I spent my 3 day weekend piecing a quilt from scratch–literally the whole weekend. I worked between 8-12 hours a day on it and then 3-4 hours on Monday and Tuesday evening as well. I haven’t quilted in over a year, so it was good for my soul to work on this project. This quilt was borne out of necessity. I made the quilt on our bed several years ago and due to the daily use, plus abuse (frequent washing since it our cat’s favorite place to puke) has made the fabric start to wear and fray. Our current quilt is blues and browns. While I like those colors together, I am really not a fan of the color brown so I was looking forward to new colors. I love color! Lots of color! I did keep this new quilt more subdued with lighter colors, but there are a lot of them. It is a combination of feminine florals and masculine strips and plaids–a perfect marriage of fabrics.
While spending so much time quilting, which is largely a solitary activity, I listened to a lot of podcasts, played favorite songs from Spotify, but also spent hour upon hour with nothing but the whirring of the machine and my own quiet thoughts. I muttered throughout the stages of quilting–washing and ironing new fabric, meticulously cutting the pieces, sewing squares to strips and strips to bigger squares and rows to rows. And the ironing of seams–so much ironing! At one point Robert asked if I really liked quilting with my griping about being sick of cutting and sewing. Well, yes, I do like it. It’s just after cutting fabric for about four hours, my hand is tired, my shoulders ache from being hunched over the cutting mat, and I am ready to move onto the next phase. Patience…
So, during the monotony of certain phases and the solitary quiet, I had a lot of time to think about the metaphors of quilting. Here’s what I learned.
I had to lay out all of the individual squares on my living room floor and play around with them to get the right balance of florals and stripes, of dark and light fabrics. It took crawling around on my hands and knees to rearrange the individual blocks, then getting up and walking back to take in the big picture, then on the floor again to adjust and rearrange. However, it wasn’t until I started taking photos that I could really get a sense of balance and symmetry. Some times we focus too much on the detail and smaller aspects, that we miss out on the big picture. Or…we need to look at something with fresh eyes and a new perspective to see what is, rather than what we want.
This is my seam ripper and many of the threads I had ripped out. Part of creative work is making mistakes, undoing them, and trying again. Some errors were made because I misread the instructions, others were because I was impatient and trying to rush through, and still others were because visual-perceptual skills are not my strength. Sewing right sides of fabric together at angles and visualizing what it will look like when flipped back the opposite way is quite a mental challenge for me and sometimes I get it wrong. It’s quick and easy to make a mistake, but picking apart and tearing out a seam is a time-consuming and tedious process. However, I learn from the mistakes and rarely repeat the same mistake twice in one project. It also helps me to slow down and work smart, rather than spend time rushing the creative journey. I also learned that when I was tired and trying to power through to finish just one more thing that I tended to make more mistakes. Rest is important for the best and most enjoyable work.
In the photo above, note the mint/grey plaid squares. The top one is just perfect! The corners of the plaid square align perfectly with the corners of the abutting squares. This is what quilters strive for. It is the mark of excellent attention to detail. I am pleased to say that I have more of these than not (which isn’t always the case). However, lest I get too confident, I have more than a handful of squares like the lower ones in which the circles indicate gaps between the points and the arrows point to where I actually got it right. No one would notice these gaffes from afar and likely only quilters would notice them up close. But I know that there are there and I have to release perfectionism for the greater good. I love the Amish tradition of a “humility block.” According to tradition, Amish quilters intentionally screw up on one block in every quilt as a reminder that no one is perfect apart from God. I (unintentionally) have m0re than a few humility blocks in every quilt I make and I have learned to laugh and embrace the Amish concept. I love the little quirks of my quilts.
I love that quilts come about from taking pieces of fabric that don’t match, cutting them up, and reconfiguring them into something new…and that something happens to be beautiful and functional. About half of these fabrics are new fabrics that I bought intentionally for the purpose of this quilt. The other half came from fabric I had bought for other projects that I never got around to or they are leftover scraps from previous projects. I love the blending of old and new, the recycling and repurposing of old fabric, and finding a way to make them all mesh together in harmony. The tedium of cutting and sewing parts into a whole to create something becomes a joy.
But as pretty as it may look on the outside, the backside of a quilt is a hot mess. The ugly seams, loose threads, and frayed edges on the back of a quilt top also tell a story. You can tell where and how things were joined together, where seams were ripped out and rejoined, and where I had to fudge a little to make things work. The underbelly, which will be hidden when the three layers are quilted together, tell a story and form the structure of the quilt. The outside often hides the layers underneath and we are all so much more complicated than what meets the eye.
Quilts are made with literal blood, sweat, and tears. They are labor intensive, result in crying when having to rip out and re-do, and I typically end up pricking my finger (and maybe even sewing my finger into a quilt a time or two) at least once per quilting endeavor. However, the hard work is always worth it, because who doesn’t love the warmth, love, and snuggle factor of a handmade quilt?
There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.
Elizabeth Berg, The Art of Mending