“Don’t put up my Thread and Needle–“

birthday quilt

Yesterday I began to piece together the top for a birthday quilt for Manon who turns 40 today. I had in mind something else for her but then I learned that she’d love a quilt and of course that caused a little frisson of excitement in my circuitry because I love to go through the stash of fabric in my old trunk and find a way to put colours together. I am currently working on a big and complicated piece, this one,


which involves intricate spirals with trails leading to them and away from them. I’m about 2/3 finished. But the prospect of something bright and easy to work on (because I like to have two quilts in progress at once) was enticing. So I planned, muddling my way through the math — how many squares of each colour, how many courses, how to create a diagonal line — and then cut out the squares on the weekend after letting the fabric sit for a few days while I decided on relationships. This is a simple quilt, the kind I call a French patchwork. I love to use blues and reds and saffron yellows to remind me of markets in the south of France, particularly in Aix-en-Provence, where we wandered through a big street market one November morning, buying little bags of olives, some fresh cheeses, a loaf of bread dusted with flour. The dried herbs and nuts were piled onto Provencal cloth.

Don’t put up my Thread and Needle —
I’ll begin to Sew
When the Birds begin to whistle —
Better Stitches — so —

When I sew, my mind goes elsewhere. Maybe it finds itself in Aix-en-Provence, walking the Cezanne trail, or in Prague, on a narrow street leading to the Charles Bridge. These days it wishes it could return to Ukraine, the road from Kosiv to Yavoriv, stopping along the way to look at the sheep fleeces drying by the creeks where they’d been washed before being spun into yarn for lizhnyky, the heavy wool rugs woven by craftspeople who’ve been making them for generations. I thought I’d return so I didn’t buy one when I could have, when a woman showed us the process and took us down to her valylo, wooden boxes in the course of a stream, where the woven blankets or rugs are tumbled in the current to tighten the threads and shrink the wool. And maybe I’ll never return. My mind lingers in Yavoriv, my fingers pushing a needle in and out, the threads making meaning on the surface of the quilt.

Till then — dreaming I am sewing
Fetch the seam I missed —
Closer — so I — at my sleeping —
Still surmise I stitch —

Today I hope to finish piecing the top and then I’ll decide if it needs sashing or not. (This is a way to even out my careless cutting and piecing work…) I’ll cut backing to size and batting to go between the top and back. When I’m stalled in the novel I am working on, or when it’s raining too hard to be outside, you can find me in the rocker by the woodstove, sewing and dreaming. Dreaming of fleeces and French markets and walking down Boršov quite late one evening in search of Lehká hlava, a beautiful little restaurant in a medieval building, where we ate delicious food a stone’s throw from the Charles Bridge, dreams that are somehow sewn into the quilts.

Note: the poem is 617, “Don’t put up my Thread and Needle”, by Emily Dickinson.

4 thoughts on ““Don’t put up my Thread and Needle–“”

  1. Don’t know why, but for some reason this brought to mind a word I haven’t seen or used for ages: “threadbare.” Probably doesn’t apply to anything you have or are doing!
    And I can’t think of anything more to say about it!

    1. Threadbare is a word I think about a fair bit, John. My favourite jeans are a bit threadbare and I’m thinking that I will try some of the mending with big sashiko stitches and blue fabrics so common in Japan. It’s an interesting word, though, isn’t it? Thread worn of its nap. Frayed. Shabby. (Timely, at least for me…)

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