I inwardly groaned. Sorting through swatches of different material was not my idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, even though it meant I got to spend it with my grandma.
"Honey, be sure you're looking carefully at not just the colors, but at the textures, the patterns and prints...we want to make sure the pieces are true fits with each other. You know, this quilt is more than just your 4-H project. One day, you'll be wrapping up your babies in it and then your grandbabies, too. They're all going to feel the love that's going into making it," she smiled as she threaded the bobbin on her treadle powered sewing machine.
I ruefully looked out the window, my nine year old brain filled with things to do outdoors in the sparkling, crisp December air. Her feet worked the treadle under the machine with an ease and even pace I struggled to master when it was my turn to stitch together the now matched quilting blocks.
"Slow down, don't take it so fast," she soothed as I pumped the treadle as fast as I could. "You don't want to get the thread jammed. Take a few deep breaths and you'll get the hang of it."
Her experienced hands guided mine as we moved piece after piece through the machine until we had them complete. She took over stitching the quilt top together while my grandfather finished hanging the quilting frame from small hooks in the ceiling.
I stretched to ease my cramped shoulders, stooped as they had been most of the morning.
"Are you hungry, kid?" she asked as she studied my face. She laughed as I nodded emphatically. "Let's go get some biscuits and gravy going and we can have some of the cold pot roast from last night. I know your grandaddy is probably hungry, too."
In her expansive kitchen, she set out her biscuit making gear and pointed over to the stove. "I think you're about old enough to start this gravy yourself now. Do you remember how we did it the last time?"
I smiled, swelling inside at the importance of the job. My grandma was one of the best cooks around and her gravy once made a preacher weep with gratitude. I pulled out the ancient cast iron skillet and turned on the gas burner under it, while adding bacon grease to it. I wanted it to be done quickly, so I turned the burner up to High and moved to gather the flour and milk I would need. In no time, though, black smoke barreled up from the frying pan and my grandma rushed to the stove to shut it off.
She hugged me through my embarrassment and laughed it off. "Don't worry, we'll get some more going in a minute. Things like this take time to develop. Simmering produces good flavor, and if you hurry it, the good part of it gets burned up. Take a few deep breaths. Don't be afraid to wait."
Back to our project after lunch, we sat at the quilting frame with the quilt stretched out before us. Although it was a small, it seemed to me that it would take forever to quilt the graceful, small half arcs we had planned. Using a piece of chalk attached to a string, she meticulously traced the pattern onto each block.
Hearing my impatiently tapping feet, she said softly, "We don't want to rush here. If the pattern is off, the quilting is going to be off, and then you're going to have something for the rest of your life that will be out of kilter. Patience pays off. Just take a few deep breaths. You'll see," she patted my hand before going back to the chalk.
In the days to come as we quilted, I did learn to take deep breaths when I wanted to hurry. Although my stitching wasn't as even or neat as hers, I saw the difference in how mine looked when I hurried and when I didn't.
And tonight, now that the first cold front has blown through, I will pull out that little quilt again and I will look at it carefully before I lay it across my daughter's bed.
The firm, even stitches of my grandmother will still contrast with mine; more spidery and tentative looking. And even now, more than 40 years later, I will still feel the love that went into it, and I will stop, and take a few deep breaths.