“small but important repairs”


We were driving home from Vancouver yesterday afternoon—we’d gone in for a concert at the Orpheum—and I was musing about the quilt I’ve been working on this winter. I made the top to accompany me as I recovered from an eye injury, made it to map out what happened and why and how to accommodate the experience in my life. Last week I cut out beautiful silk to back the quilt with and then decided to attach the top and back with shell buttons. I’ve used buttons before on quilts but usually in a decorative way. On batiked salmon, I used small akoya shell buttons for eyes and to represent eggs among stones at the bottom of the panels. On a log cabin quilt I made for Forrest when he finished his PhD, I used an assortment of buttons from a small tin John brought back from his mother’s house after she’d gone into care. I recognized the tin from her sewing materials and remembered she once told me it contained buttons from her mother’s house. So those buttons articulating the log cabins became a sort of legacy.

But for some reason, the buttons I’m sewing onto a section of quilt cobbled together of scraps of fabric, the path through my eye injury, my recovery, this time of life when I’ve found myself in the dark woods, the right road lost, well, the buttons have felt very potent somehow.

Arriving home yesterday, I looked briefly at the quilt and then began an essay. I had no idea I had anything to write about this, anything more I mean, because I’ve already written about the experience of falling, seeing stars, exploring my inner vision. No, this is a different thing altogether. By the time I came out to make a simple supper for us, I’d written most of a first draft. “An Anatomy of Buttons”. I’ve found things out and realize there’s more to learn. A second draft today… In the night I was awake thinking about the buttons and their meaning. Their means of repair. What they secure and how.

…generations of women set forth,

under the sails of gingham curtains,
and, seated side by side

on decks sometimes salted by tears,
made small but important repairs.

                   –Ted Kooser, from “A Jar of Buttons”

Some kind of wonder

” . . . passing
your fingers over its surfaces
as if it were some kind of wonder.” (from “A Spiral Notebook” by Ted Kooser)

I’ve quilted one square of the indigo salmon quilt. I kept looking at the blue cotton and wondering what sort of stitching would suit both the quilt and the swirling watery pattern of the cloth. Well, spirals, of course! They are such symbols of life — the double helix of DNA, the nautilus shell, the exquisite carved tri-spirals at the megalithic passage grave at Newgrange in Ireland which is surely as much about life as death (its passage and chamber illuminated at sunrise at Winter Solstice), and the seed patterns of many flowers (the Fibonacci spiral).

Here’s what the first spiral looks like, but remember that the fabric is actually a richer blue:

And here’s what it looks like on the backing of unbleached cotton. Because this is the first square and one quilts from the centre out, to avoid ruckling of the fabric, you can see the seam that runs across the middle of the backing because I had to piece two lengths to get the right size. (The gaping blue threads are the basting threads and they’ll be removed when the quilt is finished.)

This kind of quilting begs to be touched, “passing/your fingers over its surfaces…”,  stitching and handwork creating its own texture of wonder.