Quilting is the hobby that grew into the monster that consumed my family.
From an early age, I have been dragged into quilting stores across the Prairie provinces so my mother could admire fabrics. Dejectedly, I would wander the aisles looking for something interesting, a hopeless task indeed.
My mother's quilting addiction started slowly. When I was in elementary school, her quilting room was just a small back room and life was fairly normal. She had a tiny table, a sewing machine and two cabinets stuffed to the bursting point with assorted fabrics.
Our house was tastefully decorated with various crafts, and despite occasionally having to make stops on vacations so we could visit quilting shops in the middle of nowhere, my mother's hobby was not too big a hassle.
When we moved to a different house, the spare bedroom became the quilting room/guest bedroom. Soon there was no room for guests, and this became strictly the quilting room.
The amount of fabric my mother owned was directly proportional to the size of the room, similar to the myth that goldfish growth is dependent on the size of the tank.
By the time I graduated from high school, the entire basement had been converted into a so-called quilting studio. The contents of our spacious basement were for the most part stuffed into storage, as there was no room for them now that we had dedicated an entire floor of our house to quilting.
At times when my father was away on a trip, my grandmother and her friend would come to visit and, in the process, break up our household's daily routine. They would take over the dining room and get to work on a grand craft project, such as making stuffed bears or quilts. All meals from this point forward were of the frozen variety and were to be consumed from a standing position, as the three musketeers would not yield the dining-room table. I was left to fend for myself - the parental figures may as well have been absent.
The women would work on their project with a dedication that would impress a sweatshop owner, staying up well into the night. At the end of the weekend, there would be a new quilt or a new bear sitting on the mantle, and the house would be quickly put together again so no one would be the wiser that the three had spent the entire weekend gorging on chocolates and annexing the dining room.
The aftermath's cleaning and organization would be done with the efficiency of a teenager who throws a wild party when his parents are gone for the weekend. On his return, my father had no idea of the iron fist that had taken control of the house for those three days.
In my final year of high school, I noticed I was running short on boxers. It wasn't a big deal, and I simply bought some more.
It wasn't until a small graduation social that I found out what had happened to them. My mother had taken it upon herself to take my boxers, and the boxers of my two best friends, and combine the collection into "boxer quilts." My friends' mothers thought it was a wonderful idea and gave their sons' boxers to my mom.
The quilts were presented to all three of us as gifts. Then my mother insisted on taking a picture of us with our quilts. I was mortified. I didn't care how many times my quilt had been washed, there was no way I was going to sleep with it. That quilt was closet-bound and headed there fast.
I did my best to be gracious and thank my mother for the effort she had put into making it, although I am pretty sure she could tell I was slightly perturbed. Regardless of how I felt on the matter, the quilt still ended up being published in a quilting magazine.
My mother's hobby has become such a big part of her life that the quilt is the default gift for every special occasion. A friend of mine passed away, and my mother asked, "Do you think her family would like a quilt?"
One of my best friends got married. "I think giving them a quilt would be an excellent present," my mother said.
Birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, baby showers and weddings - no matter the occasion, my mother thinks a quilt would be an ideal present.
Upon my completion of my second year of college, my mother and sister acquired a quilting store in Coaldale, Alta. I was routinely woken up bright and early to sign for the multiple packages stuffed with quilting supplies that were sent to the house. It became my responsibility to help transport this precious cargo to the store and help move the large, heavy tables on which the fabric would be stacked. Every time I asked why my services were required, I was told it was "part of being a family." Quilting now defined us.
I've moved away from my parents' house and have come to accept that this quilting beast cannot be tamed. My sister has become an avid quilter and runs the shop with my mom. My mother, a public-school music teacher, has dropped her teaching hours to part-time, and my father has become the quilting shop's accountant.
The quilt store now has its own website and my mother and sister have published two quilting books and are working on their third. What started as a harmless amusement is now the ruling interest in our family. It's true. I have a boxer quilt to show for it.
Oliver Willms lives in Calgary.