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(Larry Humber for The Globe and Mail)
(Larry Humber for The Globe and Mail)

Facts & Arguments Essay

A long-overdue wedding gift Add to ...

I started making a wedding present 12 years ago. It didn't take long for it to be dubbed "The Damn Wedding Present."

In July, 1998, my best friend announced her engagement. I wasn't convinced that her fiancé was right for her, but she certainly seemed to be. So, there was nothing to do but be supportive.

Since I knew she loved things that were handmade, I decided that her wedding present would be a quilt done in her favourite colours: baby blue and butter yellow. I never questioned whether her fiancé would like the colours. After all, the gift was really for her.

I'd never made a quilt before, but I was pretty handy with a sewing machine and a needle and thread. How hard could it be? In August, about a month after their engagement and nine months before the wedding, I stood in a bookstore perusing the how-to books on traditional quilt designs. Blissfully unaware of the gargantuan task ahead of me, I decided on a queen-sized double Irish chain pattern with 24 empty blue blocks into which I'd hand-stitch an elaborate Celtic knot pattern. It would be a challenge, but I could do it.

Then she announced the wedding wouldn't be held the following May as originally planned, but in October. It would be a Halloween costume wedding. That meant I had two months to create the quilt.

No problem, I thought. On the wedding day, I'd give her a card and let her know the gift was coming. Then, I'd give her the quilt itself whenever it was finished. It'd be worth the wait, I thought. She would love it.

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The months went by, the wedding came and went, and I kept working. Then I got posted overseas.

My partner and I had applied to do development work about 18 months earlier, and we had almost given up on getting a posting. When the news finally arrived, we had about six weeks to prepare for a two-year journey in southern Africa. While we frantically arranged visas, packed up our apartment, wound up our jobs and got vaccinated against everything imaginable, I sublimated all my nervous energy into the quilt.

I spent sleepless nights in front of the clattering sewing machine, nervously dreaming of adventure as I plotted out each grid, running every possible scenario in my mind as I worked on my running stitch. Between pricked fingers, nervous worry and the quilt's ever-growing size and weight, I literally put my blood, sweat and tears into the thing.

Three nights before we left, I had finished the top of the quilt, machine-stitched it to the back along the butter-yellow chains and traced the Celtic knot design for the 24 empty baby-blue squares. On a cold January night, I sat in the only chair left in the apartment, surrounded by boxes, the quilt draped over me. With trembling, aching wrists, I hand-stitched the border into place. The quilt wasn't finished, but with the border sewn down it could at least be used. All that remained unfinished were the 24 hand-stitched panels, so I planned to give my best friend the quilt, the design and a needle and thread, and leave her to do the rest while I was gone.

The next night, while saying goodbye for two years, I shoved the quilt at her. "Here's your damn wedding present!" I said, choking back tears and turning away.

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When I returned two years later (sans partner, as my relationship had ended), she thrust it back at me. "Here's your damn wedding present back!" she said.

She had stitched a tiny portion of a single panel. The needle had turned her finger green and her cats had tried to eat the thread whenever she tried to work on it. I was right, she said: She really did love it. It was the perfect wedding gift. But there was no way she would complete it.

She'd kept it wrapped up until I came home to finish what I'd started. She and her husband had never used it.

So, The Damn Wedding Quilt came into my possession again. It was dragged along as I wandered from city to city and country to country over the next few years, a tangible link in our enduring (if frequently long-distance) friendship. I would pull it out and work on it from time to time, but I never put my heart into it as I once had. Still, it kept me warm on many cold nights as I spread it over me and worked at the intricate designs.

I thought I'd finish it for the arrival of her first child, but I didn't.

Then I thought I'd complete it for her second child, but I didn't.

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After 10 years, her marriage ended and I thought maybe I'd finish it for her and call it The Damn Divorce Quilt. But that didn't feel right either. It may have been done mostly as a gift for her, but it was still a wedding quilt. I wanted her to share it with someone she loved.

This year, with 14 of the 24 blocks done and six weeks to finish the rest, I hired someone to complete it on time. My friend was getting married again, and this time I wasn't just supportive. This time, I was delighted for her. And for her fiancé, too.

I told him the story before their May wedding, where I was the maid of honour, so he'd understand the joke that day when I threw a gift at the bride and said, "Here's your damn wedding present. And truly, I hope you damn well keep it this time."

Sara Beck lives in Kingston.


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