This story starts when my best friend Sue and I went to vintage fabric and fashion show, I think in Santa Monica, CA, in the early 2000's, and we came across this stack of blocks:
There are palm trees and beaches galore, plus airplanes.
Eight years later, Sue was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had an immediate surgery, and its short-term result was that her formidable math and spatial abilities vanished overnight. We decided to finish the quilt together, and for the first time ever, she needed my help with simple measurements. We set it with purple sashing that matched the purple blocks' interiors. The blocks, of course, weren't all the same size, so we had to do some funky fixing. Don't look too close.
Sue believed in using good fabric.
She got sicker and could no longer sew. When she was very sick, and could barely talk, she asked me to finish the quilt for her. Of course I assured her that I would. "No rush," she whispered.
No rush. Sue was all about compassion. She gave generously to every charity that crossed her path. Her job was as an occupational therapist, working with children. At one point during her long illness, I got sick with something miserable but non-terminal. She called me every day to see how I was doing.
Asking me to finish was the last thing she ever asked me. A few weeks later, she was gone.
I didn't rush. Two years later - which was a couple of weeks ago - I felt ready. I added the borders, and quilted the whole thing. Whenever I worked on it, whenever I had it open on my floor or table, it didn't depress me at all - in fact, it made me laugh. The colors were cheerful, the details wacko, and the juxtapositions priceless - partridges with the word "sun," calicos with groovies.
For the backing, I was planning to use the same red-and-white polka dots, but I didn't have enough. I added some black fabric from Sue's stash but the polka dot fabric bordered by black looked appalling.
Sue always cared as much about quilt backs as front. Before I met her, I used to throw anything I had on the back of my quilts, but Sue had taught me to use the good stuff, whatever the price.
So I headed for my local quilt shop to see what they had in an extra-wide fabric.The first fabric in the wide pile, right by the store entrance, was this:
Shortest shopping spree ever. That was it. I knew Sue was smiling.
So here's the finished quilt, from the front:
Next week, I'm going to ship it to Sue's older daughter in New York, who is very excited about it. To me, this quilt is of course a little bit messy, and a little bit sad, because Sue couldn't finish it, but it's also so joyful and funny, and crazy.
On each the two plain purple blocks, I quilted a shadow plate.
I like to think that each one is for each of my two collaborators - Sue, and the unknown person whose sense of humor way exceeded her technical skills, who cut up the family wardrobe and put these blocks together in the first place.
I hope Sue's daughter thinks of it as a group hug, from all of us.
Nov. 9 2014 Update: I put the quilt in the mail today. As I walked outside with it, I spotted a huge monarch butterfly on my patio, not a common sight. It flew off. I'm a believer.