Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The meaning of quilting...

For those of you that don't know, I am in a program to learn Mental Health Counseling in hopes of finishing and becoming a therapist. One of my classes is Social Justice and Diversity which required us to write an autobiography describing life experiences that we have gone through and how "isms" have effected us (i.e. Sexism, racism, etc).Part of the paper assignment required a presentation to the class about our paper. I decided to show a baby quilt that my mother made me and the quilt that I made my stepdaughter displayed in the background. Then I had cut out pieces of fabric that I had used in quilts into 2" squares and then safety pinned part of a 3x5 card on the back. On the back of each square I wrote a statement of something that I had experienced in life. They were all very exposing of my life, and very intimate things. Each person was asked to pick one from a basket, only looking at the fabric without knowing what would be written on the back. I read an excerpt from my paper that started with a quote from Dorothy Parker that is actually in the beginning of Whitney Otto's book "How to Make an American Quilt." This is the poem and the excerpt from the paper:

When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
“Come out, you dogs, and fight!” said I,
And wept there was but once to die

But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
                                    - Dorothy Parker

" In Whitney Otto’s book, How to Make an American Quilt, she walks you through the process of making a quilt, but also a metaphor for discovering your identity. “What you should understand when undertaking the construction of a quilt is that it is comprised of spare time as well as excess material. Something left over from a homemade dress or a man’s shirt or curtains for the kitchen window. It utilizes that which would normally be thrown out, “waste”, and eliminates the extra, the scraps. And out of that which is left comes a new, useful object (p.9).” So many times in my life I would think back to experiences, and say, “why couldn’t I have had a normal life like some other people?” and I would expound hate or malice toward those that put me in those situations. I would shake my fist at the universe and curse it for the way my life had played out with alcoholism, rape, violence, drug abuse, mental illness, instability, cultural ambiguity, and death. A true quilter never throws away fabric. You probably started collecting fabric at a young age without knowing exactly what you were going to do with it. If you are like me, you are drawn to the color or pattern that seemed to radiate out from all the other ones surrounding it. Maybe it was a leftover that nobody wanted because it just didn’t “match” the others, or is just too bold to be used for fear of it ruining the demure look of the other fabrics. You feel as though you should save it from the impending doom of its dusty future in the clearance bin, only to end up repeatedly marked down until it is tossed away. There has to be some level of trust between you and the material; knowing that someday it will have its purpose but that you are willing to give it a home until that time comes. Now, you may be thinking, what if you just collect wayward pieces of fabric your whole life just to end up with a room full of baskets and boxes filled to the brim and teetering on the brink of hoarding status? Well, you see, that is where the trust comes in. You have to have faith that these tiny scraps will somehow take shape into a beautiful gift of love that you can either wrap yourself in or give away for someone else who may need it. And so, are the experiences of my life. These odds and ends that separately seem too bold, scary, or abnormal to be used, yet they are what make me who I am; beautiful, unique, made up of what others would throw away, the good and the bad, woven together into a crazy quilt. You see a crazy quilt is one that is put together with no pattern or plan, it is a group of quilters that come together to bring their own experiences and emotions that are expressed into the quilt in the form of pictures, words, and color from those pieces of scrap that were left behind. It’s crazy because there is no rhyme and reason, you have no idea what it is going to look like or where it will take you, and you just have to trust in the process; sort of like, life."

I explained to the class that the pieces of material they had in front of them were pieces of me and them turn them over and read them. They each read the statements, and while some cried and others came up after to speak to me about my experiences, it was obvious that they were effected by the things I had to go through in life. This was last Saturday afternoon and this evening I had class with them. They announced in class how much my presentation had meant to them and some of the students had gotten together to gather the pieces from people in the class. Then someone (anonymous at this point) sewed them all together into a quilt for me. It was the most special, thoughtful, and beautiful thing that I have ever had presented to me. I am planning to sew some tabs on it so I can hang it in my office on a decorative curtain rod. Here is a picture of the wonderful gift I was given today, and reminded about the meaning of quilting.

  Quilting for me has been great therapy on many different levels and this just sealed the whole thing! I wanted to share this experience with all of you. 

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful way to think about quilting and life!