Jolly Roger Quilt, Part 2: Math Problem

Jolly Roger Quilt, cat is larger than he appears
I think I just finished my 18th quilt. I might have actually made more, but right now that’s how many I can name and remember. One is just a top, and even though it has been sitting unfinished in a box for many years, I would like to start quilting it soon; though I have to admit it is a little kid’s quilt and I do not have any little kids living in my house right now.  Many of the 18 were baby quilts, given away to close friends.  Two were made for the dogs (so they sit on the quilt on a chair instead of the chair), and I am happy that they have not been destroyed by them.  I sold one in an auction (which was not a good experience). I spent last winter finishing a quilt for my niece to take to college, and afterwards started thinking about a black and white quilt.
I was living in North Dreadful, with only one decent fabric store worth the drive, so I ordered a bunch of the fabric for the Jolly Roger online. I am an unskilled and unhappy shopper in many ways, though I, like anyone who likes quilt-making, have a huge stash of fabric and a weakness for the nice fabric stores. I found the perfect backing fabric for the Jolly Roger quilt (Michael Moore’s “Quilt Pirates”), and it is pictured here.
Quilt back, with free-hand machine quilting
I do not know what I had in mind when I ordered the backing fabric, but by the time I was finished piecing the top, I had, in my exuberance, exceeded the amount of fabric purchased for the back by a full eight inches. You would think that for an experienced quilt-maker this would be an occasional problem. You would think that for a former geometry teacher, with a master’s degree in pure mathematics this is a rare mistake. You would think.
The truth, dear reader, is that I fail to buy enough backing fabric so often that this scenario is typical.
Figuring out how much fabric you need for the back of your quilt is straightforward. Quilting fabric usually is 44” wide, so you often piece together two lengths of the same size, and have one seam on the back, running up the middle. You plan for there to be extra, because out of the scraps of old projects new projects grow.  A huge quilt might be 96” long, which is 8 feet, so you would need to buy 16 feet (or 5 1/3 yards) if your back needed to be about 88” wide (or less).  This quilt turned out to have 64 squares across its length, 2” of fabric per (pre-sewn) square, yielding 1 ½” per square after deducting the ¼” seam allowances. 64 times 1 ½” is 96”. It is 48 squares wide (or 72”), for a total of 3072 2” squares of fabric.
This works nicely if you are good at planning how big your quilt will be.   I usually strike a bargain with myself when planning quilts, because I like some aspects of planning and dislike others. With the Jolly Roger quilt, I embarked on the making of the grinning skull without knowing how I intended to use it in a finished quilt. Maybe I had a vague sense that it could be like a pirate flag, but pretty quickly I realized that this was not a very interesting design, being almost entirely black. In the end, I made two skulls and some scissors and a heart and played with how I wanted them arranged until I was happy. I was very busy cutting little black squares and sewing long strips onto the growing top and it was not until the whole top was together that I knew my enthusiasm had allowed the top to grow beyond the amount of fabric I had purchased for the back.
Back piecing to mask error
The good thing about being consistently bad at planning is I know how to deal with my bad planning. In this case, I used the largest possible square pieces of fabric that I could cut until I was down to scraps.
Now that it is done I am pleased with the quilting (which was very intense), and having that feeling of sadness that I always have when I finish a project.


There is a children’s book called “Six-Dinner Sid” about a black cat that lives in a neighborhood where he convinces every household that he needs to be fed. Soon, there are consequences for Sid, who gets very fat and then gets sick, but thanks to some advocacy and improved communication, all is well in the end.
I am a big fan of children’s books, from picture books to first novels. Up until I became an actual adult I really thought writing children’s books was what I was meant to do with my life. Well, maybe that or be a veterinarian. Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with “Things I find in my Basement,” and most of that is what is left from ten or so years of unfinished efforts to write stories for children. I am certain that some first drafts should never see the light of day, but a car that travels through space and takes you to a planet run by apples might be something worth revisiting.
I mention Six-Dinner Sid because our Schwartz, who might have modeled for Sid, loves routine as much as any house cat, and got into the routine of asking for kibble from every adult who frequented our house. When the boys were younger, we always employed at least one young woman to help with carpool, dishes and laundry, dog-walking, and homework supervising. Over the years we had excellent luck finding good babysitters, and one thing they all have had in common is a good relationship with our pets.  Schwartz makes the most of any situation, and managed to ask for breakfast from my husband, and then from me, and then from the babysitter, and so on. Each of us was filling his bowl to the top at least once a day. After a number of months of this, we found he weighed 17 pounds.
But Schwartz is a large cat, so we didn’t think much of it, until one day when Schwartz had to go for a long car ride. Like many house cats, Schwartz finds riding in the car traumatic. He howls and screams, and panics violently every few minutes. Even though the vet’s office is only about eight blocks away, he usually poops in the carrier on the way there. Longer trips mean he poops, pees, has diarrhea, and barfs. So after a long car ride, Schwartz needed a bath.
I have had cats since I was 5 or 6. I know how to cut their nails without losing blood, I know how to dose a cat with a pill, and I know how to give a cat a bath. That having been said, I also know that cats really don’t need baths very often, and I would only give a cat a bath that really, really needed one. After a long car ride, Schwartz needs a bath.
Isn’t a wet cat a pitiful thing? Part of a cat’s charm is certainly its fluffiness. Take that away, and add a pissed-off attitude, and you have a wet cat. With its fur clinging to its form, a cat is sleek and angular. I lifted wet Schwartz out of the water to dry him and noticed that his tail still looked fat. I put him back in the water, submerged his tail, and took him out again (mind you, we’re not talking about dunking a doll in water–we’re talking 17 pounds of furious predator). The tail was still fat. I felt it. It was wet.
It was then that the truth really sank in: Schwartz was so fat, his tail was fat. He was so fat his tail looked dry when he was wet. His next bag of kibble was the low-fat, indoor adult type. I also changed the scoop we use to a 1/3 cup measuring cup. Now, Schwartz can have four scoops of food a day, and he can have them one at a time. He maintains 14 to 15 pounds on this regimen, and he still thinks he is getting what he asks for.