Unless I’m at a cocktail party hosted by quilters, I am usually the only quilter at a cocktail party.
When I talk about what I do for work, someone will invariably say, “Sorry — did you say you’re a…quilter?” I nod and say yes and then two things happen: first, the person cocks their head and goes “Huh!” and then, “My auntie used to knit, too.” Sometimes I gently explain the difference between quilting and knitting, sometimes I just ask about the auntie.
If you’re not a quilter, you probably don’t think about quilts very often. You know what they are. You maybe had one in your house as a kid. You don’t know that we take umbrage when you to refer to a quilt as a blanket (please!) and you have no idea that the business of quilting kicks up $3.6 billion dollars annually — that’s just in the States. But that’s all perfectly okay. I don’t know about programming in Ruby, nothing about the Blue-Footed Booby (okay, that rhymed), or how to fix the sink. We all have our work and stuff we geek out on. Quilts, for me, are both. I traffic in them; you don’t.
Then a quilt comes into your field of vision and I can tell you exactly when it happens: when there’s a baby coming. When there’s a marriage. When someone is real, real sick. Unlike the Blue-Footed Booby, quilts arrive when they are needed and what I insist upon, what I know is true, what I make sure to say at any cocktail party, be-quilted or otherwise, is that quilts are still needed, still relevant by virtue of what they are. Quilts are love, manifested. Put another way:
You can’t wrap a baby in an iPad.
Technology is galloping away with us all and I’m riding bareback with all my quilter friends who, you could argue, are more digitally connected than other hobbyists — we have pictures of quilts to share, online bees; the entire Modern Quilt Guild “movement” was born online. But all the binary code on the planet can’t comfort a baby like wrapping it up in a quilt. Another example? Give a newlywed couple a handmade quilt and watch death rays emit from the eyes of everyone else at the shower — the crystal fruit bowl from Tiffany’s and the Kitchen-Aid mixer might as well be crap from the Dollar Store. You can’t beat a quilt with a stick. They’re magic. They’re irreplaceable. They’re also positively American, at least when we speak specifically of patchwork quilts (as opposed to whole cloth or fancy boutis stuff from Europe, and they can keep all that.)
Hey, I want my own MakerBot. My smartphone, myself. In the Venn diagram of “Nerdy,” “Creative,” and “Friendly,” “Quilter” is smack in the middle. Besides, we like buttons and stuff. But what gadget — and while we’re at it, what work of art — can you wrap up in, sit on, barf on, wash, cry under, make a tent out of, mop up stuff with, hug, throw, wad, rip, repair, and then give as an heirloom? I’d guess there’s probably just one answer to that question.
And so we still make quilts. We still do. And we will for a long time because try as we might to wriggle out of it, we’re still human. Humans need comfort and joy and to me and my fellow grieving, joyous, aging, newborn, and just plain chilly humans, a quilt is just the thing.