The art of quilting takes us back in time

One of the events I decided to enjoy this spring break was the annual quilt show held in Smith Center, partially to fondly remember a time in my past, and also to look forward to a time I hope to see in my future.

In my past is a period where I out-Martha’d Martha Stewart at any given opportunity. I refinished, embroidered, quilted, gardened, preserved and cooked my way into a personal householder’s hall of fame. Everything in my home had to be just so, and I spent many happy hours making sure that every nook and cranny was beautiful, welcoming and warm. I had slipcovers for my slipcovers. I had serving pieces for foods so obscure my guests couldn’t pronounce them. My cats had matching handmade collars. All the shoes in the house were arranged in alphabetical order. I made all our pasta, bread and yogurt. If the house didn’t smell of freshly-baked bread and potpourri at all hours, it was because I was undergoing surgery.

Now, as a full-time student, I live in one-10th the space and about half the expectations. Yes, I still slipcover and have managed to tote all the serving pieces with me from pillar to post, but I no longer expect to put up 500 jars of preserves every summer, and I even sometimes buy bread, that is, when I can afford it. I’m down to one cat, who is completely collar-intolerant, and I don’t have time to garden anymore. The place is clean and attractive in a shabby-genteel sort of way, but I no longer paint the pictures on the walls, let alone rotate them on a regular schedule.

But at the quilt show, I learned more about what I had been, am, and will no doubt be. I found a sort of comfort I hadn’t experienced for some time on the issue of how I wanted to live at home. Amongst the quilts and the people who created them I found that it was OK to want to live in beauty, however one defines it in one’s own mind and heart. As I walked among the men and women who had time in their week to go to the show in the middle of what would be a regular working day, I found a sense of peace and security they had in wanting to make things beautiful and comfortable for themselves and for other people.

When I went to the show last year I left amazed and a little intimidated at the talent and energy the quilters had, how they were able to take what appeared to be leftover scraps of cloth and turn them into objects of art, and how they managed to do so smiling. This year I started to look harder at the makers of the quilts as well as at their creations, and I noticed a pattern.

Some of the quilters obviously had great spatial-relationship skills, intertwining geometric and freeform elements. In this age, they would have been encouraged to go into a profession such as cartography or urban planning; in their age, they became quilters. Some took tiny bits of fabric and blended them so skillfully they result was more like watercolor paintings than quilts; they would be encouraged to go into commercial design now. Still others were able to give an air of childlike innocence to their work, and heaven only knows what they would be told to do now by the helpful occupational counselors. There seems to be very little room for them to play in this brave new world.