Friday, January 21, 2022

Snow Days and beauty

 There is nothing more boring than basting up a quilt.  The fun stuff is done.  You've pulled fabric out of your stash whose colours and styles embody the mood  you want for your quilt--because for me, each quilt is a mood.  I'm not an artist; I'm happy evoking a mood. Then each block was an adventure as you chose fabrics that go with one another and yet contrast, so that they sing.  Then you decided how you will put those blocks together.  Did they go together edge to edge, almost vibrating with busy-ness?  Here's mood again, on another level.  Or did you use lattices or plain blocks of fabric between them to calm them down?  You've decided whether you'll have a border and what you'll do with that border.  One of my weaknesses as a quilter is that I can never "see" the next stage until I'm ready for it.  I make some blocks I love and hope it will work.  This process is both exciting and fraught with anxiety.  Right now I'm taking a quilt apart because the way I put them together was so 'meh.'  But I've got new plans I'll write about in a couple of weeks. 

When you've got the quilt top together, you get to shift into another gear altogether.  I find hand quilting meditative and soothing, and since I'm starting a new writing project I thought I should get some quilt tops ready to hand quilt.  When I get into the rhythm of the tiny stitches, my mind wanders--sometimes quite purposefully, sometimes waywardly.  I wanted to baste up a couple of small things I could just pick up.  And I wanted to make some progress on the quilt tops that are collecting in my study, so I basted up  two lap size and two small ones.

But between the exciting anxiety and the meditative work, there's frustration and boredom.  First, you have to convince your top, your batting, and the backing you've chosen to line up straight without a wrinkle anywhere.  Then you find a large, sturdy needle, a spool of white thread, the thimble with a little edge around its top that will catch and push a large needle, and  you begin to baste.  Every three or four inches top to bottom and side to side.  

It should have been boring, except I think we've learned something about boredom during the pandemic.  That there are worse things.  That there's lots you can do to ameliorate it. I knew that once I got my basting rhythm my hands would know what to do and I would be able to let my thoughts wander.  The cats came to see what I was up to.

I listen to two Radio Three weekend jazz programs, one of old standards that readers write in to request, and one of very cutting edge work that I'm not sure I understand and appreciate fully, but that's okay.  You can still hear the creativity hitting the air, and that's why I listen.  Besides, there are worse things than being bathed in the unfamiliar.  In fact, I feel like two women at once.  One is a conventional boring woman in Regina spending a sunny winter day inside basting up quilts.  She's a fuddy-duddy, my mother would have said, doing something so last century--and the century before that.  And the other is a woman who just loves the unpredictability, the uncertainty of jazz, who admires the way the musicians have these very complicated conversations with the the song they're playing and with their instruments and with one another.  This woman was in a jazz club somewhere, hearing the invention of music unfold.  So there's lots to get excited about when you are basting up a quilt and listening to jazz.  And, paradoxically, there's some common ground between how I make a quilt and how a group of musicians brings all the threads of a jazz performance together--leaving some loose, perhaps, for another time.  Under the influence of the jazz, I could even admire the blocks I'd made, some of them not conventional or even proper.  At one point, I was short one small equilateral triangle for a block, so I just picked up another fabric.  I'm wondering whether anyone will ever see my "mistake."

It was, seemingly, a day for paradoxes, because listening to jazz and basting up a quilt, I completely forgot the  pandemic, the surreal spread of the Omicron variant.  I guess I'd chosen my quiet day, my isolation, rather than having it thrust on me.  I had just finished reading a book by Jerome Segal called Graceful Simplicity. Segal finds it difficult to define gracefulness, though he argues that we know it by its absence.  I came to think of it as a matter of time and space.   Essentially, he means our surroundings are simple enough to give our thoughts space;  it is apparently difficult, researchers tell me, to think Great Thoughts in a cluttered room.  Think of the artist retreats you've been on. One of the reasons they are so productive is that someone else takes care of the shopping, cooking, and even cleaning.  But the other, I'll warrant, is that you are detached from all your stuff.  Packing, you realized how little you really need.  And that cleared some space in your head.  Or think of vacations you've gone on when your mind seemed so much clearer, ready to take in what you saw, ready to record your experiences.  Part of that you might simply call "vacation mindfulness."  But part of it is being in a time outside time.

We need beauty in both our spaces and our schedules. The value behind my obsessive quilt making is beauty:  I hope the quilts drop an element of beauty into a life and that they remind us of the importance of what Roger Scruton calls "everyday beauty."  Aesthetics don't get into this area much, but what's the point of a beautiful piece of ceramics or a beautiful photograph is it's surrounded by space that shows its owner doesn't really value beauty? Or who thinks beauty is confined to art galleries and gallery shops?

But the other element of my quilts is time.  I hand quilt most of my work unless it's going on a bed--and is simply too big for me to hand quilt.  I don't rush.  When I first sit down to quilt, I take a stitch at a time.  Only once my stitches have settled into the the size and regularity that makes me happy--and I pull out a fair number--do I try to get two or three stitches on my needle.  And here Segal helps explain what I'm doing:  "To live well means giving things the time they deserve, be it time for children, one's spouse and lover, one's friends, or the garden....[Or basting  up a quilt!] When we act in haste, whether it be at work or with friends, our activity and ultimately our very being becomes a mere means to some intended outcome.  When this is our general way of being in the world, we have failed in what Thoreau identified as the great enterprise--to make living poetic."

This is what snow days are for--or cold snowy weekends.  We've been handed this time out of time so we can make something beautiful--a meaningful conversation, a photograph, a letter, or a quilt.  Snow days and jazz make the boredom of basting up a quilt a pleasure.  No one will ever see how carefully you basted up your quilt except indirectly through the quilting that is even and that doesn't shift around wrinkles in the batting or backing.  But there is a gracefulness in giving this task the time it deserves.


1 comment:

  1. Your quilting adventures always take me to my little girl memories of quilting bees at my grandmother's house. Thank you!