It’s been a long winter and we’re now a couple days into spring. I know I’ve written before that my mother always had something she was working on, knitted or crocheted, over the winter, insisting that she didn’t want the months to pass without something to show for it. Well, she was raised a Presbyterian so it was hard for her to believe that the devil wouldn’t find work for idle hands. And I’d like to think that I know that important things can happen in the mind, in the imagination. The winter passes, an extended essay is written, books are read, friendships are maintained, relationships with my children, my grandchildren, my beloved husband. But I am my mother’s daughter and yes, I am glad to have something to show for the months inside, near the fire, while rain or snow fell, or the nights were long and dark. Working on this quilt was like working with stars, a dusky sky (the sky at 5 in winter, sun just down), cold water, the spirals taking me into deep thought, shell buttons catching the light. I cut the last threads half an hour ago.
I love the poems of the late Robert Francis. They have a quiet practicality and are observant in the best way. Here’s one for the end of winter, for blue and all its manner of colour, of mood. I’ve seen those rows of hills, the water, ice, and his bluejay is a cousin at least of our Steller’s jay, the one who shouts from the post just beyond the window.
Winter uses all the blues there are.
One shade of blue for water, one for ice,
Another blue for shadows over snow.
The clear or cloudy sky uses blue twice-
Both different blues. And hills row after row
Are colored blue according to how far.
You know the bluejay’s double-blur device
Shows best when there are no green leaves to show.
And Sirius is a winterbluegreen star.
This is a view of our dining table right now. (We’re eating on the deck and let’s hope the weather lasts so I don’t have to tidy up any time soon…)
Some time ago I dyed the salmon squares and then took Forrest and Manon to Sechelt to choose cotton to frame the squares for a quilt. I am not a methodical quilt-maker. I never begin with a plan, exactly, but accumulate fabrics until they speak to me. Yellow might call out, “Stars!” Scraps of red might suggest the hearth square at the centre of log cabin blocks.
This is the way I write, too. I have a sense of pattern, though it’s often very flexible. (When I quilt, I seldom use templates so the pieces are uneven; this means I constantly have to adjust and adapt. Sashing is a great equalizer as you can see from these photographs. And even the sashing is uneven.) I have a deep need for texture, whether it arises from the prose itself, the shifts in sentence structure, or how a lyrical passage might modulate to terse description. (I always hand-quilt because I love the way a smooth square of cotton takes on the hills and valleys of landscape, the long running stitches of rivers, under my hands.) And I write from memory, the stores of experience and my personal hoard of sensory material. (I once made a quilt for Angelica in which I tried to replicate the astonishing sensation of seeing the Leonid showers. And a windmill quilt for Brendan and Cristen because, well, let’s face it, it was the closest image I could think of to suit a mathematician and an atmospheric physicist. I used buttons from John’s grandmother’s collection to adorn it.)
So I’m waiting. Waiting to see how the salmon might move across that deep red cotton which echoes the smell of blood as the fish make their way up Haskins Creek each autumn, how the watery blue (the result of leaving an old sheet in the bucket of indigo dye after I’d coloured each square of batiked fish) might balance the darker blue of the shibori squares.