Over the weekend, as it snowed, I finished the middle panel of my Dark Path quilt. I made it to find out how to cobble something together out of scraps of blue fabric, scraps from other quilts, from waistcoats made for my husband and son, from samples given me by other women who know I love textiles. (The grey-blue patches with scribbles of deep blue velvet came from a woman in Ottawa who owns a couture shop. I bought a jacket from her and she sent me off with a bag of little bits and pieces.) I wanted to do boro, the Japanese mending technique, to piece the path together. That means no hidden seams, no fine stitches, but essentially a layering of scraps over one another. Mine is no showpiece. I didn’t intend it to be. I wanted to put aside my expectations of reasonable tidiness in order to follow a path down a length of muslin, piecing and fitting as I went. I’m not careful or skilled at sewing to begin with and I had to remind myself a time or two that this is not about perfection. It’s about participating in a process. Maybe of discovery, maybe not. I know something now about setting aside my own modest standards in order to find something out.
I haven’t finished. I have two panels ready to sew on either side of the path. One is a length of Japanese silk, also pieced together. It came with an order of recycled kimonos I received some years ago, intending to take them apart to make quilts. They’re sold as craft materials. But when my box arrived, each kimono was in good shape and I couldn’t bear to cut them. So now they’re stored away in a trunk, waiting for something to happen. What? A Noh performance? An opera? Anyway, the company that sold the recycled kimonos included a few scraps of silk and I was glad to find a use for one of them. The other panel is a Japanese indigo cotton print, again pieced together from scraps left from another quilt. I’ve been trying some arrangements of panels and path and I think I like the one in the photograph. You haven’t made anything like this before, John noted. It’s dark. But beautiful.
This is winter work. I sew and think and listen to music. This morning? Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. It’s a beautiful work, with slow lyrical movements, a passionate scherzo, a grand and thundering conclusion. I liked what the pianist Stephen Hough said about a concert in which he played the first piano concerto and this one on the same programme:
For all the grandeur and excitement of the first concerto’s youthful flare, the second’s older vintage seemed wiser, more fascinatingly complex as I revisited and re-recorded both pieces last year. Its musical arguments seemed more nuanced, more open to exploration, more a search for common ground where, as in life, the sun can shine brightest … and warmest.
Sewing, listening, the snow outside making the whole world new and white. I’ve made a dark path, echoing the poem John and I are reading together each evening, Dante’s Inferno. Last night we read the 8th canto. It was harrowing! Well, so far they’ve all been harrowing. But the little epigraph for the 9th canto—tonight’s—is hopeful:
…we in our turn
Stepped forward toward the city and through the gate…
The right road lost, that’s how the poem began. A dark wood, in the middle of a life. It’s late, for all of us on this earth, but what will we find when we step through the gate? I’ve sewn the path. Now we’ll see.
4 thoughts on “winter work”
Those Japanese blues …!
I think they’re extraordinary, those blues. I’ve been reading, too, about the indigo dye traditions of west Africa and oh, beautiful blues. The Yoruba adire cloth…gorgeous.
I’ll try to keep it simple, steps
of stone descending from the house
across a corner of the orchard
then down again beneath the farthest
apple tree. I begin to build the path
just as the blossom makes its promises
over my shoulder, the willow sneaking
into leaf. But there’s no reason.
I can get to the trees well enough
for what they’ll share of flower
and fruit. This work won’t get me closer
unless it’s in essentials, hard necessity
the jostled rocks encounter
of making new arrangements
with the earth, fact
of a finger bruised
now healing. In the logic
of construction and continuity
and not to deceive, my path lies
confused as surely as the new grass
searching out its crevices and edges.
For all the probability
of being nowhere further on
I continue, keeping to it.
John Pass, from ‘Blossom:An Accompaniment’, 1975
I’ve always loved that poem. And there have been many paths over the years…!