Authors: Arlene Sachitano
Sarah and Robin turned left to go to their class in fusible techniques. Lauren went on to the right, but Connie stayed with Harriet and Carla.
"Here we are, chiquitas,” she said when the trio reached the stitching classroom. “Good luck,"
Patience Jacobsen was waiting inside the door when Harriet and Carla entered. The classroom held a dozen two-person tables with chairs arranged in two rows with an aisle down the middle. Several students were already there, unpacking notebooks, scissors, needles and thread from their bags. At the front was a single table. A flannel curtain hung behind the table, and several examples of hand quilting were pinned to its surface. The side walls displayed a variety of hand quilted pieces in various sizes, colors and materials. Harriet and Carla went over for a closer view.
"Look how small and even the stitches are,” Carla said, and for once didn't follow her comment with a downward glance or a face-burning blush.
"Yeah, and the fabric looks like it might be silk or something similar.” Harriet turned over the corner of the wall hanging. A label read
Selestina Bainbridge, Silk on Silk, October 9, 1993
. She read it to Carla then patted the quilt back into place. “That is some really fine stitching."
Three more students had entered and taken places at tables. The only table left where Carla and Harriet could sit together was in the front, to the left of the teacher's table. Carla looked around like a caged animal.
"Come on,” Harriet said and nudged her forward. “We'll be able to see better up here."
Carla looked doubtful but went to the front table, setting her sewing bag on the side away from the teacher.
Patience took roll and had the students introduce themselves. She described what they would be doing in class that day, told them where the restrooms were and asked if anyone had questions. No one did, so she walked down the aisle, went around the curtain and disappeared. She reappeared five minutes later with Selestina in tow.
"The entire art of handcrafting multi-layer constructions, frequently for the purpose of making bed covers, is referred to as quilting by the lay population,” Selestina began. “Among skilled craftsmen, however, quilting is understood to refer to stitching with thread through a top cloth, a stuffing or batting and a back cloth to create a single joined unit. Quilting in its purest form is always performed by hand.” She went on to explain the role of quilting throughout history, including the quilted garments seen in medieval times and the padded cloth armor utilized by the Japanese samurai. After an hour, Harriet had to bite the inside of her cheek to stay awake.
Selestina finally concluded her introductory lecture at ten minutes before eleven. Patience stood up and, in a well-choreographed move, unfurled a lap-sized sample. She held it up and carried it slowly down the center aisle. A simple feather pattern had been stitched on cream-colored muslin.
"When a quilt is made using a single, continuous piece of fabric on the top and another single piece of fabric for its backing, we call it a
whole cloth quilt
. Quilts of this type have been popular in England for hundreds of years,” Selestina explained. “In America, however, fabric was scarce until industry developed and fabric mills were built."
Harriet was afraid Patience's arms were going to break before Selestina got them through the Industrial Revolution and up to modern times, but she finally finished; and Patience spread the quilt over the front table.
Selestina glanced at a delicate silver watch that encircled her wrist. “We will now take a break for lunch. You will return at one p.m. sharp,” she said. Without another word, she turned and disappeared around the curtain.
"Oh, my gosh,” Carla moaned. “My head hurts."
"My tail is going numb from sitting in one position for so long.” Harriet stood up and went to the head table. She pulled the curtain aside and looked behind it. As she did, Patience came through a closed door concealed there.
"Can I help you?” she asked. She was carrying a tray that had a wooden hoop, a thimble, a pincushion with needles sticking out of it and a small rack with several spools of thread on it.
Harriet had the good grace to blush. “I just wondered what was behind the curtain,” she said and let it fall back into place. “You know, like in the
Wizard of Oz
"All the classrooms open into a common center area that's divided into offices and storage space,” Patience explained. “It allows teachers to move efficiently from one classroom to the other, as well."
"How efficient,” Harriet said.
"If you'll excuse me,” Patience said, and Harriet realized she was blocking her path to the front table. She returned to the table where Carla waited.
"Let's go find the others,” she said.
Connie was waiting on the steps.
"I thought your group was having lunch brought in,” Harriet said.
"It turned out the long-term students in the class made that arrangement, not the actual dyeing class. They made sure we knew we weren't part of their club."
Harriet put her arm around Connie's shoulders. “We still love you, right, Carla?"
"Yeah, Señora Escorcia, we'll eat lunch with you,” Carla said with a half-smile. Connie had taught her first graders basic Spanish vocabulary, including the proper form of address for a married woman. Carla's use of the term revealed her past history as one of “Connie's kids,” as her former students liked to call themselves.
Lunch was the expected soup. This one was a white chili made with chicken breast, cannellini beans, rotel tomatoes and green chilies. It was seasoned with cumin and oregano and topped with jack cheese and lime juice.
"I'm telling you,” Connie said as she pushed back from the table and her empty bowl, “I talked to Lauren for over an hour. I asked her if she was inspired by another quilt. She was insulted, and I finally just told her about the piece Beth saw. She insists her piece was completely original. She even showed me the chunk of bark she used as inspiration. She has it in a plastic sandwich bag in her sewing box."
"Don't stop there,” Mavis urged. “How did it look?"
"Mostly, like a piece of tree bark. I have to say her dyeing was a good match to the color."
"Figures.” Mavis looked down at her dye-stained fingers. “She's spent all this time copying other people's work, and she'll be the one who turns out to have all kinds of talent."
"The stitching pattern didn't match, though,” Connie pointed out. “The tree bark didn't have the figure-eight pattern that was so distinct in Lauren's piece."
"Okay, I guess she can stay in the group, then,” Mavis said and smiled. She glanced at the wall clock in the dining room. “Come on, we need to get back."
"Hopefully, we'll get to do something this afternoon,” Harriet said to Carla.
Patience was waiting just inside the door to the classroom when Harriet and Carla entered. She handed each of them a stapled handout.
"Please take out your hoop, quilting needle, thread, scissors and thimble and put everything else under your table. Do not touch the fabric sandwich you will find at your workspace."
Harriet and Carla looked at each other. Carla's face had a determined set to it, but Harriet just rolled her eyes and led the way back to their workstation, where they found the layered muslin fabric and batting Patience had referred to as a “sandwich."
"This looks promising,” Harriet said in a hushed tone. “I'm not sure why I'm whispering, though,” she added with a laugh.
"It's because that scarecrow at the door is so intimidating,” said a short plump woman at the table behind theirs. She was dressed from head to toe in pale-blue denim covered in machine embroidered motifs of puppies and kittens.
The woman glanced nervously back toward the door, checking to be sure she hadn't been heard. “I came here to learn how to stitch, not to be treated like a misbehaving schoolgirl."
"It's a small price to pay for being able to learn from one of the top experts in the field,” said the other woman at her table. Harriet hadn't noticed before lunch, but the second woman was wearing a dark skirt and white blouse that were very reminiscent of Selestina's. “Her work hangs in galleries and museums all over Europe."
Carla's eyes widened. Harriet could see she was impressed.
"Trust me,” she whispered. “There's nothing magic about having her work in Europe. They obviously have a longer preserved-textile history than we do in America, but their contemporary work is done by people just like us."
The disbelief was plain on Carla's face.
"Okay, so it's done by people like we will be when we finish taking all our classes,” Harriet said and grinned. She could see Carla was still skeptical. “I went to boarding school in London and Paris and a bunch of other places, and trust me—they all put their socks on one foot at a time, just like us."
"Please, take your seats,” Patience instructed them.
The room fell silent as everyone sat. Patience walked down the aisle, glancing at each table as she passed. She stopped at the second table on the right side of the aisle, picked up a ruler and marking pen from the surface and dropped them into the sewing bag underneath. There was a slight rustle as several other students removed items and stowed them in their sewing bags.
Patience took one last sweeping glance around the room and, satisfied that only the listed items were on each table, swept behind the curtain.
Selestina appeared within moments.
"Hand quilting is an art,” she began. “Although in recent centuries it has taken a back seat to elaborate piecing and embellishment techniques, hand quilting is very able to stand on its own. Down through the ages, many beautiful works of art have been created that are no more than careful stitching on a blank piece of cloth. Please hoop the fabric sandwich that is on your table."
Quilting hoops consist of two concentric rings with one fitting closely inside the other, like embroidery hoops. They are commonly made of wood, but can also be made of plastic or combinations of metal and plastic. The purpose of a hoop is to hold the quilt sandwich smooth and to better enable a stitcher to accomplish her task. The larger of the two rings is centered on the area of the quilt sandwich to be worked, the smaller is placed underneath and then the two rings are pushed together, one inside the other, trapping the quilt and pulling it taut.
Harriet quickly snapped the fabric sandwich into place in her wooden hoop then helped Carla center her fabric and set her hoop. Patience paced up and down the aisle, checking to see that all the students had accomplished the task. When she reached the back of the room, she gave a slight nod and Selestina began speaking again.
Selestina picked an elaborately decorated silver thimble from the tray on her table.
"There are many styles of thimble available in today's marketplace. They can be made of metal, plastic, leather, or...” She held up her silver thimble. “...finely wrought from silver. Which you choose will be based on your own preference. The most important features are fit and function. It must protect you from needle pricks, and it must fit snugly enough that it won't fall off your finger as you move your hand up and down.” She slid the little metal cup onto the tip of her second finger.
Patience gestured to the class. “Gather round the front table,” she ordered.
The students rose and did as instructed. Harriet and Carla only needed to step around their table, since they were already at the front of the room, so they were looking directly at Selestina when her hand began to shake. She tried to get up, only to fall back into her chair. She clutched her right hand over her chest.
Harriet was just in time to catch her as she started to slide to the floor. With her arms under Selestina's armpits, she kicked the chair out of the way and lowered the older woman to the floor.
"Call nine-one-one,” she yelled.
The class stood rooted where they stood.
"Where's your phone?” Carla answered.
"In the front pocket of my bag."
Carla pulled out the phone and dialed. In a clear firm voice, she relayed necessary information to the operator.
"Give me that quilt,” Harriet ordered, but the woman in denim had already started pulling the sample quilt from the display board.
"No,” Selestina moaned.
To her credit, the woman didn't stop. She tossed the quilt to Harriet; she covered Selestina, who was beginning to shiver. Patience folded up her jacket and started to put it under Selestina's head.
"Not under the head,” the woman in embroidered denim said as she approached. “Here.” She pushed Patience out of the way, put the folded jacked under Selestina's feet and tucked the quilt around her. “She's going into shock,” she announced. She grasped the teacher's wrist with professional-looking expertise between her thumb and fingers and glanced at her watch.
Harriet could hear sirens. “Come on, come on,” she whispered to herself. She wasn't sure what was wrong with Selestina, but the woman's skin was covered with a sheen of moisture, and she continued to shake. Her breathing was rapid, and a small trickle of spit slid from the corner of her mouth.
Everyone jumped when the door slammed open and the paramedics rushed in. Harriet stepped aside and guided Patience away from Selestina.
"Let them do their work,” she said.
Two young men in blue jumpsuits and a red-haired woman with pale freckles and crow's feet surrounded Selestina. The redhead spoke to the denim-clad lady, who identified herself as Dr. Jan Hayes.
The young men started IV fluids as a pair of firemen came in pushing a gurney. Dr. Hayes loosened Selestina's skirt and blouse, borrowed a stethoscope and listened to her chest. Harriet could tell by the expression on the doctor's face she didn't like what she heard.
"Let's go ahead and transport her,” she said and stepped back while the three paramedics collapsed the gurney next to Selestina and lifted her on to it, raising it back up in one fluid motion. Dr. Hayes trotted alongside as they wheeled out the door and disappeared.