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Consider The Lessons Of Quilting

I first saw this “truth-piece” emblazoned on a T-shirt of mine: “My wife is a quilter and our house is in pieces!”

Of course I had experienced this truth-piece long before the T-shirt came along. I wore the truth proudly on my chest until my chest expanded the truth too much.

My column of two weeks ago used jigsaw puzzle pieces as a metaphor for living. Judging from the verbal and written responses, it made sense to a goodly number of folks.

Today I continue the two-part series on “pieces” but with a different metaphor: quilting.

As you wander through this column, my wife Sue is on a quilt retreat with some of her closest friends. They do this retreat three or four times a year - nearly three full days of quilting, gossiping, renewing, creating and re-creating.

And I’m not just talking about the quilt work. Their spirits are renewed.

In the process of creating quilted wall hangings, potholders, baby quilts, bed quilts or whatever, they are re-created from within.

They don’t necessarily put spiritual overtones to their working hobby. But I will.

I see reminders of spirituality in many things - actually most everything. And it’s easy to do when I walk into Sue’s quilt studio in our home.

I don’t know how many projects she works on simultaneously, because all I usually see are pieces of fabric in various stages of togetherness. Or I see a pile of pieces on the floor.

On one wall is a large piece of muslin upon which a project hangs so she can move the pieces around to see how they look.

On her sewing table are several measuring tools called Omnigrids, two cutting mats and her Bernina sewing machine. (Come to think of it, she and her quilting buddies are religious about their work. They talk about their retreats as worshiping at the Church of the Holy Bernina.)

Standing in Sue’s sacred sewing space, I see more than the tools and fabric, however. I can visualize Sue at work - first cutting out patterns, then pieces, then piecing them together, or sewing two pieces only to rip out the thread to sew them together again.

There is so much technical and tedious work involved in getting ready for a quilt project, whether it’s a simple potholder or an intricately patterned king-size bed quilt.

Actually doing the project is something else again. I am truly in awe of anyone who has the patience and technical skills to quilt!

But while standing in awe, I keep learning a few things about the creative process called quilting. To tell you what I’m learning, I’ll refer to the quilter in the feminine, for ease of writing, but I know quilting is not a gender-specific craft.

The quilting process is a forgiving one.

I don’t think any serious quilter could count the number of times she’s had to rip out something she just put together.

The stitching is poor, the “look” isn’t what was intended, a piece was stitched on upside-down. So many possibilities for error, but so many second chances to get it right.

Granted, those chances are based on whether the quilter is able to see the mistake, not settle for something less than her best, is patient with herself and determined to get the project right. It may not be easy, but the material can be worked over and over again if the quilter has the tenacity to forgive herself.

Piecing quilts is a frugal process.

What also impresses me is how much fabric is set aside so it might be used another day in another way. Very little fabric is thrown away.

Pieces of any size may be just right in a certain pattern if the quilter is patient enough to wait for that pattern to come along.

There is something about forgiveness and frugality that seem to fit together. How could that be?

The pattern used over and over again can assume a whole new look, depending on the diversity of the pieces used.

One project Sue is working on contains fabric collected by friends in their travels to different places in the world.

At first glance, I was sure these contrasting fabrics couldn’t be put together in an eye-pleasing way. How wrong a non-quilter can be.

The effect of disparate pieces put together in new ways can be stunning!

With imagination and a willingness to step beyond traditional ways of doing things, quilters create windows through which new possibilities are easily seen. All art has that potential.

A quick look at intricate quilt works in your own home, on display somewhere, or in quilt books found on public library shelves will show how quilting is truly an art.

I think three lessons on the spirituality of quilt-making are enough for today.

Forgiveness, frugality and piecing old fabric together in brand-new ways are certainly pieces of our own “spiritual quilts” we must learn over and over again.

Piece-making may be the obvious task of quilters. But the process of piece-making can often bring about an experience of peace-making that sneaks up on the piece-maker.

There is hope, however, even for those of us who can only stand in awe of quilts and those who make them. We might even learn that our own non-quilting tangible skills can also be expressions of intangible connections with a very creative and loving God.

After all, who works with us to turn the smallest pieces of our lives into wonderful new opportunities to live more completed, peace-full lives?


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Paul Graves The Spokesman-Review