Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Quilting as Practice

Sewing the blocks of my quilt together yesterday, it came to me that quilting is an excellent practice. Here are seven lessons quilting offers me.

Stay in the present moment. In quilting, every detail—measuring, cutting, sewing the seams, and pressing—demands your full attention. If you drift off during any of those processes, it will catch up with you later.

Baby steps work. Some things that look impossible can be achieved one small step at a time. In quilting, you combine patches to make blocks, then join blocks into rows, and then sew rows together into a quilt top. Even complicated patterns are combinations of simple steps.

Small problems multiply when ignored. Let's say you're cutting squares and you cut a stack that's a sixteenth of an inch off. A sixteenth of an inch. What could that matter? Right? Wrong! By the time you add four of those squares to a row, the row is off by a quarter of an inch, and that quarter inch will create real problems when you join two rows together. Reminds me that many angry relationships are the result of a collection of small miscommunications.

Not everything can or should be pretty. If you use all pretty fabrics, they blend together and the overall effect becomes kind of mushy. Quilts need a few fabrics that stand out, that draw the eye, and the ones that do that typically aren't pretty in a conventional way. Isn't it also true that the ugly parts of life provide contrast for its beauty?

There is no one right answer. For example, joints are stronger if the seams are pressed in opposite directions, but seams in dark fabrics can show through if they're pressed toward light fabrics. In quilting and in life, sometimes you have to choose the best of the imperfect options.

Humility helps. Sometimes you can work around challenges. Other times you simply have to admit you made a mistake, rip it out, and start over.

Perfectionism kills. Absolute perfection doesn't exist and trying to achieve it stops progress like nothing else. To finish a quilt, you have to accept that the best you can do is, indeed, the best you can do and it's good enough. Our best is always good enough.


Mystic Wing said...

Zen and the art of quilting...

In the end, everything is practice, isn't it?

Great post, and great lessons for all of us.

grammer said...

Brilliant reminders, all. I'm getting ready to do a bit of recording. As I do, I will take care to remember all of this. Thank you. xo t

Amber said...

I just can't tell you how adorable this is! I am so impressed with you.

And I worte down the "tips" and stuck it on my wall here. Because it is just good stuff for life...But I am sure you knew that. ;)


Ziji Wangmo said...

Great list of reminders. My mom has made quilts all her life, so I'm used to seeing all the fabric pieces and thread everywhere -and was and always will be so assounded at the patience required in making a quilt. It is NOT for the person who is in search of instant gratification.
Beautiful Quilt.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful life lessons, along with an absolutly stunning quilt!! Oh, how I wish I could learn to make a quilt. I have this dream of quilting all of the girls shirts of all of the plays (and there are probably 50) that they have done, that just sit in a box. So special to them, and I can't think of a more special way to present their most inner passion to them. But enough on me, I agree about quilting being being very close to zen and total tranquility and the now. Such a beautiful post! I love "our best is always good enough" a reminder needed each day.

Stacy said...

i don't know Jerri, when I sew there is usually some cursing very loudly at the improper bobbin tension settings Ive chosen. Where does that fit in?

Deb said...

Beautiful reminder of what a gift quilting is in so many ways. You've made me itchy to pull out my fabric.

It's so nice to have you and your writing back.

Go Mama said...

Beautifully done!

Michelle O'Neil said...

Hmm....first step, no drifting.

I'm out.

magicaldamselfly said...

This quilt is amazing!!
Can you tell me is there someplace that I can get the instructions for this method of using crayons and then melting them into the fabric. My email addy is fairymagic@aol.com if you'd care to share some info.

::gentle hugs::