” scissors and the like. When I was a little girl, we had a Joann Fabrics in Mason. It was pretty trashy, actually, and not well organized. This was like… walking into a Wal-Mart full of crafting supplies. I grabbed a small hand basket and looked out across the vast expanse of the craft store. I felt very small.

Bolts of Fabric

Bolts of Fabric

Picking a direction at random, I walked past baskets, fake flowers and scrapbooking supplies, trying not to look too lost as I glanced down each aisle. Finally, at the horizon, I spotted bolts of fabric. Aha! Then, a sign about quilting. Nice.

It hadn’t really occurred to me knowing how to sew would be a foregone conclusion when one takes up quilting. I figured learning how to quilt would somehow also teach me the basics of sewing. Wrong. Completely, utterly wrong. I suppose this makes sense – if you go into a cardiovascular surgical specialization, they’re not going to start out by teaching you what a heart is. They assume a basic level of knowledge.

I don’t know what basting is (outside of the kitchen) or how to “attach the borders using a diagonal seam.”  Turns out I don’t need quilting lessons – I need sewing lessons. Damn.

Well ok. Undaunted, I am soldiering on.

The girls in the fabric department were busy and hurried, as was the woman who got the sewing machine out of its cage for me. She was absolutely disinterested in sewing machine features or what I might be doing with it. Sigh, ok. Well, here we go.

At the counter, the checkout girl began the process of bagging my stuff, and after only a moment said, “Oh, you’re new to sewing!”  “Brand stinking new. First time out, as it were.” “Well, I’m going to be your new best friend.” She proceeded to tell me about her sewing and quilting classes, showed me a piece of quilting she’d done, and chatted throughout the somewhat lengthy checkout process.

After hauling my booty home, I decided the dining room table was the only place I had any room to do this stuff. It’s sub-optimal, but it’ll do for now. Maybe someday, it’ll be worthwhile to invest in a sewing table, but for the time being, I need to figure out if I even like this stuff. My obsessions are not always rational.

Want to watch me flounder through the process, and perhaps feel a bit less silly yourself as you do, too? I’d love to have the company.

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2 responses to "Now let me get this straight…"


  1. I loved this post. I had to teach myself how to sew too. Luckily we have the internet now filled with tutorials and videos to help. I can’t believe how rude the quilt ladies were. I guess I am not that surprised though. I am too afraid to join a quilting class or group because of the fear of being ignored or judged.
    🙂

  2. Erin

    I’m glad you liked it, Staci – holy wow I felt lost that day. 🙂

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