My Party Quilt Scrapbook


Here are some of my favorite party quilt memories. 

Sarah's Bookshelf

 Proper attire is so important for social occasions.   So, party quilters, I suggest you choose  a dark-colored  dress  which will  not show accidental markings from permanent pens  (Black is ideal).  Wear well-aged shoes with rubber soles, for comfort  and speed when chasing  down the other guests. Carry a dainty, yet humongous, satchel, packed  with  permanent pens, thread snippers  plus,  of course, an actual bed-sized quilt, rolled and  stuffed into a designer  pillowcase, de rigueur  for keeping dog hairs off the quilt during the car ride.    

Thus attired, I arrived  at the big event a half hour early.   My  friend's father, who I haven't seen in about two decades,  greeted me at the door with a big hug, followed by obviously amused scrutiny.   "So, Cathy," he said finally, arching his eyebrows at the lumpy vintage Calvin Klein pillowcase tastefully peeping from my carryall, "Were you planning to sleep here?" 

 Let the wiseacres jest.  I had 3,000 miles for this mission - a quilting mission, the best kind.  The event honored the bat mitzvah (a  Jewish coming-of-age religious ceremony) of my  friend's 13-year-old-daughter.  But my oversized party purse is not exactly the norm for bat mitzvah guests, any more than it would be for a guest at a baby shower, wedding or anniversary or birthday party.   Several months before, this darling girl had told me, long distance, that she very much  wanted a signature quilt for her party, please please please

The kid begged.  She's darling,  I'm a pushover, so there I was, like Frodo, far from home. Instead of a sinister ring, I am shlepping a  cozy, nearly-finished quilt. The center said something about this girl's unique personality. She reads fiction voraciously,   ('Lord of the Rings' is her favorite),  also devours anthropology, and every the National Geographic.   She's wild about horses   ("especially, cuuuute horses," her older brother had chortled. )  Her favorite colors are yellow, lavender, forest green, and sky blue. Her mom reported that she selects clothing with solid colors; stripes are rare, and florals, never. She's an avid traveller, and loved Paris and London. All those references and more, gleaned during some really fun phone conversations and emails that never would have happened if I weren't a quilter, are reflected on the quilt. 

The quilt is  batted, backed, bound, and completely quilted. But it's not quite done yet.  The borders  feature  blank-looking oversized  rectangles---they're supposed to  be books---- that look like they need a little something more . My job today: To persuade the other guests to finish this quilt. 

  Bringing a party quilt  makes attending a party a lot more fun and exciting than attending a party the ordinary way.  OK, and perhaps, as Frodo would tell you,  un frisson more stressful …



 The manager of the small restaurant had promised us an empty table  for  the quilt. Well, that  table turned out to be in a remote corner, behind a high counter.  I steered a bunch of them over to the quilt before meal started, but there were many more to go when everyone sat down .

 During the short, informal toasts, my friends forgot to mention the quilt . That's my fault---I didn't suggest it.    I was shyly hoping that rumours of the quilt would just magically spread .

Midway through desert, I noticed people who hadn't signed the quilt leaving the  restaurant.  I  could not procrastinate one more moment.

 OK, maybe one more . Taking one more bite of the luscious chocolate desert, I lept decisively to my feet.  Bracing myself to  converse with many more strangers than I had hoped, I  dashed to the far corner, seized my quilt and pens, and was immediately waylaid by cousin Abigail.

  Abigail was a brilliant, charismatic 5-year-old. She wanted my pens, so I gave her one. That wasn't enough. Her little hand went back up in the air, pointing at the rest of them. She clarified her position: She was not going to budge until I delivered them all.  First I laughed. Then I frowned. For several seconds, I mistook her for an obstacle. At last, I  recognized her as my heaven-sent angel.   I gave her all my pens, and informed her that we were a team.  I explained the system. I carried the quilt. She did most of the talking, plus uncapping and  handing pens to guests. (Yikes!).  People signed the twin-size quilt on the back of chairs, or even on hastily cleared tables, perilously close to desert and coffees, but miraculously, there were no spills.

 Our coordination was awesome, right up until the very moment that Abigail suddenly slipped all the pens into her pink patent-leather purse, and vanished. I found myself blockaded between chairs, dangling  a twin-sized quilt, no pens, with several more tables to go, desperately scanning the horizon for a low-lying adorable  blonde  head.  (I did track her down and cajole her into returning most of the pens, in time to snag the rest of the guests).  

Sarah took that quilt home with her. She sleeps under it every night.  Despite  the burden of haute couture and wrestling with angels, this story has a happy ending. 


Ben's Quilt


  For 'Ben's Quilt,' another Bar Mitzvah quilt, the center included a large exploding science fiction star. Around it, I set pencil sketches  this talented young man had made, (of his favorite Japanese computer game characters) transferred to fabric.   The signable borders are a lightly patterned white, intermittently rubber stamped  images, with a few photo-transfers in the corners.    The sun at the center of the star was also drawn by Ben.

Linda's Significant Birthday 


My friend Linda was celebrating her X0th birthday with a big bash. (The invitations were to a "Highly Significant Birthday Party.")   I decided to surprise her with a signature quilt for party guests to sign. The centerpiece is gold lame, which I backed with fusible interfacing. From that, I cut out the words, "Happy (Significant) Birthday, Linda."

Linda had told me that her party colors were pearlized gold, silver, and pastels, so I used a metallic batik in those shades for the border surrounding the gold central panel. The third border is a shiny gold cotton/nylon blend. For the final, wide signable border,  I used a regal African glazed cotton  in gold and white. The fabric  LOOKS like it's appliqued and pieced, but really wasn't.

(African fabrics are great for party quilts. Many feature large signable blank areas,  vivid graphics, and best of all, extraordinary symbolism. This particular design, according to African fabric expert Lisa Shepard Stewart, is an Adrinka symbol, meaning "It's Okay to Learn from Your Mistakes."   You can learn more about African fabrics on Lisa Shepard Stewart's  website,at, and from her 1999 book, 'African Accents'.  If the African fabric you love doesn't have signable fabrics, consider interspersing pieces of it with blank fabric). 

I brought the quilt to the party, not knowing whether Linda would also have a guest book or sign-in board. As it turned out, she had planned to have a sign-in board---but it was never delivered! Perfect! So, with her permission,  I set out this quilt  on a table right by the door, along with the gold and silver metallic Uniball pens you can see in lying on the quilt in the first picture.  People signed the white squares, and it all worked out beautifully! (No mistakes to learn from  - this time!).


The Four-Hour Party Quilt

 Wednesday, 9:05 pm.  Kids finally in bed. Lie down. Realize that my aunt’s 80th birthday champagne brunch is Sunday, in Arizona. I'm in California,  and  I forgot to make the party quilt, which must be mailed!.  Slap forehead, leap to feet, run to playroom (it’s also sewing room,) scramble through cabinet for fabric that reminds me of aunt. Long ago, aunt was a fabulous modern art painter. Find modern arty blue fabric with colorful wiggles that actually look like the number 80! Serendipity rocks!

  9:20 p.m. Realize I don’t know what else aunt is into. Telephone cousin. What does aunt like? Answer: Sweets. What about  favorite colors?  Cousin puts her husband, an artist and keen observer, on the phone. Ask him about aunt’s favorite color. His answer: Sweets.

  Cousin gets back on and informs me that one of her presents to her mom will be 80 chocolate kisses. I happen to HAVE chocolate kiss fabric! Serendipity ROCKS!

  Double-check to make sure cousin thinks aunt wouldn’t be embarrassed by public exposure of sweet tooth. “Nah, she’ll get a big kick out of it!” cousin promises. She better be right, because I’m running with it.

  9:21-10:07p.m. Scramble through fabric to find chocolate kiss and other sweets - related fabric. Playroom cleaned just this afternoon now looks like post-hurricane trailer park. Fabric making me hungry, but no time to eat.

  10:08-10:52 p.m. Cut central fabric into a square, cut chocolate kiss and ice cream fabrics into strips, sew those around the central square. Find interesting signable  fabric that looks like modern art (the grey zig zag) for wide borders. Not too wide, only 22 guests   coming.

   10:53-12:13 a.m.  Strew around contents of 3 shoe boxes of fusible-web backed fabrics, seeking elusive brightly-colored solids ready to cut and fuse. Find them and cut several freehand to spell  “HAPPY” and “RUTHIE”.  The 80 is provided by the central fabric, and I’m writing a “th” next to  it with a permanent white gel pen, so it reads “Happy 80th Ruthie,” but only if you look very hard. Hey, modern art is supposed to be elusive!   (See photo below for the “th”.)

  12:14-12:29 a.m.  Sew front of quilt to back right sides together, with batting underneath, then turn everything right side out. Voila! Edges finished! 

  12:30-1:03 a.m. Stitch in the ditch over all seamlines, around the letters, and around the outer edge of quilt, in colorful variegated thread.

  1:04 a.m. Crash. It’s only 4 hours past my bedtime. Not too shabby!

  6 a.m. Leap out of bed and race to the sewing room, now indistinguishable from town dump. Add fabric champagne bottle cut from red lipstick fabric-- aunt always covers me with juicy red lipstick kisses. Cut realistic label from  champagne bottle fabric, and applique it to kissy bottle. Calculate aunt's birth year, hope I'm right, and write it on label with gold metallic permanent gel pen.

  7:30 am At breakfast, don’t make food -  make  husband and kids sign the quilt.  Take  a picture, wrap it up,  add a new pack of colorful permanent pens (just happened to have them lying around the house), and a long  piece of the grey zig zag fabric, backed with batting, for guests to practice.

  Tape it all up in big envelope and address to cousin.

   8:30 am: Bring package to post office and send it, Express. Wa-Hoo!!! This sucker will be two days early!! 

   Two days later, while writing this: Big Mistake.  I just realized, I forgot one thing: I forgot to sign it.

  Three months later: Visit aunt in Arizona. Quilt hangs in place of honor in her kitchen. Guests signed it beautifully. One, an artist, drew an intricate landscape in the border. I love it. She loves it. I finally sign it. Another happy ending.

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