winter colour

The other day we were walking up the Suncoaster trail, past the Malaspina substation, and the day was bright. There was sun, no ice on the puddles, and the air smelled wonderful, a little of the snow we could see farther up the mountain in it, and balsam fir. And there was colour! Not the bright colour of spring and summer when the wild currants and salmonberries in that area bloom cerise. Nor the fall, when the maples turn yellow and orange, the dogwoods rose-salmon, the elders red. The colour I was suddenly aware of was more subtle but maybe even more beautiful for it. Tall young maples on a slope of sword ferns and deer ferns:

young maples

And a mass of wild roses dense with hips, maybe not even wild, maybe some dog roses growing from seed spread by deer or birds:

rose red

Long loose stitches of maroon bramble crossing the edges of the trail, waxy mauve canes of evergreen blackberry, and russet-y hardhack in the damp areas.

I’ve been thinking about colour, winter colour, in part because I’m writing about it and in part because I’m figuring out a quilt. Not the kind of quilt I usually make, pieced stars, or log cabins built of strips of bright cotton. This one is inspired by the Japanese tradition of boro, meaning something tattered or repaired. Boro has long been a way to extend the life of textiles by layering and patching, using a long running sashiko stitch, often described as “structural” rather than decorative, yet in the way that practical or utilitarian work is often beautiful, the long plain stitches are ravishing to my eye. I’m thinking of my quilt as a dark path through winter, through uncertainty, through aging and uneasy health issues, and the more I arrange my scraps into a pattern, the more I see that what the hands do is hugely therapeutic for the soul. Yesterday I spent the afternoon cutting and placing. Later today I may begin to actually sew. Some of the pieces are familiar — tweed from a waistcoat I made John years ago and because Forrest liked it, I made him one of dark grey wool flannel and that’s there too; little scraps of Japanese hemp and cotton; some deep blue linen; some grey-blue silk with a scribble of blue velvet like the contours on a map; gorgeous Indian silk given me by a woman who makes theatre costumes and who invited me to plunder her scrap bag. Because I have a thrifty heart, I haven’t wanted to throw out the tiniest remnants, ever. And now I have a use for them.


Last night there was a waxing crescent moon in the western sky when I got up to pee. And I wondered, maybe I need to light this path with a curve of golden silk. I’m thinking about how to do that as I write. The 18th century Japanese poet, Chiyo-ni, wrote about that moon and it’s her words I hear as I plan this quilt:

at the crescent moon
the silence
enters the heart


2 thoughts on “winter colour”

  1. Utilitarian can be so beautiful! I love what you’ve written about the subtlety of your winter colours. I walked across windswept snow today and noted how it’s so rarely only white.

    1. Sometimes we just go along and don’t pay careful attention and when we do, wow, such beauty. These scraps of fabric — who knew they could make a path into the heart of winter…

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