“small but important repairs”


We were driving home from Vancouver yesterday afternoon—we’d gone in for a concert at the Orpheum—and I was musing about the quilt I’ve been working on this winter. I made the top to accompany me as I recovered from an eye injury, made it to map out what happened and why and how to accommodate the experience in my life. Last week I cut out beautiful silk to back the quilt with and then decided to attach the top and back with shell buttons. I’ve used buttons before on quilts but usually in a decorative way. On batiked salmon, I used small akoya shell buttons for eyes and to represent eggs among stones at the bottom of the panels. On a log cabin quilt I made for Forrest when he finished his PhD, I used an assortment of buttons from a small tin John brought back from his mother’s house after she’d gone into care. I recognized the tin from her sewing materials and remembered she once told me it contained buttons from her mother’s house. So those buttons articulating the log cabins became a sort of legacy.

But for some reason, the buttons I’m sewing onto a section of quilt cobbled together of scraps of fabric, the path through my eye injury, my recovery, this time of life when I’ve found myself in the dark woods, the right road lost, well, the buttons have felt very potent somehow.

Arriving home yesterday, I looked briefly at the quilt and then began an essay. I had no idea I had anything to write about this, anything more I mean, because I’ve already written about the experience of falling, seeing stars, exploring my inner vision. No, this is a different thing altogether. By the time I came out to make a simple supper for us, I’d written most of a first draft. “An Anatomy of Buttons”. I’ve found things out and realize there’s more to learn. A second draft today… In the night I was awake thinking about the buttons and their meaning. Their means of repair. What they secure and how.

…generations of women set forth,

under the sails of gingham curtains,
and, seated side by side

on decks sometimes salted by tears,
made small but important repairs.

                   –Ted Kooser, from “A Jar of Buttons”

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