Monday, January 22, 2018

The Duel

When I was a kid, my dad used to read to my sister and I a lot, and one of our favorites was the Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, a poem by Eugene Field (actually called The Duel).  My dad used to read it to us out of a beautiful old illustrated copy which was falling apart even in the early 80s.  The poem's in the public domain now, so here it is for anyone who doesn't know it.

The Duel

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
      The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
      Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
            (I was n’t there; I simply state
            What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went “Bow-wow-wow!”
And the calico cat replied “Mee-ow!”
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
      While the old Dutch clock in the chimney-place
      Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
            (Now mind: I’m only telling you
            What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!”
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
      Employing every tooth and claw
      In the awfullest way you ever saw—
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
            (Don’t fancy I exaggerate—
            I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
      But the truth about the cat and pup
      Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
            (The old Dutch clock it told me so,
            And that is how I came to know.)

More than a decade ago, back when my sister still quilted, she decided to design a quilt based on this favorite poem, with one block for each stanza,  plus one for the clock and plate.  She designed all the blocks and made the applique shapes before getting stressed out by other life events and setting the project aside.  A few years later, the whole project bag got passed to my mom with a ton of other fabric and notions when my sister decided she wasn't going to have any time for quilting.  This fall, my mom pulled out the appliques, and decided that she and I should finish it as a Christmas present for my sister.  We appliqued all the blocks and put it together in November, then my mom took it home to quilt and finish.   

My mom did a fabulous job on the quilting, I love that the quilting got progressively more spiky and chaotic as the poem (and quilt) progress, until the very end when there's nothing left but a shadowy quilted outline of the eponymous dog and cat.

The Duel

My sister loved it and was so thrilled we'd finished it.  She says she's going to hang it in her office!  In the spirit of a true "group" project, we made her hand sew on the hanging pocket, everyone's least favorite task.  ;)
My dad adores the quilt too, he much prefers it to the strange abstract art quilts my mom and I sometimes make.  He even got out the poem and read it to my niece and nephew over the Christmas break while we were all together.  I love these family-wide projects, and it was great fun to finish!


  1. What a wonderful story and project! Thanks for pointing out the quilting. I noticed the feathers in the first two blocks, and then just looked at the animals. Excellent result.

  2. How utterly charming, the poem and the quilt!

  3. How utterly charming, the poem and the quilt!