Monday, March 23, 2009

What I Do For Love

I remember a quilt that was on my bed for a while when I was growing up. I loved it -- loved all the different fabrics; the soft, worn colors; the symmetry of the pattern; and the simple weight of it. It got increasingly tattered, of course. The fabric wore through in places. This did not bother me any. (I had read The Velveteen Rabbit -- I knew we are meant to love things more, not less, when they become worn). It bothered my mother though, who believed that when the inside was on the outside, it was time to throw something out. And so she did. (Nowadays, this would be considered fairly blasphemous -- rightly so, says the quilter in me). I remembered the pattern though, the way the triangles came head to head and mirrored each other. And I did, eventually, decades later, make my own.

I still miss that old quilt though. I remember brown and cream stripes, soft pinks and greens so faded they blended to dove gray. I wonder about the woman who made that quilt. Was it for someone she knew? A member of her family or a friend? Was it a church donation or perhaps a means to make a little extra money? What I am sure of, there was love in that quilt, if not for the recipient then for the thing itself.

And where does that come from exactly -- this love of quilting? It is, on the face of it, an odd hobby. What do I do? I buy beautiful fabric, cut it up into little pieces, and then sew the pieces all together again. Slice, dice, reassemble. More often than not, the pieces are so small that I can no longer see the lovely pattern of the beautiful fabric I couldn't resist when I first saw it on the bolt. I remember it though, when I look at one of my quilts after I'm done. It's the gift that comes to the quilter alone -- echoes of all the pieces in their entirety, like an invisible quilt peeking out behind the visible.

But then, a quilter remembers so much. She (or he) remembers where she bought those lovely bits of fabric. Down at the local quilt shop or visiting another city with a friend. She remembers the events of her life that passed while she cut and sewed. Worry over a child, joy in a new birth, laughter shared with a friend. It's been said so many times and yet the simple truth of it never fails to move me -- we stitch our lives into the quilts we make. It's what we feel when we touch a quilt that has been made by another. It's why that supple, faded quilt on my bed meant so much to me as a child. I was too young to understand, but I still felt its magic.

And now, all grown up (in years, at least), I feel a different blend of magics. The concentration as I choose fabrics, that wonderful, instinctual immersion into color and texture. The tedious business of cutting, which teaches me patience with the parts I don't love. Sitting at the sewing machine, one of my favorite places to be: I'm making something. Undoing stitches when I make dumb mistakes, which teaches me patience with myself and reminds me, usefully, that I am never going to be perfect at anything and just accepting it is really for the best all around. Finishing the center of a quilt and then getting to, once again, play with color as I choose the border fabrics. The joy of that. More decision making as I consider quilting motifs. This or that.

And always, through all of it, pushing forward, perhaps a new technique, trying something a little harder, getting a little braver with color, trusting that a step forward is a step forward even if the execution isn't perfect grace. And finishing. Oh, that's very good magic, indeed. A quilt propped in front of me while I stare at it in a state of Zen transcendence. I made that! Isn't it wonderful? (Really, I do this).

I don't need my quilts to be perfect. I don't need them to be showstoppers or to win awards. I love them with their imperfections. And, funnily enough, that helps me to be a better person. It helps me to be more tolerant of my own imperfections and to love myself a little better. And when the cashier needs to ring up my order for the third time? I remember my well used seam ripper and forgive.

So, someplace, sometime, a quilter made a quilt. Hand-pieced and hand quilted. I don't know who she was or what she dreamed of. I slept under the quilt she made, and my life, in a number of subtle but important ways, has been the better for it. I'd like to thank her for that. I don't know if my quilts carry that same magic for others that hers did for me, but I hope they do. I really hope they do.

1 comment:

  1. I still have the very first quilt introduced into my life. It's 18 x 24, tattered and repaired several times. It drew me out of a dark closet at age 3 and into the arms of a very caring social worker who promised to find a dolly for me to wrap up in it.

    You just never know when you sit down to sew a quilt who will end up with it or what wonderful memories it will give them.