This I Believe
I believe in Quilting
I am not a nostalgic person nor a doddering great-grandmother. But one folk art, one handcraft and needle art, has constantly consumed me since I was nineteen years old. Simply put, I believe in quilting.
Quilting, or quiltmaking as it can be called, is not exclusively an American craft. It was practiced in various forms in England, France, and Italy, and variations of patchwork, its sister art, may even date back to the pyramids of Egypt. But quilting, as it is practiced here in the United States, is a unique pastime. American quilting is rooted in three virtues. The first is thrift, as in a good use of fabrics, both bought and leftover from other projects. Patterned patchwork quilts can look scrappy and chaotic or quite simple and geometric. The second virtue is implicit to the first–you use your time well. For a quilter, “vegging out.” is unknown. Patchwork, accomplished a little at a time, happens as a few pieces are sewn together whenever you have a spare minute. And finally there’s hospitality, the welcoming spirit of quilting that is extended to anyone who wants to learn the craft.
When I was a hippie-chick, like many of my generation, I wanted to go ‘back to the land,’ not even knowing exactly what that phrase meant. With some vague idea of future self-sufficiency, I learned to can food, spin wool, and even wove rag rugs on an ancient loom. Then I read somewhere about making patchwork quilts. With very little sewing experience, I bought sewing magazines, checked out books from the library, and started a life-long love affair with fabrics. I adored lounging through fabric stores, stroking the cottons and velvets, while imagining the wonderful quilts I’d make. Then I found the quiltmakers.
The quilting bee of the German Lutheran Church of Lansing, Michigan took me under their collective wing. I found the ladies at their weekly meeting sitting stitching around a large quilt frame. They sized me up quickly, sat me at the quilting frame, loaned me a thimble (because I had none-), and proceeded to show me how they did it. None of the group was less than 65 years old and most had learned to quilt during the Depression years. It was like inheriting ten grandmothers all at once!
Every Wednesday I’d come to the quilting group, called a ‘bee’ and work until late afternoon. We hand-quilted many quilts there, and stitched steadily until lunchtime. Promptly at noon, a small television was brought out from a closet and set on a table. A protective fabric tea cozy-like covering was whisked off the TV and someone tuned in As the World Turns so we could follow the drama while munching on our sandwiches. After lunch, the television was dressed in its cozy and we went back to quilting.
From the quilters I got sage advice, great recipes, and my first real understanding of the worth of personal patience. It takes persistence and attention to detail to hand-quilt a bed-size quilt. It takes a good eye and dexterous fingers to manipulate a 1-inch needle through layers of fabric and batting. It takes commitment and pride to contemplate such a large undertaking in the first place and then to bring a quilt to completion.
Years later, I can count a hundred+ quilts to my credit. I teach the craft and write quilting books. Quilting still feels right to me and is my primary affirmation of personal worth and creativity. Quilting is what I believe.
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