I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know how to do needlework. I embroidered my first set of stamped pot holders before I started Kindergarten, and I haven’t stopped since. Growing up, I also learned to do cross-stitch, latch hook, crochet and more.
Spending time at my aunts’ house, I learned to always have a craft project close at hand. Each of the four aunts had her specialty, and when a butt hit a chair, a craft basket hit the hands. That’s just the way it was. Marian made afghans, Ida did cross-stitch and crochet, Noni did candlewick, and Verna quilted.
Verna’s quilts were works of art. She did everything by hand, from the piecing to the quilting itself, to the hand-stitched binding. She made Tumbling Blocks, Log Cabins, Nine-Patches and more; she made cross-stitched and appliqued tops, and she gave away every finished project. Wedding quilts, baby quilts, lap quilts, she made them all.
She died before I had a chance to learn from her, but her sister Noni taught me the basics during my first pregnancy so I could make my baby’s quilt. Noni hated quilting, but she knew just enough to get me started, and then she told me, “Don’t forget any of this, because I don’t love you enough to teach you again.”
Years later, I made her a quilt that took more than two years to complete; I spent two years cross-stitching the top and six weeks quilting it together, and I told her, “Don’t lose it, because I don’t love you enough to make you another one.”
I’ve lost count of how many quilts I’ve made over the years. Each of my children has one, as does every baby born into our extended family. I’ve given them to friends and donated them to fundraisers and silent auctions, and I’m finally making one just for myself. It’s a king-sized quilt with cross-stitched yellow roses.
I tell people that quilting is my Prozac. When I pick up one of Verna’s handmade wooden hoops and take the needle in hand, I lose track of everything else around me. It’s automatic, a process. Load the needle, pull it through, repeat. Over and over, my hands doing the job with hardly any conscious thought on my part.
When I’m quilting, my mind can play. I plot novels, rehash conversations that didn’t go well. I mentally redecorate my living room or plan out my grocery list, or I re-live moments of my life.
It’s a slow process. An afternoon spent quilting may result in only a few inches of a quilted pattern, but those hours can give me peace that no amount of therapy or antidepressants could provide. When I’m quilting, the world slows down enough for me to think –or not think, if that’s what I need that day.
When I’m quilting, I’m spending time with Verna and Noni and the others, or I’m reaching out to the babies who have slept on one of my quilts. I’m enclosing myself inside my own healing bubble where I can retreat, where I can lose myself and find myself at the same time.
When I give away a quilt, I love the ooohs and ahhhs. But no matter how many I give away, my quilts give me far more.