line: “track, course, direction.”


a Middle English merger of Old English line “cable, rope; series, row, row of letters; rule, direction,” and Old French ligne “guideline, cord, string; lineage, descent” (12c.), both from Latin linea “linen thread, string, plumb-line,” also “a mark, bound, limit, goal; line of descent,” short for linea restis “linen cord,” and similar phrases, from fem. of lineus (adj.) “of linen,” from linum “linen” (

I am finishing the quilt I began in November, an exploration of lanes and rivers, the relationship between water and our vascular systems, how a river’s course can be disrupted by weather events, and also an excuse to work with my favourite blue cottons. I’m using red sashiko thread and the beautiful long sharp sashiko needles from Japan. Yesterday I was sewing and I realized that there are only 2 or 3 lines of stitching in the entire quilt (and it will be large enough for a queen-sized bed). I began in the middle, which is usual for the quilting or stitching part of making a quilt; you work outwards so as to avoid ruckles and to keep things smooth and taut as you sew. (The big red stitches you can see are the initial basting stitches to keep the three layers in place before the actual quilting begins. And for this quilt I’m using an embroidery hoop rather than my larger quilting frames. It’s just easier for lap sewing.)

But when I realized there was only a couple of lines to this quilt, I thought how like writing sewing can be. You begin with a line. Where will it take you? Will you find yourself in a familiar landscape, will you wander a little by the Nicola River, the sound of Clark’s nutcrackers in the pines, will you try to match a road you have seen on a map with the contours of the hills you are driving through, will you stop to catch your breath as you walk under the pylons of the Cheekeye-Dunsmuir power lines, lines strung out against the sky like staves, ravens knock knock knocking on the metal to make the musical notations, will you wind around and around the switchbacks coming down off Pavilion Mountain, will you gather your lines together until you have enough for an essay, a novel, a book of life? When I found the beginning of a line in the quilt, the place I’d started from, I sewed a tiny shell button to anchor it in place.

The earliest sense in Middle English was “cord used by builders for taking measurements;” extended late 14c. to “a thread-like mark” (from sense “cord used by builders for making things level,” mid-14c.), also “track, course, direction.” Meaning “limit, boundary” (of a county, etc.) is from 1590s. The mathematical sense of “length without breadth” is from 1550s. From 1530s as “a crease of the face or palm of the hand.” From 1580s as “the equator.”

As I come to the end of the stitching, I am wondering how I will bind this quilt. I’d thought I might simply wrap the backing around the edges and slipstitch them into place to finish it off. But the sheet I used for the backing is something I experimented with to use up some indigo dye and it doesn’t really look nice as binding (though I love it for backing):

ghost fish

(Some of the eel-grass pattern at the top will need to be trimmed and I’m thinking I’ll use the scraps as part of a batch of keepsakes to celebrate my book Blue Portugal  when it’s published this spring. John is willing to print some bookmarks or cards on our old platen press and I’ll fasten some of the fabric on the card with shell buttons and red silk thread. Stay tuned!) But back to the binding (an appropriate term for finishing a quilt which is a set of lines as eloquent as essays): deep blue? A lighter slate blue? I usually make my own bindings but don’t have enough of any of the fabrics I used to piece this together so I’ll have to see what the fabric store in Sechelt has available.

In one of the essays in Blue Portugal, I write about atlases, how I loved them as a child, and how I still read them now, following the lines on their maps with a finger, wondering how it would feel to be alive in those geographies. Travel has become imaginary, postponed, occluded by circumstances. When I sew the coarse red lines through 3 thicknesses of textile, I am making my own atlas, unbound and wild, dense with its own possibilities, moving into tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Looking into the tattered cloth-bound copies in the classrooms of my childhood, I could dream my way onto continents so far away it was tomorrow there as I traced borders with a wondering finger. I remember learning how to use the legend, that the little box with lines and colour charts provided visual aids to help you to understand where land rose above sea level, how deep the sea was, how some cities were larger than others by the circle used to represent them. Was it infilled, was it red, did it contain a star? There were the principal roads and the other roads, thin lines (usually red), going from one circle or dot to another, across borders, through the shadings that meant mountains. And the thin blue lines, scribbling across the map, widening to pools, meeting other rivers, breaking away again, finally reaching one ocean or another. (from “How Rivers Break Away and Meet Again”)


5 thoughts on “line: “track, course, direction.””

  1. Always glad to hear of your Geography sensibilities. I too could happily spend an evening with an atlas. Perhaps you could create an imaginative atlas of your home area? I also noted your reference to power lines. I recall fights to prevent them despoiling scenery. And I would not want to see them from my home window. But I do appreciate the electricity they convey. And there is a certain elegance to the lines, and striking patterns against sunsets. Probably a book on all this. But I already have six articles to finish, so better restrain myself. Always the tension between curiosity and discipline!

    1. Hi John,
      The big Cheekeye Dunsmuir line takes power from the BC mainland, (Squamish area) to Vancouver Island, near Qualicum Beach. The pylons are huge. One of the trails we like winds under part of the line and we almost always see elk, often bears, sometimes coyotes, and there are wolves up there too. (Have seen them but not near the lines.) The telecommunications tower we were opposed to was going to be erected just across the highway from our property and it would have been tall enough for us to see it from our house. Because it was going to be more than 200 feet high, it was to have lights on it to alert planes and so on. But now there has been a legal challenge (not from us) to the location and so it’s on hold and probably will go elsewhere. I do appreciate electricity and phone and internet service too. My objection to the tower in the proposed location was because it would have been at the entrance to an wetlands research and interpretive centre which also is part of a wild bird sanctuary. Hopefully another more suitable site (and there are lots) will be found for it.
      I love atlases. John bought me a beauty for my birthday a few years ago and I often read it by the fire. I love the Derek Hayes atlases — Historical Atlas of Canada, Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley — and the magnificent A Sto:lo-Coast Salish Historical Atlas.

  2. I’ve been keeping busy with some projects I’m working on and bringing a few to their end (getting printed) so my time spent visiting favourite places like yours has been minimal lately. It’s always such a delight to read your posts. You always treat us with such lovely imagery through your words. You have an exquisite talent.

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