Twelve Stitches to the Inch

August 29, 1994|By AMY BUNN WALINSKI

Twelve stiches to the inch. I measured them with my pocket tape. Each stitch a simple catch of the layer, a breath in the running race of the design.

I was gazing at a beautiful showpiece of a quilt, wondering about the personality that could produce such perfection; wondering if I could ever produce it.

This quilt looked so effortless and graceful. I remembered another quilt I had seen years ago -- an antique Rose of Sharon -- flawlessly executed, 12 stitches to the inch.

As I held the quilt I commented to my friend, ''It's so perfect, it's almost painful.''

She smiled in agreement and said, ''I felt that too!''

Twelve stitches to the inch. Could the person who created that quilt really have been so different from me?

I was a self taught quilter. My first quilt, copied from a picture, was made spread on the floor of a gallery where I worked. It was quilted with a stab-stitch and a mattress mending needle; a bread board kept me from quilting to the carpet.

I managed about three stitches to the inch. Gallery patrons would visit me and I heard comments like ''10 stitches to the inch,'' ''grandmother's quilts'' and ''quilting frames.'' The idea of a frame stretched my imagination.

But ''10 stitches to the inch'' was inconceivable.

My next quilt was pieced, and I designed a frame to make it. A clumsy thing but functional. I hauled it to weekend flea markets and quilted while I sold my wares.

I still hadn't discovered quilting thread or needles, and I persisted in perfecting my silly stab-stitch. I had convinced myself that 10 stitches to the inch meant five on top and five on the bottom; at that rate I was averaging nine.

I recall a well-meaning, white-haired matron who examined my stitches and said they were too tight. Her companion suggested a smaller needle. But I was young and knew everything then. I was, after all, making my third quilt, and I had read a book or two!

As I read more books and made more quilts, I began to understand how much I had to learn. I eagerly sought advice and criticism, and hungered for association with other quilters.

Finally, at a show, I watched experienced quilters at work. I studied their stitches: some rough-hewn and large like a country cabin, some self-conscious and crooked, some swift and smooth.

I watched their hands and mimicked the rocking, rhythmic, up-and-down motion. I asked to feel the thick thread and hold the tiny needles that felt like Tom Thumb's sword in my hand. I even took a few tentative stitches in their quilt.

I went home and practiced that rocking motion, holding my hand as I had seen them do. I graduated to quilting thread and smaller needles. I started stitching more by feel and less by sight. About 10 quilts ago I began selling my work.

I wonder what sort of personality people see in my stitches? They're not perfect yet, but neither am I. I'm up to seven stitches to the inch -- and counting.

Amy Bunn Walinski is a local quilter.

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