“my sight got crooked”

japanese cottons

These days I am strangely restless. There is so much to do—garden work; some writing projects or requests, as well as ongoing work on a novel that seems too fraught to continue with (the main character had just made plans to go to Lviv when I put the novel aside because of other commitments, and honestly? Who could go to Lviv now, even though the novel is set, oh, last year); and various other things that loom in the night when I’m awake but then sort of fade away during the day when I could actually be doing them instead of repeatedly doomscrolling for news of Ukraine. Instead of burrowing in to something clear and practical, I wander through the house. If I had a quilt to work on, this would be the time to sit with it, stitching, keeping my hands busy in the way that invariably quiets my mind. And I do have a quilt, a big one, but somehow—and honestly I don’t know how this happened—the strips of white (some of it from old damask tablecloths, worn in most places but with some usable areas), various deep blues, red prints, ended up looking like a collection of French flags. Instead of giving me pleasure, the actual quilting is irritating. I keep asking myself how it happened that I didn’t foresee the overall pattern beforehand. I didn’t. I was just happy to be seaming blocks together and then sashing them with deep blue. When Forrest and Manon were here in February, I showed them (and this wasn’t pieced recently but a few years ago; it’s been sitting in a basket in one of the back closets…), wondering what to do. We’d love it, they both said. So that’s an incentive, I guess, even though the stitching won’t give me pleasure.

I do have a little hoard of Japanese cottons and what I’m really waiting for is a moment of illumination, a moment when I walk by the basket where they are piled and I see a way to use them. I thought maybe log cabin blocks, big ones, like the quilt I made for Anik, only hers was made with colours she told me she liked. (When I asked, she said this: “I’m a fan of deep reds (not burgundy, but redder, earthier) and what Walter refers to as ’non-colour’ greens. Olive, forest, greens that blend in. Dark blues too. Is that boring?” And no, it wasn’t boring and I liked the results but it was outside my usual palette.)

sunday morning, quilting

In the fall I had some of the Japanese cottons and I wanted to make something with them. That was just as the catastrophic weather events—a system called an atmospheric river, bringing record rains and winds to the province—caused landslides and widespread flooding. I couldn’t cut and sew fast enough, it seemed, stitching the lengths of blue in long vertical strips and piecing them together with red lengths, printed and solid, to somehow echo the news, to remember the rivers I’ve loved that were rerouting themselves, to commemorate the way I’d always stood on their banks and felt their currents within my own body. I was sewing one of the essays in my forthcoming book, Blue Portugal, sewing it into fabric, quilting the oxbows, meanders, and avulsions. You see straight lines here in the finished quilt hanging on my clothes line but in fact all the actual quilting is curved and twisted, just 3 lines of it winding across the surface of the piece.

frozen fog

Now I need something to push the fabric in the basket into something more than itself, into an idea, a correlative, something to keep my mind focused and my hands active. I keep looking at the basket, waiting, while cities burn and we are helplessly watching. There is something I need to see, some way to do a new thing.

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

These were bent—my sight got crooked—
When my mind—is plain
I’ll do seams—a Queen’s endeavor
Would not blush to own—

Hems—too fine for Lady’s tracing
To the sightless Knot—
Tucks—of dainty interspersion—
Like a dotted Dot—

Leave my Needle in the furrow—
Where I put it down—
I can make the zigzag stitches
Straight—when I am strong—

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

                 –Emily Dickinson