a quilter’s tale

We don’t have a tv.  The movie theatre (not that they had anything playing) is now refurbished into something else.  There are no coffee shops.  The market isn’t anything like a mall to go hang out in.

As CUSO-VSO volunteers working in the Far North of Cameroon, whatever we do in your “off hours” pretty much has to be made up.  Read books, write home, hang with others who have nothing else to do, or… fill the evening hours with some creative patchwork!  Way I see it, for generations North American women, when no farmwork was needed and the kids were tucked in bed, spent their winter evenings quilting.  So can I.

By hand no less.

my first hand-made quilt with fabrics from home

I had brought a small stash of fabrics with me to practice with.  I had gone to the Satin Moon Quilt Shop in Victoria and Snip & Stitch Sewing Centre in Nanaimo who outfitted me with tips and tricks as well as all the notions I would need to get started in hand-quilting.  It’s been paying off dividends.

When I arrived here I asked volunteers for some of their remnants.  But I hit the jackpot with tailors in town.  It’s called “chercher de mo”.  It means asking the tailors to save the little scraps from their own work.  They often times burn the pieces for lack of something useful to do with them.  As a quilter in love with local fabrics, that really hurts!  I’ve managed to get my hands on 3 shopping bags worth so far – and all for free! It makes me giddy – slightly worse than a kid on Christmas morning.  I wash and hang the little pieces in the courtyard and stand there mesmerized.

a few "remnants" blocks from local fabrics

The fabric I can get right now is mostly from men’s gondoras, and therefore makes for solid, yet very colourful array of colours.  My preference for star-inspired blocks really shows off the spectrum of life through the colours in Cameroon. I’m planning on using pangs (mostly worn by women) as sashes and borders.  The patterns and colours are so vivid and wild!  In my eyes, they make the fabrics dance.

It so easy to fall in love with quilting here since cotton is nearly the only fabric available – and there is no shortage of amazing patterns either!  It’s inexpensive even if the tailors weren’t so generous.  And it tickles my creative side back to life.

Eventually I will bring all my random blocks together into a full-sized quilt (or two or three or more at this rate).  But since batting is unavailable, and there is absolutely no need for blankets here, I’m in no hurry to proceed to the next step.  I might even have to bring back a suitcase full of quilt tops at the end of my 2 years here and then spend the next 10 finishing them!!!

The quilting has been great at filling the long evening hours.  It also helps in dealing with the regular day-to-day stresses of life – because those days when life gives you scrap (and it is bound to no matter where you are) you just make a quilt!  There is nothing like completing a challenging block to feel like you have accomplished a little something special.  I love sitting in the living room listening to an audiobook on my iPod , putting together a new block.

I also realize that with each stitch, I am creating my own memories of my time in Cameroon.  I am able to stitch in remnants of some of my own outfits, thereby making a more permanent reminder of our lives here.  It’s a different kind of souvenir.

My only challenge:  a 40-watt bulb to quilt by at night (it’s full dark at 6:30pm every day of the year!).  Hard on the eyes, but nothing stops a quilter who just found a new block to try!

~ by Caroline Spira on February 24, 2010.

6 Responses to “a quilter’s tale”

  1. Super beau!

  2. Caroline,

    You touched a nerve with me today… my name is Kristie Kelly and I am the acting PE manager here at CUSO-VSO BUT I am also a quilter. I come from Waterloo county (Mennonite country) and it is a long tradition in our family. I am now parenting 3 very active kids but I LOVE fabric and look forward to a time when I will be back to quilting. My sister is a hand quilter and I generally piece by machine and quilt by hand. I love your colours and if you need any overseas support for quilting… count me in.

    Take care

    • Thanks Kristie! Love hearing from other quilters. Overseas support for quilting? Moral support is great… and perhaps a few ideas for more challenging patterns? I’m attempting a mariner’s compass this week… wish me luck!

  3. I am a quilter and my daughter a CUSO-VSO volnteer in Jamaica. Your tale speaks to all quilters and mothers who are very proud of the life choices their children make. Quilting is like life in both you receive scraps that you can fashon into items that are beautiful and usefull to many. Continue to quilt with fabric and with the lives of those you work with every day.
    When you return take your work to the local quilt guilds and give a trunk show, then leave some CUSO-VSO material and donation forms.

    • Thank you for the encouragement. Keeping my fingers busy certainly takes on a different meaning.

  4. Bravo,je les trouve magnifiques, ce ne sont pas les idées qui manquent Lâche pas.

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