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Not The Perfect Hostess

April 26, 2004

Erica and I finally had our much delayed mystery quilt party on Saturday. I think it went well; the ladies who came seemed to enjoy doing the project and like how it turned out. I don’t ever plan on hosting another one, though. I can handle having people over for casual get togethers, but something with as much structure as a mystery quilt day activates my control freak side and I spent entirely too much time feeling resentful and dismayed.

The resentment was directed at the two women who said they’d come and then backed out. One replied to the directions and last minute details e-mail I sent out on Tuesday with “gee, I thought I told you or mentioned to one of the other guests that I can’t come”. She apologized and offered to reimburse us for any costs we’d incurred, but I was not mollified. I wanted to know why. I always want to know why. If you can’t come because you or a close family member has the Martian death flu, I feel better than if you can’t come because you’ve decided staying home and watching the NFL draft is more important than showing up at my house like you said you would. Not that I’m happy you’re sick, of course, and I know the result is the same regardless of why you’re not showing up, but if your reason is no reflection on me as a hostess, I’m in a better frame of mind. The other woman who didn’t show up called, on the morning of the party, the person she was riding with to say she couldn’t make it. Erica and I didn’t know she’d backed out until the one woman showed up solo, not that we could have found someone to use the now orphaned kit at such short notice anyway. As with the first flakee, there was no explanation. At least the first woman was nice enough to tell me directly. I know that things come up at the last minute. I know things happen that make it impossible to follow through on plans made. I just feel that if the plans involve some people, namely Erica and me, taking the time to do preparations, namely selecting fabrics and cutting kits, specifically for other people, that more than an “I can’t come, let me give you some money to buy my way out of guilt” is in order. If I’m having an open house, sure, come or don’t come (though I’ll be sad if no one shows up), but this wasn’t an open house. Yes, it’s your right to not explain, and maybe it’s none of my business anyway, but if you don’t provide a reason, I wonder if I should have done something differently. Though I suppose it’s not a guest’s job to reassure the hostess, especially one as self-centered as I am sounding here. See why I don’t have people over more often? With all the analysis about the whys and wherefores, it just makes my head hurt.

Maybe the people who didn’t show up had the right idea, because that meant they couldn’t be the object, even unwitting, of my dismay once they got going on the project. My quilts are far from perfect, I know, but the things a couple people were doing just made me want to scream. Well, maybe not scream, but strenuously object. The first was sloppy piecing. I don’t mean slightly more or less than a quarter inch seam sloppy, I mean there’s no way you can possibly think you can make that fit together sloppy. This wasn’t a tricky pattern, either. Now, since I know that standards differ and what one person thinks is unacceptable works just fine for another, and the woman who was the biggest offender has made quilts she’s perfectly happy with, plus she was a guest in my home, I didn’t say anything when I was ironing most of the pieces. On one or two of them, I just couldn’t help but suggest that she re-do them. When something is supposed to be square and instead it’s sort of octagonal, that’s just not going to work. She didn’t seem offended, so I’m hoping that means it was only a big deal in my head. The other thing that got me riled up was poor pressing. The proper technique is a matter of some debate among quilters, but everyone pretty much agrees on the desired result– seams that are crisp and pieced units that are not distorted. I had to cringe when I got handed a strip set with a pleat along the seam and a wiggly overall shape. The first one I handed back and asked her to redo; the ones after that I either re-ironed myself or tried very hard to ignore. People were there to have fun, not get my lecture on how I iron and why. The high points of the lecture I did not give are:

1) When ironing cotton yardage, use moisture. That can be steam, water out of a spray bottle, or water sprinkled on the fabric before putting it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to let it get evenly damp (the latter being what my grandma did), or some combination of the above. At this point, you need to get all the wrinkles out, and moistening them is the best way to do that.

2) When ironing pieced units, only use moisture as a last resort. Use a dry iron and keep that spray bottle handy for really stubborn situations, like where you had to ease something (yes, it would be better to not have things to ease, but no one is perfect). It’s just too easy to distort pieces when they’re not only warm but wet. Sure, some people use steam quite successfully when pressing pieced units, but it doesn’t work for me, perhaps because I am too impatient to let things cool and dry before I move them and go on to the next unit. (Okay, I did give this part of the lecture, but I pretty much had to in order to explain why I didn’t have water in my iron and didn’t want to put any in.)

3) When ironing seams, first set the seam by ironing the unit flat just as it came out of the sewing machine. This helps the thread sink into the weave of the fabric and makes for a tighter seam. Then, iron the seam to one side, working from the front (i.e. put the pieced unit dark side up on the ironing board and lift the top piece up to press the unit open rather than opening it up and laying it face down on the ironing board). By working from the front it’s easier to see what you’re doing to the side that people are going to see in the finished project.

Yes, there are other ways to press that work just as well, but this is what works for me. The pleat presser was using steam from the back. I had to stop myself from objecting when she said “I’m good at ironing” when asked if she’d rather iron or cut strip sets apart. But she too has made quilts she’s happy with, so who am I to judge? The point was to have fun, and I think people did, so I need to just relax. And only host open houses and other casual get togethers from now on.


About a year ago, I was musing about the ideal day.

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