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Quilting 101


"Someone has an appetite!"

"The best thing about the end of wrestling season is being able to eat again," her son said.

"You look too skinny when you're wrestling," his mom said.

That wasn't actually true, because even at 174 pounds, her son was anything but skinny. He was in perfect shape, and his body was both ripped and shredded. Staying at or below 174 was a constant battle, but one in which he'd been victorious the last three years.

When wrestling ended, he'd go back up to his normal 185 pounds for baseball where he pitched for the University of Washington Huskies. For someone who was 5'11", he still looked extremely good and carried the additional weight quite well. In fact, he actually looked better and more healthy with a few extra pounds.

This year, however, he wasn't playing baseball. The coach had told him before the end of wrestling season, "Listen, Kellner. You're a damn good wrestler, but you're just an 'okay' pitcher. If you even make the team again, and unless you've improved significantly, you won't, but even if you do, you won't get more than a few innings of relief work the entire year."

With finals coming up, and graduation just three months away, he decided to throw in the towel. He'd had a good run, but professional sports had never been in his future, so he thanked the coach for his honesty and called it a 'career' where college sports were concerned.

He didn't see it as quitting but rather as opening a new and potentially exciting new chapter is life. Life was about adapting to change, and he was always interested in whatever might be around the next bend.

The sound of his mother's voice interrupted his mental reminiscence.

"Would you like some more?" she asked after the first helping was nearly gone.

"Yes, please," he said with a smile.

"I don't know where you put it," she said, feeling so happy her son was home during Spring Break.

"I'm a bottomless pit, remember," he teased as he raised up so she could keep it coming.

"How are your classes going, and are you getting excited yet about graduating?"

"So far so good for the classes. I think I've been too busy to think about graduation, though. Between classes and sports, I guess it just hasn't hit me that it's almost over."

"I understand," his mom said. "I can't believe it's been four years myself. I know your father would be very proud of you."

"Yeah. I think he would, Mom. I try not to think about him too much, but I still really miss him."

"Me, too, honey. But we either move on or life passes us by, right?" she said.

She and his late father were the people from whom he'd learned the important life lesson about living in the moment. Reflecting on the past was fine, but living there wasn't. Planning for the future was important, but one still had to let the future come rather than try and live there.

"You're right, Mom. As usual," he told her as he kept eating.

There was something she almost didn't want to ask, but knew she couldn't help herself.

"Are you still seeing Elizabeth?" his mom asked very casually.

"Um, no. That didn't work out," he said rather quietly. "I guess sleeping with one of her professors in exchange for an 'A' meant more to her than staying faithful to me."

"Are you being serious?" she asked.

"I am. She denied it at first, but eventually she admitted it. It was almost surreal listening to her. She actually told me it was, and I quote, 'Nothing more than an exchange of two commodities'. Her body for a better grade."

"I...I don't even know how to respond to something like that. Does she even have a conscience?"

"Good question. I honestly don't know. But I will say she doesn't seem to have a moral compass. But hey, she's an economics major, so what do I know?"

"Well, I'm sorry that happened."

She smiled her best smile and told her son, "I hope you won't give up trying to find someone."

"I won't. But I'm in no hurry. At 22, it's not like all the pretty girls are going to be gone by graduation. Or even...next summer," her son said with a smile as he continued packing it away.

He knew what she was hinting at and couldn't help teasing her a little bit. Nick smiled back at her and said, "So there is still the possibility of grandchildren in your future. Just not the immediate future."

His mom laughed because she knew he was aware she'd eventually like to have a grandchild. Not necessarily right away, of course, because Nick really was still very young. However, raising him had been the best part of her life, and she'd love nothing to more than to have another child to love.

She was also aware that since her husband's unexpected passing during Nick's freshman year of college, she'd found herself much lonelier than she could ever have imagined. So while she wasn't about to push the issue, Karen Kellner couldn't help but think about how wonderful it would be to have the sweet voice of a child in her home again. Only this time she'd be able to give him or her back to her son or daughter-in-law whenever she wanted to.

She also knew he'd have no problem finding someone. Yes, she was prejudiced, but she thought her son, Nick Kellner, was a very handsome young man. And the fact that he'd always had pretty girls flocking around him for as long as she could remember, she was quite sure she was correct.

So finding girls was never been the problem. The problem had been finding one who was a one-man kind of girl.

This Elizabeth was the third girl she personally knew of who'd slept around while dating her son, and as a woman who'd never strayed, it made her ashamed of her gender. She knew most women didn't cheat even though many did. That her only son had managed to find three who did somehow seemed outside the bounds of chance. It was three out of a couple of dozen or so, but it was still three too many for her liking.

And yet he was still such a good, decent, caring boy who treated all of them very well and one who'd never let the actions of any particular girl change him. Knowing that made the infidelity all that much harder to understand. But as he'd just said, there was still plenty of time, and as her late husband, Gene, had often said, "There are plenty of fish in the sea."

"How about you, Mom? Are you seeing anyone?" Nick asked even though he was sure what the answer would be.

"Me? Be serious! I'm beyond all that. And now that I have my new hobby, I'm not even looking," she told him.

"Ah, yes. Quilting, right?" he asked even though he knew that answer, too. She'd been at it for over a year now, and was still going full speed ahead with it.

"Yes. It's the most enjoyable thing I've ever tried," she said.

She saw him look at her, and knew where he was going. Before he could say it, she pointed her finger at him playfully and said, "Don't you dare say anything about sex!"

His mother was no prude. She'd tried dating after Gene had been gone for two years, but soon realized she'd never be able to love another man. And that was around the time she stopped into a new fabric & quilting shop that had just opened up and started browsing around. Before she left, she'd signed up for a beginner's class in quilting, and now she was hooked in a big way.

It not only filled her days, his mom absolutely loved it. Nick had asked about it a time or two, but couldn't see the draw.

As it turned out, quilting wasn't really quilting. It was about deciding which quilt pattern to make followed by fabric selection. Once that was done, the next step was cutting the fabric into precise strips and sewing them together, something that was called 'piecing'.

The quilting part was done only after the entire quilt was, well...pieced...together. Then it could either be hand-quilted, the thing most people associated quilting with—the grandmother sitting in a chair pushing a needle through the quilt for days—or quilted by a huge, computerized beast called a longarm quilting machine.

Karen took her finished quilts back to that same shop which also had two longarms which, with the computers that did their 'thinking', cost about $40,000 each when bought new.

'All' the human being running it had to do was know how to place the quilt and program the computer. That sounded simple, but it actually took a whole lot of training to learn the 'how' part, and Karen had her eye on taking a class so she could buy and run a longarm machine once she got proficient at the basics.

And thanks to the life insurance policy Gene had insisted on buying when they were newlyweds, Kathy had been able to pay for her son's education, and had more than enough left for a sizable downpayment on a business.

"Not a word about that topic," her son replied with a smile about her warning. "Especially not to my mother."

He finished his second helping, pushed the plate away, then said, "You know, I need to check out these longarm machines to see what all the fuss is about."

His mother perked up immediately and said, "Why don't you come with me tomorrow? I'm dropping off a quilt I just finished this morning, and you can see how one works."

"Okay. Sure. Who knows? I might even find it interesting. Anything involving computers and technology interests me, so maybe I'll find my calling in the quilting business."

His mom gave him a look, and that made Nick laugh.

"Okay. The odds of that are pretty....long," he joked.

"Yes, that'd be the day. When my athletic son who loves math and science starts quilting, they may have to put me in the hospital."

He got up, gave his mom a hug and thanked for the meal.

"Nah. You're gonna live forever, Mom," he told her.

She hugged him back then asked what his plans were.

"I think I'm just gonna go upstairs and read. I never get to just read during the school year."

"I know that's true, but it just seems hard to believe that someone who goes to school all day doesn't read books."

"As a computer science major, writing software code or reading texts about it don't count, Mom. Now give me a good Dale Brown or James Patterson novel and I'm a happy camper!" he told her.

"Whatever makes you happy, honey," his mom said.

He got ready to go upstairs then said, "This new hobby of yours. It really makes you happy, doesn't it?"

He knew when his mom was serious about something, and the look on her face told him the answer.

"It really does. There's nothing about it I don't like. For instance, when I go to the shop to buy fabric, all the girls there know me. I usually run into at least one other woman who quilts and who's also in there buying fabric, and if so we talk for quite a while while we're looking. If not, I talk with one of the girls running the longarm machines. Then when I'm done, I have all this beautiful fabric that's going to make a gorgeous quilt. Once I get home, I get to cut it all up into these pieces and sew them together. That's my favorite part, by the way. Then when it's finally finished, I get to take it back in to have it quilted, and we talk some more. So, yes, I truly love everything about it."

"So it's kind of like being in a club or something, right?" Nick asked, trying to understand.

"Sure. That's a good way to look at it. And in this club, almost every other girl in it is friendly and enjoys chatting, my second favorite thing about quilting."

His mom paused then said, "I keep saying 'girls' but nearly all of us are at least 45, and I'd say most are over 60. But we do have a few actual girls as in teenagers who enjoy quilting, and one of the ladies who runs a longarm, Tiffany, is pretty young, too. I think she's between 30 and 40, but I don't really know. She's a very pretty girl—or woman—and has the cutest little daughter who's in either Kindergarten or maybe first grade. Anyway, it really is like a club or maybe even a church of some sort."

"Well, if quilting 'does it for you', I'm glad, Mom."

"Oh, it does, Nick. It fills in every little hole in my life and then some," she told him. "But that doesn't mean I don't still need you in my life!"

Nick just smiled and said, "For a minute there I thought you were gonna say something about me getting married and grandkids."

His mom smiled back and said, "No, I can wait on that. Take your time. Like you said, those pretty girls will probably still be there all the way through next summer, so if it takes another six months or even a year, that's fine."

Nick chuckled then said, "Gee, thanks, Mom. Anyway, I'll definitely go with you and try and learn a little about this new 'cult' of yours tomorrow when we go to the shop; the shop I've never heard of and have no idea where it's even located."

Around 10am the next morning, following another huge meal, Karen told her son she was ready to go.

"Oh, right. We're off to the place with the long arms," he said, while doing his arms like a zombie, while trying not to smile.

"Ha-ha! Very funny," she said. "I don't make fun of you for wearing tights during wrestling season! And for your information, quilting goes back to the pioneer days!"

"Hey, I'll have you know that wearing tights goes all the back the glory days of William Shakespeare!"

"Well, la-dee-da," his mom said as she tried not to laugh before asking Nick if he could help her with the quilt.

"Geez, this thing is huge!" he said as they started folding it up.

"It's for a king-size bed so it needs to be," she informed him.

When they pulled up to the quilt shop, Karen said, "Oh, good. Tiffany and Sylvia are here. I just love them both to death. Oh, not to bring up that subject after losing your father, but Tiffany lost her husband a few years ago, so don't use that word, okay?"

"She's the uh, young-er woman with the little girl, right?"

"Very good! You really were paying attention."

"And who's Sylvia?" he asked just as got to the door. He was carrying the quilt so his mom opened the door for him.

Before she could reply, they both heard a very loud voice.

"Karen! Hi there!" an older woman said.

"My son was just asking who you are," Karen told her as they walked inside. "Sylvia? This is my son, Nick. Nick, Sylvia, the owner of the shop."

"Oh, now I see why your mom always says you're so handsome," the woman much older than his mother said. "It's very nice to meet you."

"You, too," Nick told her as she came around to take the quilt from him.

"Where's Tiffany? I saw her car out front," Karen said to Sylvia.

"She's in the back grabbing a couple of bolts of material. We went through the last of two of the main colors you used on that quilt you're holding, and one other, as well. She'll be right back."

Sylvia laid the huge quilt out on a large table then opened it up.

"Oh, my heavens! Karen, you are getting so good! This is by far the best one you've brought in yet."

"Thank you. I had a good teacher!" she said referring to Sylvia.

"Well, thank you," she told Karen. "Sadly, I just finished my last class. From now on Tiffany will be doing all of the teaching."

"Why is that?" Karen asked as Nick stood there feeling like a fish out of water.

As Sylvia answered his mom's question saying something about retiring or selling the shop, he saw what looked like three bolts of fabric with feet coming toward him.

He could tell the person carrying them was struggling to walk and couldn't see a thing so he quickly walked toward them and said to the fabric, "May I give you a hand?"

The woman carrying them hadn't seen him—or anything else—and there weren't a lot of male voices in the shop. It startled her to the point she lost control of one of the bolts of fabric she was carrying, and it began falling as she tried to grab onto the other two.

Nick's hand shot out and grabbed it just as her face appeared from behind it in between the two others she was carrying.

"Oh, hi! And thank you!" the woman said as she continued scrambling. "I should know better than to carry more than two by now."

"Oh, there she is!" Sylvia called out. "Tiffany? That handsome young man helping you out is Karen's son, Nick."

Her hands were still full so all she could do was smile and say, "Oh, okay. We've heard a lot about you, Nick."

"Well, my mom does like to talk," Nick teased as he looked over at his mom at the same time he took another of the bolts from Tiffany.

"Can you blame me? I mean, look at him!" his mom said, beaming with pride.

Sylvia laughed loudly then said, "Oh, we've definitely been looking."

Nick couldn't help but laugh and said, "Why, Sylvia. Are you flirting with me?"

"Would it do me any good?" she said with another hearty laugh.

"You never know. You are a beautiful woman," Nick told her even though she probably somewhere around 70 and quite a bit overweight. She was actually 73, but no one knew else knew that.

"If I was forty years younger!" she told him. "No, make that fifty!"

Once things got back to normal—for the shop—Tiffany said, "Thank you, Nick."

"You're very welcome. You were a...damsel in distress and I was a...I was a...."

Nick shook his head then told her, "I got nothin'."

Tiffany laughed, and Nick saw she was a very pretty woman. Not gorgeous. Not stunningly beautiful. But pretty. Very pretty in that shy, disarming kind of way.

"Can I help you with anything?" she asked with a sweet smile.

"No, I don't think so. I'm here to see what the catch is," he told her.

"The catch?" she asked, her eyebrows high with uncertainty.

"The draw. The hook. You know, what it is that makes women all gaga about quilting."

"Ah, okay. I understand now. Well, first of all, it isn't just women. Some of the top quilters in the world are men. And second, I'd say it's different for different people. Some love the color choices for the fabric, some enjoy the sewing, and others like the puzzle component."

"What's the 'puzzle component'?" Nick asked.

"Well...let me show you," she said. "Can you follow me over here, please?"

His mom was clearly in heaven as she and Sylvia discussed the type of quilting she wanted done to her king-sized quilt as Nick followed Tiffany over to a board that had all kinds of pictures of quilts on it, and she began explaining.

"Okay, this particular quilt is called the 'Ohio Star'. See how the pieces fit together to form the pattern of what looks like a star in the center?"

"Sure," Nick said as the obvious jumped out at him.

"This pattern is for someone who's at the 'confident beginner' level," she told him.

"Next we have what's called 'The Log Cabin' pattern. It doesn't exactly look like logs, but it's still a very distinct pattern. The pattern is different, but it's the same kind of challenge. Every type of quilt is different, and the choices and the 'puzzles' are endless."

"I love math and this is very...mathy," he said.

Tiffany laughed her sweet laugh and said, "I was terrible at math, but people tell me I do okay with quilting."

She was being modest in the extreme, as Tiffany was a very accomplished quilter at the highest level.

"I understand you teach classes," Nick said.

"I do. I've been quilting a little over nearly ten years now, and I've been training with Sylvia for the last three months to run the longarm machines. Now that she's retiring, I'll be teaching everything from basic to advanced quilting to beginning longarm."

She smiled again then said, "So, can I sign you up?"

Nick laughed and told her, "Not just yet," letting her think might possibly be a chance that might possibly happen someday.

"Okay, well I can add you to our standby list if you'd like," Tiffany told him with the same amount of genuine friendliness.

Nick laughed then said, "Um...I'll let you know if I'm ever ready. Will that be okay?"

"Oh, sure. It would just be nice to finally have a man in a class."

"I thought you said some of the best quilters were men."

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