Tuesday, July 23, 2013

bounded up in blue

I have begun collecting old quilts. Specifically patchwork and crazies.
I love the myriad of fabric choices that each of the quilters made.
I love that they seem to be made from scraps. From the leftovers.
I can well imagine the time it took to chose and cut each piece of fabric.
Piles of triangles and odd geometric shapes big and small covering the dining room table, pushed to the side to make way for dinner or homework.

I never buy the pristine, the mint condition, the heirloom quality.
I buy the quite-used variety instead.
These quilts are not the things of blue ribbon prizes or art exhibits.
But they are each pieces of domestic artwork at their best.
Because they have been loved, and used, and  loved again.

Made from what is left of baby blankets, work shirts, Sunday dresses, feed sacks, several of the fabrics are worn. Threadbare.
Over the years they hold steady because they are lined and stitched to other pieces of fabric.
Some of those pieces are stronger than others. Some are brighter. Some are softer. 
Some pieces are smaller and some bigger.
Colors and patterns clashing and contradicting, left and right.
But there they are.
Making it work.

As a child I made up stories to go with the variety of patterns found on the quilts pieced together by my great-grandmothers. Laying in the big bed with the yellow headboard at  Maw's house, listening to the gentle constant sound of the ceiling fan whir, counting down the minutes until naptime was over, I studied and traced each scrap, each square.
Running my hand across the quilt I could feel the rough bumps.
The knots, here and there, holding the whole thing together.
Little bits of knotted up threads and yarn, that seemed to float randomly, tying the top to the bottom, the front to the back. 

I whispered to myself tales of ballerina dancing queens, picnics at the beach, sailboats in storms and love stories filled with hearts and flowers.. Each piece of fabric seemed to stand alone. Able to tell their own singular stories in a sea of color.
Finishing my quilt tour I always chose my top three favorite patches,  wishing I had dresses made of each,  as I (finally) drifted off to sleep.

This is a new-to-me quilt.
Standing back, at a distance, I can see how each of the patches works with the others.
How the the twist and turns of the shapes now seem purposeful, instead of haphazard.
If I look closely I can see how the entire blanket is made of pieced together rectangles, triangles and odd make-do shapes. I can see how the knots speckle the quilt like soft little polka-dots, placed exactly where they are needed most.
The quilt is beautiful up close and from far away.
It is also imperfect.
One of the corners is ripped up. There are a few small tears on the top.
But the majority of the quilt is still intact. Big enough to cover a swinging bed, or a sleeping child at nap time.
Or me when I catch an evening chill.

When not in use, the quilt lays atop my chifferobe next to my favorite vintage chalk figures of Mary and Jesus, the ones that have been broken and glued back together. Next to them is the pair of open hands I found in Memphis and  the colorful handmade clay rosary beads the boys bought me for Christmas. Behind all of this is a poster-size collage I made from torn magazine images, all representing some sort of sacred space in my heart.  From my side of the bed, I can see each of these items perfectly and it has occurred to me more than once  that I have created some sort of alter up there, some sort of visual expression of a soul-offering, over the place where I keep my yoga pants and sundresses.

Last night, feeling particularly anxious and adrift, I pulled the quilt down, searching for comfort. Once again I found myself tracing each scrap with my fingers. Picking out my favorites. Making up stories. Wondering about the person who made this quilt, wondering about the patches that look liked sofa fabric, calico dresses, barkcloth curtains. Wondering how the binding earned it's rips, and whose bed this small quilt was meant for. Gradually feeling less adrift as I wondered if the maker knew just how beautiful the mismatched bits of her life would look all stitched together and bound by the color of the sky.


  1. Oh how I love old quilts. So understand that the more loved they are the more fabulous they are!


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