Crocodylus Smylus, 21 feet 6 inches by 70 inches, © 2015 Susan Carlson

Call in the Cavalry

It took four days to quilt “Crocodylus Smylus.” By then I had a week before the quilt needed to be shipped to be included in the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts show “From Insects to Elephants.” In that week, I had to square the quilt up, trim it to size, attach the binding (a knife edge), figure out the hanging mechanism, and sew on a sleeve.

Oh, and did I mention that I was also teaching a 4-day retreat during that same period?

It wasn’t optimal timing on my part. Regardless, the quilt had to get done.

It was time to call in the cavalry.

First I handed off the hanging mechanism to my husband. We’d discussed leaving gaps in the sleeve so the quilt could be hung from five points—one at each end and at three equally-spaced points. For the hanging rod, he used metal electrical conduit in four sections, connected with couplings. This allowed the rod to be broken down for shipment. Speaking of shipping, Tom also created a 7 foot shipping package out of building supply sonotubes.

It’s handy to have somebody who has more than a passing knowledge of the hardware store.

Then I pulled out my really big gun: my mom. She’s a trained seamstress and life-long sewer. Let’s just say she knows her way around a needle and thread.

The only place I could work on the quilt at this point was on my studio floor. I pushed back the furniture and gave the floor a good vacuuming before spreading Stevie out. Then I squared her up.

Under the knife, or rotary cutter at least.
Under the knife, or rotary cutter at least.

I cut strips of binding material, then machine-sewed them onto the front of the quilt. I turned the binding and pinned it on the back. Mostly I did this work in the evening, then went off to class in the morning and left the quilt in the capable hands of Mama to do the hand work.

Sewing the binding onto the back of the quilt. Not ergonomically ideal.
Sewing the binding onto the front of the quilt. Not ergonomically ideal.

When I got home from class, I would sometimes join her in a modern version of a quilting bee, each working an edge. It was a special time for both of us.

Mama and I hand-sewing the knife-edge binding.

Asking for help isn’t easy for me. How about you? For me it’s a question of trust: who do I trust enough to allow them to help? Maybe it’s not the most flattering trait, but I figure that if I can do something better and faster than someone else, I’m going to do it myself.

But if you have someone you trust, even if it’s only to give feedback, to bounce ideas off, use them. They’ll thank you for it.


Am I satisfied? That’s a trickier question than it might seem.

As the clock ticked toward the exhibit-imposed end of this quilted feat, a recurring fear was that I would have to compromise on some aspect of construction, that I’d run out of time to make her as good as she could be. She had been in my head for so long, I didn’t want to look back and feel like I could have done better. After all, I’ll never make another full-size saltwater crocodile, and even if I tried, it wouldn’t ever be the same.

I remember when I thought I had finished the piecing—the cut and glue part that takes way longer than anything else. I was tidying up the fabrics that were tossed on the floor (the ones you see in the time lapse)—and uncovered other forgotten fabrics that I had not used but had really wanted to. I could have said, oh well, enough is enough, but I didn’t. I took another couple days to work them in (this is when Tom started getting really worried since I was taking time allotted to “finishing”). But, remember, more is better.

And you know, those little spots color, texture, and hand-printed bits made a difference. At least to me they did, and I’m my harshest critic (no matter how tough Tom gets). I paid for making those edits with many late nights and one all-nighter to prep for quilting and the other finishing steps, but it was more important to me that I didn’t have to compromise.

Now that Stevie is out in the world I am pleased, and proud, and relieved. Funny, it’s much the same way I felt sending our son off to college just one month prior. Except Sam took 18 years to get to that point.

Stevie will return home in a few months having been in her first exhibit, showing others the awesomeness of a saltwater crocodile, even if they don’t read nature encyclopedias. She plans on doing more traveling. She’s taking on a life of her own, as it should be with our creations.

So yes, I’m satisfied.

That grin.
That grin.
Fore foot. Notice she has red nail polish.
Fore foot. Notice she has red nail polish.
Rear foot.
Rear foot.
That powerful tail.
Reflecting her Australian heritage, kangaroos bound along her spine.
Hitchhiker. An aboriginal lizard.


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