by John Flynn
It all started innocently enough, in the late 1970s. A few stitches in the wife's quilt when she wasn't looking. Then a whole block when I sat down with every intention of watching the evening news. Before too long, Brooke, my wife, could not keep up with the piecing.
I was hooked on quilting, but, in order to continue, I had to learn to piece. I began by hand piecing a baby quilt from Brooke's fabric collection. My piecing technique was a little unusual, but I completed the top and I had something to quilt.
To me, the next logical step was a queen-sized bed quilt. No problem. All I had to do was go to the fabric store, get the fabric and piece it together just like the baby quilt, right? Wrong. I'm bearded and 6'2" and the reception I got when I entered the fabric store was less than cordial. A lady with rhinestone encrusted cat-eyes hanging around her neck on a logging chain followed me every where to make sure I didn't break any of the fabric. If I paused for even a moment, she whipped the glasses on, looked over them and asked if she could help me find anything in particular. I said I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for and she said, "Didn't she give you a list?" At this point, I lost interest and went home.
I got Brooke to buy for me. I felt like a teenager hanging around the convenience store trying to get someone to buy beer for me. Anyway, I finally gathered up the fabric and started hand-piecing a 1000 Pyramid quilt.
This was a big piecing job, somewhere around 1700 pieces, and I soon realized that in order to finish in this lifetime, I would have to venture away from our home with my piecing - I built bridges and spent many of my weeks on the job site. At first I kept it in a brown paper bag in my suitcase until I was safely locked in a motel room. Next, I blacked out the windows in my trailer at the Colstrip power plant construction site and pieced most of it right there in the midst of 5000 ironworkers.
Shortly after this, I had a real setback. In fact, I was nearly cured of quilting altogether. I had taken my piecing along on a trip and ended up in the Toronto airport waiting out a long flight delay. I found a well-lit corner in the terminal and went about my piecing. I tend to lose track of time when I'm quilting, so I can't tell you how long it was until I became aware of the murmuring of a crowd. When I looked up, I was surrounded by people - nobody really looking straight at me or getting close enough to catch whatever it was that I had. Sort of like they eye the tattooed lady at the circus. I packed up my quilting and slipped out of Canada - and back to the safety of home.
Right after I completed that 1000 Pyramid, an event occurred that contributed more than any other to the total consumption of my life by this quilting habit. I was ready to buy the fabric for the back and Brooke suggested that I go the "The Patchwork Parlor," a quilt shop. When I went into the store, not only was I treated like a real customer, the shop was owned by my old backpacking friend Pat Larmoyeux. What a place! I could go there and hang out after work. Talk to other quilters, touch the fabric and sort through the notions without interference. I soon discovered that all quilt shops are about the same. I traveled around the state from quilt shop to quilt shop and even managed to get one or two bridges built. I quickly amassed a sizeable fabric collection and, like most people just getting started, I was feeling pretty guilty about this stack of unused fabric.
To conquer my mountain of fabric, I took up machine piecing. During this first machine piecing project, I learned that they don't print all fabric patterns forever. So much for any guilt about too much fabric. Anyway, I learned to piece by machine and now do most of my tops on the machine. I can get started on quilting sooner that way.
I realized I had a problem sitting center court in the mall on a sunny spring day when all the cotton dresses were out and I found myself mentally undressing the women, cutting their dresses into little pieces and sewing them into bed coverings. I developed a passion for larger women, queen size. They have more fabric in their clothes.
When asked why I quilt, my reply is that I quilt for the same reason the pioneer women who settled the plains - and, probably, a lot more men than you've been led to believe - quilted. When you've spent a long day battling who-knows-what, it's a real pleasure to sit down to your quilting. Before long, the intricate coordination of hand and eye frees the mind to travel to the marketplace in St. Louis or up to a mountaintop lake on a warm August afternoon - all free of charge and without hassle.
Somehow, I have never managed to separate the quilter from the engineer and this has led to many innovations in my equipment and methods. I established the FLYNN QUILT FRAME COMPANY as a way of sharing them with fellow quilters.
John F. Flynn
All rights reserved John F. Flynn Billings, Montana