I Say Tomato . . .

  He says, “How do you plan to slice that?”
“Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am,  but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” — 1 Corinthians 7:7 

When my passion for quilting began, my husband would say, “So let me see if I get this.  You take a perfectly nice piece of cloth, cut it into many small pieces and then sew those pieces back together to make another cloth?  That makes no sense.”

To say “opposites attract” while attempting to explain my  marriage would be the understatement of the millennium.  Ted is an engineer.  I am an artist.  He is compelled to know how things work.  I am obsessed with creating attractive ways to hide what he is working on.  He relishes wires, engines, components and capacitors.  I am drawn to color, textures, threads and geometric patterns.   When Ted is trying to come to a major decision, he evaluates products, studies schematics, and creates pro/con spreadsheets.  As for me, if it feels comfortable and has a pretty color, I’m good with it. 

To sum up our relationship in one sentence — my right  brain influences my husband to pause to look at the sunset, while his left brain, on numerous occasions, has saved me from myself.  After thirty-three years of marriage, our circuits have become integrated and our fibers are tightly woven.  Together we are one well-used and dependable engine complete with padded seats.

Therefore, when Ted asked me to create a unique quilt for his office, how could I refuse?

“I’d like a large color-bar quilt.” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, color bars.  The television camera test pattern?”

I was confused so I just offered a blank stare.

He continued, “You know that picture that is on the TV screen when the station has gone off the air?”

Blank stare.

“It would be very impressive to have a quilted replica of that hanging in my office.  It would be one-of-a-kind!”

“How big?” I asked, still not sure about it.

“Really big,” he said while spanning his arms full-out.

Blank stare.

Despite my hesitance, I embarked on this challenge.  Afterall, I make quilts for just about everyone else in my life.  How could I deny my husband this simple request.  It’s just a bunch of stripes, I thought.  With a computer printed image in hand, I headed out to what would be the first of many quilt shops.  Ted had emphatically explained to me it was necessary to match the colors exactly.

It has been my experience over the last eighteen years of quilting that all quilters are friendly and all quilters are curious about other quilters’ latest projects.  At some point during the selection, cutting and purchasing process, someone along the way inevitably asks, “Oh what are you planning to make with that fabric?”  Lugging eight to twelve bolts of solid colored fabric up to the cutting counter and then asking for a 9-inch by 44-inch strip of each generated much intrigue.

“What are you making?” asked the lady as she measured out my request.

“Im making a 3-foot by 5-foot color-bar wall hanging for my husband’s office.”

Blank stare.

“Remember back when television stations would go off the air and all that was left on the screen was a test pattern of colored stripes?”  I thought I had explained it so well.

Blank stare.

This young lady appeared to be someone who probably was born after VHS tapes became antiquated and most likely did not know television broadcasts used to sign off the air at midnight.  I wondered if she knew about rotary dial phones, or if she cared to hear how excited I was on my 14th birthday when I received a new record player that could stack five record albums.

“My husband is an engineer.”  I finally said.  “This is something he will like.”

“Oh,” she said as she glanced down at her work, and then I could tell it all made sense to her simply because an “engineer” was involved.

And so it went at each and every quilt shop and fabric store in New England and Eastern New York State.  Each time I requested multiple strips of fabric.  Each time my explanations brought forth blank stares followed by the “I wish I had never asked” nods of dismissal.  And each time I brought my new selections home for Ted’s perusal and approval.

He would take them into the light to carefully compare to the picture, but also to inject his many years of experience looking at this test pattern almost daily.  He would say things like, “This fuchsia needs to be brighter” and “you need to find a fourth shade of black.”

“There aren’t four shades of black!” I would argue from sheer exasperation knowing I would have to head out once again for more fabric.  One thing I learned from this project — there are many shades of black!

On it went for months, but eventually Ted was happy with all the colors except for one — the gray-white.  It was not something I had ever really thought about before, but no one makes a gray-white anything!  Why would they?  Who would want to pay good money for something brand new that is the color of an old undershirt?  Only the loving, quilter wife of an anal television engineer, that’s who.  In the end, I found adding a little gray dye to white fabric did the trick, but of course, it took several attempts before getting the shade which passed the “Ted Test.”

Finally, it was done and hung prominently in Ted’s office.  As he had predicted, the quilted wall hanging serves as the perfect conversation piece for his colleagues, peers,  and visitors

"Two Worlds Merge"

 who frequent his office, and, according to Ted, they have been awed by the “one-of-a-kind” quilt.  Apparently, many are especially impressed by the perfect color matches.  Ted is proud to talk about the creative process, and I am proud that he is proud.

Walk into any television facility and you will see countless color-bar test patterns displayed on idle monitors and in studio cameras.   For many in the industry, I am sure the image is as nearly subliminal as wallpaper and the majority do not give it’s use and vibrance much thought.

Ted, however, saw something unique.  He seized an opportunity to link a classic tool used in his career with the skills I use in mine.   For me the pattern now not only serves as an indication of Ted’s love and respect for what I do, but a reminder of how our differences can be brought together to create a beautiful piece of art that is an expression of both of us.  It’s as author Dave Meurer said, “A great marriage is not when ‘the perfect couple’ comes together.  It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”  I am pretty sure this is what God wants for us.

Actual Image for SMPTE Color Bars

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One Response to I Say Tomato . . .

  1. Maria says:

    That was lovely, Dottie! I hope you are having a good week!


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