Sunday, February 10, 2019

Lessons We Can Learn

I believe every quilt can teach us something, even if it's "I don't ever want to do THAT again".

Let me tell you a story about a simple quilt I own and how that came to be:


About 15 years ago, I was teaching a beginning class of Quiltmaking 101 at a local shop. We had reached the 6th and final class and before class began, one of the students showed this old quilt to us. I raved about it and explained how it would be difficult to determine exact age because the tiny red/white gingham check print had been made for many years--you can probably buy something like it today. I showed them the small cotton seeds visible from the back--homegrown cotton, for sure. Tiny hand quilting stitches, and many of them, are icing on the cake of this very simple quilt.

The woman who brought it said it had been given to her husband by his secretary when the secretary's mother's things were being distributed. The secretary felt sure her boss and his wife would like to have this keepsake. As I went on about what a nice, simple quilt this was, well-loved and worn in spots, she said:

"Well, if you want it, you can have it, I don't want it."

I said "OK", folded it up, put it with my belongings and said "It's time for class." The students stood there with their mouths open--what just happened here? They asked her why she didn't want it and this was her answer:

"I don't want it, it has a mistake."

I got the quilt back out and we studied it hard. It's a very simple quilt of nine patches, 4 red gingham, 5 muslin, set in large blocks, with plain muslin blocks set between:


We looked and looked and FINALLY:

We found the ONE nine-patch that has 5 red gingham and 4 muslin squares. I explained the legend/myth/story that it was customary in olden days for the quiltmaker to include an intentional mistake, because only God is perfect and it would be pretentious to make a perfect quilt. This is almost certainly not true but it can't be proved or disproved today and still makes for a good story. And when I tell students this, we all laugh and say we have no need to make an "intentional" mistake, they always seem to find their way in on their own. Our personal "humility block".

Surely, the quiltmaker didn't run out of muslin or think she needed to make a humility block for religious reasons. I like to think she did it just to keep us guessing, these many years later. It makes me like the quilt and the maker even more. It was intentional but not a mistake.

After class, the donor left and the other students asked to see the quilt again. One of them asked "How could you take that from her?"  My answer "It was easy. She didn't deserve to have it." She didn't appreciate it, seeing only the flaw, not the overall beauty.

Today, this is one of my greatest treasures. I like to think the maker is now resting in peace, as her quilt has a safe home, stored in a pillowcase in a dark closet, only coming out from time to time to teach a lesson.

LIFE LESSONS WE CAN LEARN:

1. Nothing is perfect, appreciate what is good about things.

2. Even though old and worn, there is still value and  usefulness in things.

3. Not as beautiful as it once was, it is still worthy of being treasured.

4. If you look for the flaw, you will find it and it will kill the joy.

5. Simple is sometimes better than complex.

6. Be prepared, when opportunity presents itself--you may just get a treasure you weren't expecting.

Substitute "people" for "things" and the lessons are more broad, but still true.


And, Quilters, please sign, date and label your quilts. How I would love to know the who, what, when, where and why of this quilt. Don't make them guess 100 years from now.

Remember, too, as I always tell students, "There is nothing wrong with your quilt that 100 years won't solve."  Today, if we see pencil marks on an old quilt, we exclaim "Look! You can see the hand of the maker!".  So, be gentle on yourself, dear quilt friends, with any luck your quilts will be loved by generations yet unborn.

Let's quilt.

Barbara

31 comments:

  1. I love this story and the life lessons!

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  2. Being a big big fan of the unexpected in quilts, I noticed it right away and it made me smile.
    I really appreciate your thoughts on this post. Great read!

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  3. Not only a great quilt lesson, but a great life lesson! Thank you.

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  4. Barbara-I consider myself a tough ole broad, but this made me cry. Having just this past year lost both parents a mere 3 months apart, I inherited a couple of old quilt tops -one from each grandmother. They are far from perfect and by today’s quilting standards would never be considered as a winner in a show; but, they are priceless and precious to me. I’m so glad you took the quilt; and, yes, you are right, she didn’t deserve it. Thank you for sharing these life lessons connected to quilting!

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  5. My cousin gave me an old quilt that is well loved, and it shows. She knows I am a quilter, and I am thrilled to have it. Sadly, there is no label, so I can only guess who the possible maker might be.

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  6. A great story Barbara, and so true.

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  7. Thank you for reminding us of the lessons we should be practicing every day

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  8. A lovely story, and a lovely quilt. I label everything I make and encourage all quilters I come in contact with to do the same, but sadly many don't, even when given a label to write on and sew on the quilt!

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  9. I believe that is an Amish attribute. Many of their women are extremely talented sewists and do indeed purposely incorporate a mistake in each work they create so as not to be better than God. Perhaps the rest of us might take a lesson from those great women

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  10. GREAT story, GREATER life lesson. Beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.

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  11. This is a beautiful post. Thank you, Barbara. May I share it on my blog?

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    1. Sure, just link directly here, please.

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    2. It's posted now. Thank you again for your permission and also thank you again for such a valuable post.

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  12. Good early morning and 5 stars on this article!

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  13. You are truly a wonderful teacher and Very wise. I've been a quilter for 44 years and love this story. Quilt on...

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  14. I found an 1890's "Agonquin Charm" quilt in a thrift store a few years back. It's red and white, scrappy, immaculately quilted and one block has a "mistake." It's my favorite in my collection for many reasons. Every time I take it out to admire it, I wonder about the maker and that one block! Thank you for your insights. They made my day.

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  15. Beautifully said Barb! I've relayed the same sentiments to new quilters and non-quilters. That extra red patch makes me love this quilt even more. I am glad it found a good home. Your words cause me to give more thought to whom I gift my quilts to.

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    1. Over the last couple of years I have been giving a few of my quilts away but only to those who I know will really appreciate having one of mine. Lessons learned there too.

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  16. I have pondered if and how best to label family quilts I have. I know a few details like the maker and in some cases the time frame of when they were made. What are the opinions on whether to label these or not?

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    1. I think you should label them. Even a handwritten piece of fabric, use a Sharpie or Micron Pigma pen, basted on the back is better than nothing.

      In addition or as an alternative, take photos of the quilt, buy a Journal or small notebook, and write the story of what you know about them. Store the book with the quilt for future owners.

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  17. What a lovely treasure to have! Love your list of life lessons too

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  18. Thank you so much for this beautiful reminder that joy can be in the simplicity of the art.

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  19. Lovely life lessons, and so true! I'm glad the quilt found a good home!

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  20. Nicely written. Thank you. Enjoy your blog a lot. (Marilyn Marks)

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  21. Fantastic story and life lesson. Thanks.

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  22. My husband had been working on his first ever quilt when he had a heart attack and died. When I could face it, I took out his top, finished it, quilted and bound it. Then I gave it to my daughter. On the back I wrote the date and "To daughter. begun by dad. finished by mom." It is her most precious possession.

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    Replies
    1. What a treasure for your daughter. I am sorry for your loss.

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