shelling the beans: a meditation on imperfection

shelling beans

On the weekend I shelled beans. Not very many—I brought back 6 Cherokee Trail of Tears beans from Ottawa in May, given to me by Forrest and Manon who’d already planted their garden. I had too, or at least I’d planted beans; but I can never resist a new (to me) cultivar. This one is laden with history, carrying the tragic story of America’s treatment of the Cherokee people who were forced from their territories in the Carolinas in winter, 1838, and marched to Oklahoma. Many perished along the way. Someone brought beans, a dietary staple, and these beans are descendants of those. What do we perpetuate when we grow seeds with such sad history? The plants or the story? Both. I thought of our own country’s terrible legacy of betrayal and injustice as I shelled the beans. I also set aside the strongest seeds to save for planting next year. 6 beans gave me 2 cups of shiny beans for soup.

I also pieced together a quilt top for my grandson Henry. I had an idea and I had some fabric and I thought about how I wanted the quilt to look. You know the old carpenter proverb, Measure twice, cut once? I had that firmly in mind as I measured, scribbled notes on a piece of paper on which I’d mapped (badly) the quilt I hoped to make. I measured, thought about the best way to get the lengths I needed out of the fabric I had, and then I cut. Well, you can see that something went wrong.

henry's kite

Somehow the bottom left-hand panel of the kite itself was backwards. I don’t know how it happened, except to say that I am sort of spatially-challenged; I can’t see things in theory or make the connection from drawings to cloth until I have something in my hands. I had no more of the printed fabric so had to cobble in a bit of yellow. The same thing happened with the red. I measured, made notes, and then cut; and was horrified to discover that the side pieces of the sashing were too short. I had to cobble again. I don’t think Henry will mind. I have a plan to make some little pockets on the errant seams, fastened with big bright buttons. But still. As I was sewing the last bit of sashing, I thought of Persian carpet makers, followers of Islam, who believed that only Allah was capable of perfection; they intentionally wove errors into their carpets as an act of homage. My quilting mistakes are unintentional but consistent. Every quilt I’ve made has a hundred imperfections. I’ll back this one with soft flannel and the batting will be organic cotton and anyway the thing I love most about making quilts is the actual quilting: sitting by the fire with an area taut in my hoop, my needle moving in and out over the surface, making texture that I hope whomever uses the quilt will know has been done by hand, with care, and with love.

First thing this morning I printed out the most recent version of my essay collection, Blue Portugal. When I look at the pages, I see that some of the ideas I had haven’t really worked out the way I hoped they would. I wanted (in some of the essays) to use the whole page as a compositional field. Sometimes this is to reflect the process of making a quilt, setting blocks against one another in a sort of pattern trial. Sometimes I wanted the two sides of the page to move towards a central flow, as side-creeks enter a river. I wanted the text to reflect how it felt to hear and watch a young pianist playing Janáček’s “In the Mists”, his hands moving across the keyboard, the phrases advancing so beautifully that I wept in the dark concert hall. And do they? Do the pages achieve what I hoped they would? Nope. Or not exactly. But my pleasure and my engagement in the process of trying makes the imperfections worth it.


4 thoughts on “shelling the beans: a meditation on imperfection”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s