Slow quilting

So that quilt I’m making? I’ve been doing the math. Some numbers for you: A queen-sized quilt top measures 83 by 103 inches. That translates into 437 individual blocks, each measuring 4.5 square inches. Each block, in turn, is made up of nine individual pieces. For a total of 3,933 individual pieces of fabric.

Each of those 3,933 individual pieces varies in length, from 1.25 to 5 inches, but they are all 1.25 inches wide. And so, for the past couple of weeks, I have been wielding my trusty Olfa rotary cutter as I watch episodes of True Blood and United States of Tara and Bob the Builder on DVD, cutting those 1.25-inch-wide strips from approximately 12 yards of red and pink fabric. Twelve yards, at approximately 36 inches per yard, means I need to cut approximately 346 strips.

I’m guessing I’m about halfway done.

(We will pause here for a moment to let it sink in, slowly, that my project is, as previously stated, cutting 12 yards of perfectly good fabric into approximately 4,300 pieces and then sewing them all back together again. Got it? Okay, let’s continue.)

It’s all going to add up to something beautiful. I know it is. But, in the short term what it’s added up to is this: My arms and shoulders are shot. My wrists ache and my palms and thumbs tingle. My forearms are dotted with painful little knots.

It’s not like I wasn’t perfectly aware that this could happen. I’ve written before about carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain disorder and the fact that I can no longer knit. Or type. Or bowl (not that that one is a huge loss, to me or to the world, but still). So why I decided that it would be perfectly acceptable to repetitively strain my upper limbs in 22- and 45-minute bursts is beyond me. Although, actually, it’s not. I was in denial. I wanted the quilt so badly, wanted so much to get going on this artistic pursuit, that I pretended I could do it.

Of course, the idea of the quilt is tied to the idea of writing the novel, of the two taking shape simultaneously, of the story, like the fabric, being broken down into its individual parts and breathtakingly reassembled. Yeah, yeah, so romantic. Of course my wrists would get right on board that.

Thing is, I don’t know why I decided I had to make the quilt in the space of a couple months when I’ve given myself permission to work slowly but steadily on the manuscript. My goal for the novel is 250 words each workday. (To put that into perspective, this post is pushing 400 words as of this sentence.) It’s not very much, but it’s doable even on the days when I feel as though, as Ann Lamott might put it, everything I write is “a stupid, self-indulgent sack of spider puke.” And it adds up, over time. Two hundred and fifty words is a page. A page each workday adds up to a manuscript in about a year, give or take. Especially on the days when, as often happens, I write more than 250 words. But not a lot more.

So, I’m backing off with the quilting. I’ll schedule a few emergency appointments with the acupuncturist. And then I’ll cut a few strips a day. I’ll write my few words a day. And I will complete both projects without compromising my body, or my sanity. At least, no more than they’re already compromised.