My grandad and I share a birthday. That's not really important, except that if you shared a birthday with someone who was this gentle and kind and amazingly intelligent, you would brag about it too. Grandad worked as an electrical engineer for his professional life and he is always ready to whip any wheezing refrigerator or stuck garage door back into shape. When my grandma and I would get together and talk about fabric and quilts, grandad would tell us about the kind of fabrics he would like to see. Some electrical components would be nice, he mused. He figured there would be a big market for that kind of thing.
Eventually this line of discussion turned into a quilt idea. He cautioned me not to breathe a word of it. In his letters to me he would refer to it as the "E - - - - - - - - -" quilt. I couldn't exactly tell if he was joking or if this was a holdover from his days of working on top secret military projects, when there was probably a very good chance that someone was actually reading his mail. I was pretty sure he was joking though.
By the way, one of my grandad's non-military projects as a young man was to design a mechanism that would detect bottles of Pabst that were not full and then knock them off the bottling line with a puff of air. So, if you've never had the disappointment of opening a half empty bottle of Pabst, you can thank him.
Anyway one Christmas my family decided to draw names instead of getting gifts for everyone. I drew grandad's name and so I decided to make his E - - - - - - - - - quilt. I asked him to send me pictures of the vintage electrical parts he had in his collection of things that might still be useful someday. He complied with all seriousness and emailed them and then I spent hours trying to separate the images from their backgrounds, a process which is simple for those who know something about graphics programs and torture for everyone else. This was in the dark ages before Spoonflower so I got the images onto fabric with fabric transfer paper. I cringe to see the shininess but ....oh well.
The images were each bordered in my idea of manly colors and sort of arranged themselves into this chromatic progression. I had barely completed the top before our holiday trip back home so I packed the top up with some backing and batting and hoped my grandma would let me quilt it on her machine. And, of course, she did, exclaiming and offering words of encouragement the whole time.
I attacked that quilt with any design that seemed remotely related to electrical engineering. I quilted "E"s all around the border, along with words like "ohms", "resistance" and "potentiometer". Each of the borders around the pictures featured a unique quilting pattern. My two favorites are the ones featuring a light bulb and plug, and a light switch and outlet. I bound the whole thing with a pieced binding. This all happened over two days.
I watched my grandad like a hawk when he opened his present: his one present. First he seemed to be thinking "what the heck is a quilt doing in this box" and then it transformed to "oh my goodness she actually did it" and then as he took the whole thing in I think I even saw a tear. (Note: We also included a gift certificate to an electronics store to appease my husband who was highly distressed at the idea of "only" giving my grandad the quilt. So, we can presume it was a happy tear.)
This quilt hung on my grandparents' wall for a few years before retiring to a bedroom. Until now I had only one printed photo of it and so I was happy to get some better documentation of it during my recent trip home.
Telling this story reminds me that it feels so good to give a quilt to someone you love. While I wish I could have had nice custom printed fabric at that time, I still think the quilt stands as a sweet testament to our little inside joke, my grandad's field of expertise, and the special bond I share with both my grandparents. I'm also pretty sure it's the only quilt in existence featuring vintage electrical components and that thought makes me laugh. Thanks for reading, I know this was a rather long story! Hope you enjoyed it!