My Whole Life in One Quilt?
No Wonder I’m Confounded
By Meg Cox
I’ve been a believer in the slow stitching movement ever since Mark Lipinski started talking about it. Like most quilters, I’m usually making quilts for a deadline, not a legacy.
But I do have ambitions to make bigger, more challenging quilts. I shy away from the “M” and “H” words (masterpiece and heirloom), but after more than 25 years of making quilts, I know I’m capable of something grander than I’ve delivered thus far.
So, about six months before my 60th birthday, a bell rang somewhere in my creative innards and a voice said. “Why not NOW? What sort of a quilt project could I undertake to celebrate this milestone, with the assistance of my nearest and dearest?”
The idea was the easy part: I would write to dozens of friends and family members, and ask them to send something deeply meaningful to them that I could incorporate into this quilt.
As I wrote to them: “The fabric part will be easy for my quilter peeps, but for those who don’t sew, this can be a scrap of fabric from a retired article of clothing, a small bit from a curtain, piece of lace, or pillowcase, or t-shirt, baby dress, or almost anything. Preferably, not smaller than 3 inches square, OK?” I also told them they could send little trinkets that could be sewn on. And I shared that red is my favorite color.
I had done something similar for my 50th birthday (with friends decorating ribbons that I sent them), and I knew I wanted to see ALL the contributions at once, on my actual birthday. My dear friend Liza Lucy agreed to have all these envelopes full of fabric sent to her house.
Honestly, what people sent me was simply overwhelming. There was so much love and thoughtfulness, along with touching and wise cards and letters. Yep, I cried. More than once.
Many said they chose to send something that represented “the best day of my life.” So I got carefully cut scraps from wedding dresses and baby blankets. One friend sent the actual newborn cap from the birth of her first grandchild. My high school friend John Paul sent a piece of his wedding tablecloth, from the day he married his long-time partner Chip (who subsequently died, making it even more precious). The president of my local quilt guild, Nancy Breland, sent me a scrap of fabric from the first quilt she made, in 1984.
Some of my friends are fabric designers, and they sent some of their fabric: Mark Lipinski sent me a fat quarter of the very first fabric he designed, Katmandu, which I’ve always loved.
Paula Nadelstern sent six different fabrics, all dominated by the color red.
Hollis Chatelain sent about a half yard of painted fabric, including a beautiful eye, because “Eyes tell all, they show us the way.”
My sister Tracy sent me pieces of a blouse that our mother made from an old sheet, covered with vibrant, delicate embroidery. Our mother has been dead for over 15 years and I have no memory of this garment whatsoever, so this piece alone produced a lot of joyful tears.
My friend Lucy has spent many years in Africa doing social work, and sent a string of beads made from old newspapers by women in Uganda with HIV. Lucy wore these beads, literally, all over the world, and she says when the strong broke, she decided they were meant to be in my quilt.
Certainly, some choices may seem odd. Pal Marie Bostwick actually sent me black fabric, explaining it was the darkest moments in our lives that make us appreciate the joy (more crying on my end.)
Who would send part of a t-shirt depicting Joan of Arc being burned at the stake? Why my composer friend Richard Einhorn, who wrote an oratorio about Joan.
There are a few mystery items: I still have not figured out which friend sent me a Che Guevara tee-shirt.
But the sheer beauty and narrative power of all these gifts have made it difficult for me to get started in actually making this legacy quilt. How daunting it is to take these precious artifacts, and cut them to my own purpose!
Not to mention, the formidable artistic task of melding such a disparate grouping of items into a quilt so that it doesn’t just read like a random hodgepodge.
Here is a confession. Well, actually two confessions. I haven’t even started on this quilt, not even a sketched design. And, what is far more mortifying, I haven’t sent out all my thank you notes yet. It has been more than a year, for Pete’s sake – I am now 61 and a half, people.
I never expected this would be quite so taxing. But I think it’s a combination of denial and fear about aging, melded to lifelong anxieties about my artistic abilities. Plus, it genuinely qualifies as a tough assignment, right?
So, what will I do?
I’ve been reading all the posts from Mark about how to deal with perfectionism and giving oneself permission to tackle these big, ambitious projects. I can’t let the fears stop me from playing and exploring with these wonderful materials, feeling the love of all these dear friends. And ideas are starting to trickle into my mind.
I’ve organized the fabric by color. And come up with some organizing principles, especially having to do with WORDS. I’ve been a writer and journalist for all my life and my 60th quilt will be full of words. I’m going to pick one word for each decade of my life, and use that as a structure, at least to start.
Stay tuned! I promise to come back and share how it goes.
About Meg Cox
Ohio native Meg Cox has been earning her living as a writer since graduating from Northwestern University in 1975. She was hired as a staff writer by the Wall Street Journal in 1977, at age 24, and worked at the WSJ in Chicago and New York for 17 years.
While at the Journal, Meg contributed hundreds of front-page stories and was lauded for her feature writing. Her beats included financial futures, agriculture, the business of the arts, and publishing.
Since the birth of her son, Max, in 1994, Meg has written for many national magazines, lectured and taught all over the country and authored five books. She continues to contribute weekend arts features to the Wall Street Journal.
Her two main specialties are FAMILY TRADITIONS and QUILTING, two wildly misunderstood topics. Both are thought to be old-fashioned and un-hip which could not be farther from the truth. Today’s smart parents are avid inventors of personalized rituals and celebrations that give their kids a sense of identity, security , meaning and fun. These traditions encompass everything from meals and activities handed down through generations, to brand new rituals, including some built around cutting-edge tech devices like iPads and smart phones. The same is true of quilting: the 21 million American quilters who have built this burgeoning craft into a $3.6 billion industry are educated, computer-literate and fiercely creative. Did you know the dominant version of quilt-design software is in version 7?
Meg Cox’s writing and lecturing on FAMILY TRADITIONS is informed by her experience as a mother, stepmother and step-grandmother, as well as more than a decade of interviewing psychologists, religious leaders and hundreds of families about rituals. Meg has been hired as a traditions spokesperson by such companies as Pillsbury, KFC and Hallmark.
Her expertise on QUILTING stems partly from the 25 years that she has been a passionate quilter. Additionally, Meg has served on the board of the national nonprofit Quilt Alliance since 2005: she has been president since 2009. She writes a regular column for a trade magazine for quilt shop owners: Fab Shop News, and a column on “unexpected quilters” for The Quilt Life magazine. See her commentary on modern quilting in the hit 2011 documentary, Stitched.
What do all Meg’s books have in common?
They are so jam-packed with practical information & inspiration, that readers’ well-thumbed copies are bristling with bookmarks and Post-It notes.
A Partial List of Publications for which Meg Cox has written:
Allure, American Patchwork & Quilting, Child, Cooking Light, the Daily Beast, Family Fun, Family PC, Good Housekeeping, Ms., O, Parenting, Parents, Publisher’s Weekly, Quilter’s Home, SAQA Journal, The Quilt Life, Reunions, Working Mother, Worth
Please visit Meg’s blog and sign up for her amazingly quilt-sational, “A Quilt Journalist Tells All,” newsletter at: www.megcox.com
We would love for you to share your creative process, thoughts, feelings and your place in The Slow Stitching Movement.
Just email Mark Lipinski at: email@example.com
He will email you the simple guidelines for posting your own blog here and introducing yourself to the world of Slow Stitchers!
Organizing by color gives the hodge podge some congruity. And words — oh yes — so appropriate! Journey on friend!
Meg… While I was reading your blog my heart actually became warm. An overwhelming sense of joy, sadness and being grateful flooded me. I experienced and am still experiencing flashes of memories and emotions. Right now the most powerful emotions is sadness. Thank you for sharing. I will turn 55 next year. Your quilt (and Mark’s Legacy Quilt) have inspired me to continue my slow stitching journey and attempt to re-experience my life in a quilt. Thank you for sharing and bringing my life experience to the surface.
that is such a great idea. I will be 50 in January and I just might do the same thing. It would be fun to see who will send me what. that would be such a special quilt.