The 13 Year Quilt

2002. Washington, D.C.

I was a graduate student - theater - living alone and far away from my family for the first time in my life. My studio apartment was 325 square feet, had a half-wall of tiny appliances, and was furnished (by my mom and me) with a futon, a rectangular card table, and a black and silver tv stand from Walmart. Making friends outside the dorm life of college was more difficult than I had expected. That first year, I spent many weekends by myself, watching a lot of television and channeling Mary Tyler Moore as I wandered the streets of Dupont Circle. 

I watched entire afternoons of HGTV. It was a little less trendy back then, and my favorites were the Carol Duvall Show and Simply Quilts. I crocheted while they presented holiday centerpieces and masterfully pieced together works of art. Quilting seemed out of my reach, requiring skills and paraphernalia I didn't have.

The day they shared the denim rag quilt and described it as a great beginner's option, I put down my crochet hooks and immediately searched for the episode and instructions on my computer.

To my weekend wanderings, I added thrift stores and the Goodwill, where I rummaged through piles of jeans and racks of shirts to find just the right fabrics to cut up.

I got a sewing machine for Christmas.

2004-2006. Silver Spring and Bethesda, Maryland. 

Kept company by Meredith Grey and McDreamy, I traced around the cardboard square template with a sharpie. Down the legs of a pair of men's Wranglers and up the back. With a good pair, I could get 12 squares. I needed 180 for the whole thing.

To my pile of thrifted plaid garments, I added the left-behind shirts of a former high school boyfriend and one of my college loves as well as two men's button-downs that I'd worn after coming out my senior year, a move that I had hoped signaled my newly-minted lesbian status to the ladies around me.

I bought spring-loaded scissors and kept a rubbermaid tub filled with denim and plaid under the bed I shared with my then-partner.

2007-2009. Washington, DC. 

The rubbermaid tub and my sewing machine sat in a series of closets as I moved from apartment to apartment with my then-girlfriend (now wife).

Law school left little time for crafting, and the piles of fabric looked to me old fashioned in the worst way.

2010. Washington, DC. 

My inner crafter, thought deceased, had simply been hibernating. She revived almost immediately upon graduation.

At the dining room table of our Logan Circle apartment, I oriented the sewing machine so I could stitch together squares while watching back-to-back episodes of Little House on the Prairie and waiting out the 5 months until my law firm job would begin.

"You've been carrying this all around for 8 years?" Navah asked, incredulous.

"Yep," I nodded.

"I didn't even know you sewed," She said.


Rows of alternating denim and plaid sprawled across the living room floor with numbered sticky notes pinned to their tops.

My sewing machine broke.

2015. Richmond, Vermont.

With a freshly painted craft room calling, I opened the old rubbermaid box. Nine rows of fabric stitched together and six waiting to be added.

I listened to the sound of the needle moving up and down through the layers of material and watched each pattern go by, remembering.

"I'm going to finish it," I told my wife. "And I think I might actually like it again - this whole denim and plaid thing."

She laughed and said she'd believe it when she saw it.

I shouted up from the studio - "Finished!" - when I pulled the last bit out from the sewing machine.

I snipped the seams for days (weeks?), through Modern Family, Six Feet Under, The Good Wife, BoyHood, Top Five, Scandal, Interstellar. I bought new spring-loaded scissors, these specific to rag quilts and the primary reason that I can still use my hands after cutting 10 little snips in every seam.

The couch, the floor, the table, my clothes, Navah's clothes were all covered in tiny little denim threads. "The cost of art," I said.

Two cycles through the washer and dryer, carefully cleaning out the lint filter every 15 minutes, and it was over.

13 years older and 500 miles further north, I am sitting under this beautiful fabric time capsule as I write these words.

I think I'll call it my gratitude quilt - for all the days and weeks and television shows and friends and loves and thrift stores and scissors and sewing machines and rubbermaid tubs that traveled alongside me to this moment with the sun not quite up, my dog on the floor beside me, my wife asleep down the hall, and the only sound the tapping of my fingers on the keys.

p.s. The first quilt I ever finished

Like what you just read? Share it with a friend! You can also follow ktmade on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram so you'll never miss a post. And you'll earn my undying affection!