Put a butterfly on it

Photo by Charity Banks.

By Kristen Banks

Have you ever had something happen to one of your quilts that was so shocking and terrible that you couldn’t even imagine it? I have. To one of the prettiest, most complicated, and best quilts I have ever made.

I had worked for months on a floral needle turn applique quilt that also included embroidery work and Trapunto. This quilt was one of those projects that started out as something quite simple, and over time grew into something super complicated. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but this quilt just seemed to get better and better as I added artistic elements to it.

The best part was that I was really enjoying making it. It’s hard to recall the particulars now, because I’ve tried to block them out. But I think I had the top finished, sandwiched, and pinned down for quilting when I decided to clip a few stray threads away.

And for no particular reason at all, I just cut a little chunk out of my quilt top.

Things I could say to describe how I felt would be phrases like ‘sheer panic’ or ‘stunned disbelief.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been so exasperated in my whole entire life. Why? Why on Earth would I do such a thing as this? I knew to be careful, I thought I was being careful, but I big fat went and cut a chunk out of my masterpiece.

What was worse is I had no idea how I was going to fix it, it’s not like I could just put that little piece back in, at least not in a way that wouldn’t be totally obvious that it was a mistake. I had worked way too hard and long on this quilt to just trash it, and I would be really embarrassed to show it off finished and flawed to everyone who had watched me work on it all these months.

I needed some advice. So, I decided I needed to talk to the lady who taught me how to quilt, to tell her what I’d done, and find out where to go from here. My friend Royce had helped me figure out this piece of beauty for all of these months, and probably put more worry and work into this quilt then I had. How was I going to tell her how foolish I’d been?

A few days later, when we were to meet up, I sheepishly snuck in the door, perforated quilt in tow. She could tell something was wrong, and since I’m no good at keeping secrets about myself, I just blurted it all out. I figured she would be shocked like I was and that she would scold me and tell me to be more careful next time.

But, to my surprise, she just laughed.

Then she told me to “put a butterfly on it”, and then she laughed some more at the confused look on my face. This was in no way the advice or response I expected. Royce finally explained to me that one time she had encountered a problem with one of her quilts, and her friend Paula had given her the same advice.

You see, my teacher Royce Prentice and her friend Paula Platter are two of the most advanced and amazing quilters that I know. Their work is creative, complex, beautiful, and impeccable. So I was expecting, after a stern reprimand, to hear some amazing piece of advice or earth shattering technique to pull my project out of the fail pile. I was not expecting laughter and a cryptic message about butterflies.

Paula is a master at applique, and coined the butterfly phrase after finding a solution to what is apparently a prevalent problem with quilters. For some reason, occasionally, we just sabotage our own work at the last minute. Paula, having a problem that could not be fixed, decided to cover it instead. She didn’t scrap the piece, or try to hide the problem inconspicuously; she just appliqued a small butterfly on top of the mistake and made the best of it.

And no one ever looked at that quilt as a failure. What she ended up with was a beautiful quilt that became an interesting conversation piece, and ultimately a legend with quilters around these parts.

Sometimes things don’t work out perfectly, or as we planned them to. Sometimes you’re left with a flaw that everybody can see and knows is there, but it doesn’t mean you’re a failure and can’t still hold your head up high and be proud of your work.

So, the next time you make a mess of things, and have a problem that just doesn’t want to fix. Remember, if worse comes to worst, you can always just laugh, make the best of things, and put a butterfly on it.


  1. Susan says:

    I’ll remember this, but hope I never need to put it into practice. Loved your story.

  2. Carol hart says:

    Hi Kristen enjoyed as always you do beautiful work!!!