(This post was first published here, on April 3, 2017, on my old personal blog that I've been quite neglecting lately. My personal blogging will be moving to this space now. This essay can serve as a preface. A woman from a year ago explaining a woman now. I've done so much work in this past year. I've grown much, encountered new fears, made some huge choices. I'm stepping forward in faith and hope, saying "This isn't only what I love, it's who I am too." We will see how it goes. Thanks for joining me here.)
It started slowly as an idea–my first year out of college, just-married, listless, full of wonder. And it really, really started at the Renegade craft fair, where I found Cortney Heimerl‘s booth like a siren song and wanted to stay there forever but didn’t because that’s not normal. I saw her booth from afar, and as soon as I spotted it something in me slipped into place and I knew something new. Sounds so cliche, but I don’t really care. The colors, their bold softness, the care taken. It all made perfect sense. I bought a pattern and knew that I would hardly need it. I made my first quilt quickly, carefully, needing little help. I expect to make quilts for the rest of my life.
Quilts are simple and profound. They take time, long, long swathes of it, with repetitive gestures and melting hours, afternoons spent in one spot. To choose to make a quilt is to commit, to intend, to give yourself away to something and let the excitement bubble up. It’s solitary, but it needn’t be. I have tiny secret hopes of being a person to reinvent the quilting bee. There’s a heritage here, a beautiful inheritance. So many metaphors, so many years of so many women spending quiet hours at home doing something beautiful and practical.
I grew up in Pennsylvania, perhaps the quilt capital of the world, with store-bought comforters and musicals on my mind. A blissful childhood among hills and stories. I wasn’t an artist as a child, but I did have a mechanical mind and a knack for concentration. When I got married, I gained two Mennonite grandmothers, both quilters. Upon learning this, my heart breathed. “Oh.” Somehow, this has been part of me all along.
I’ve always wanted a little spot in the universe, to belong to something. This desire has been met over and over again throughout my life. I’ve belonged to my family, to churches, to theater in various iterations. My need for belonging drives me, gives me energy, and I tend to fall headlong into the community I am a part of. When I left college, the deepest sense of belonging I’d ever felt dropped out from under me and I was left marooned in apartments in Chicago, married to a dear husband, and lonesome.
Life is long and windy. I’ve only been alive for twenty-three years, and I already feel the shock of repetitive change, the realization that the changes will never really end. I’m beginning to feel the need for some sort of continuity, some semblance of control, something that belongs to me, something I can carry through from place to place, world to world. Theater doesn’t work that way, and neither do churches–they’re tied to place and circumstance and things and people working together in all the right ways. Temporary things are wonderful, but I fear their ending before they even begin. But quilting. Steady. Ever-open. A quiet, singular belonging. An invitation to keep on making things, to join the evensong.
In short, quilting somehow steps over my lonesomeness. It’s bigger than me, and yet I can own it. I am a part of something long and strong simply by showing up, making tiny hand stitches in fabric, making stars where there were never stars before, spending hours at the sewing machine listening to music or podcasts on my own, alive. I can’t pretend to know who I’ll be in ten years, in twenty, but right now I sort of feel the prophesy beginning to be spun. My prayers will be stitched into cloth and wrapped around my children. I will send quilts to people across the world with poems safety-pinned to the top fold. I will sit and stitch with the women I love, talking long, drinking tea or wine or sparking water, being careful not to spill. I see it stretch before me, dreams shifting into something new and more vivid than I hoped for before. It’s a commitment beginning here at twenty-three, one that, godwilling, I intend to keep.
It’s not easy, though it comes easily. Inevitably I make it to the middle of every project I take on and I start to hate it, to question my every choice, to feel I’ve made some cosmic mistake. But if I stitch a little longer, sew the binding on, keep giving it hours, chances, I always turn a corner. “Yes,” I think. “That’s what I meant.” I’ve only made five finished quilt projects so far, each one different, building certain skills, working out certain ideas. I’m learning, incrementally. I’m getting to the point where I feel like I could figure out pretty much any quilt pattern, which feels fantastic.
I’ve lately been working block after block of a pattern called “Weathervane Variation,” which I figured out myself on graph paper based on a picture in my book of 1001 quilt blocks. It’s math-y and satisfying, the planning. The picking out colors from my stacks of cotton scraps (that seem to multiply without my looking, like loaves and fishes). Each of my Weathervane Variation blocks takes almost exactly 4 hours to make, from first cut to final press, and the time investment feels weighty and worthwhile. I’ve made four blocks, spent sixteen hours, and still feel just as excited to begin a new one. I think I’ll make ten weathervane blocks in all, and then probably ten sawtooth star blocks in a neutral color to intersperse, ending up with some sort of throw-sized quilt to keep and treasure. A first actual blanket, since all of my other projects have been smaller and more quickly finished.
I already have ideas about streamlining my focus, the sorts of quilts I would like to make. I feel committed to natural fibers sourced responsibly – either upcycled, purchased second-hand, or bought from trusted sources. I want to make heirloom-quality quilts, ones that will hold together through countless washings, ones that will fall apart as a result of too much love, not careless hasty making. I already have a mind to use up my polyester thread and settle into cotton instead, and I have giant dreams to figure out natural dyeing and maybe rely on it for my color pairings.
A big trend in modern quilting is working all of the new, cool sources for printed cotton quilting fabrics, thousands and thousands of them in every design you can imagine, but I don’t think I’m very into that. I’m more interested in simple solid colors, and using prints carefully. I bought myself a precious bundle of Sara Parker Textiles hand-printed cotton fabric remnants at the Renegade Craft Fair this past winter, and then my mom gave me another bundle for Christmas, and I’ve been featuring them in my weathervane blocks, setting them off with solid color pairings, and feeling like all is quite right in the world. I’m interested in these screen printed designs. Maybe someday I’ll learn about screenprinting too. SO MUCH TO LEARN AND TRY AND FIND. It’s endless and exciting! I can’t stop gushing about it! My instagram has become a quilt parade because I can’t help it.
I also have been dabbling in self-drafted clothing patterns and knitting, both of which I find really energizing and exciting. Honestly, I don’t know how all these things will continue to wind their way through my life, how they will find themselves intertwined or set aside. I don’t know who I’m becoming, I just know that I’m spending my spare hours on quilts and wearing handmade clothes almost everyday and feeling able to breathe at last. I belong to something wherever I am, me and my very real grandmothers, women hundreds of years ago and women now, a crowd of strong careful women clothing their bodies and the bodies of the people they love, wrapping up the world in warm quilts. What is more lovely than that? I’m not sure. I’m not giving up the other things I love (theater, writing, singing, dancing), I’m just settling into something new and so very real. Something that could very easily carry me forward into the woman I am becoming. Something clear and beautiful.