The Quilt of Life
Handmade quilts are fascinating to me; the combinations of patterns, colors, and designs are so intricate and precise. Each individual piece of fabric — and there are hundreds that go into making a quilt — looks like scrap that could be thrown away, but together with the rest of the pieces, it becomes part of a whole, a wonderful image of diversified unity. There are as many designs to follow as there are pieces for a quilt, so choices are endless, which is both exciting and daunting at the same time. It is absolute bliss to walk into a quilting store and become awakened by the widest array of vibrant colors ever to be contained in one place. Every possible shade of each color is represented in a wide variety of patterns. It is also an overwhelming experience because, like a child in a candy store, choices have to be made on which colors and patterns to choose, and the impulse is to want them all.
There are a few steps to quilt making, each with its own challenge. First is choosing different fabrics, which is easier said than done as it involves finding the right balance of contrasting colors and patterns, while looking for a unifying commonality. I often need the help of the salesperson, so I won’t pick a combination that is too busy. It’s like a Goldilocks moment — it shouldn’t be too bland, nor too busy, it has to be “just right.” The next step is cutting the fabric. This part of the quilting process can be fun because of the equipment used. I have a cutting mat filled with lines, squares, and measurements from length to width, a three-inch-wide, seventeen-inch-long clear ruler also with measurements filling the inside, and a fabric cutter that looks like you can also slice a pizza with it.
Even though the equipment makes cutting fabric easy, I find this process to be the most challenging part of making a quilt because it demands being exact. After cutting, the pieces are put together in the pre-determined design — it’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle, so if you’re even one-quarter inch off, the tiniest amount accumulates and can affect the design of the whole quilt. I find this intimidating because being exact has never been my forte.
It’s a funny thing about perfection. On one hand it makes us strive toward bigger and better things, not just in quilt making, but in life: everything from setting goals for our career to planning our day. When shopping, do we settle for the sofa that’s more affordable, or go for the one that really appeals to us and will look amazing in our living room? In quilting it’s easy to just ignore being a quarter inch off because, after all, no one is perfect. Native American tribes purposely put a flaw in their artwork as an act of humility, with the belief: “only God is perfect.” There are times, however, when I settle for something less than ideal, and I don’t always feel comfortable with my decision. I have taken apart many a sewing project in an attempt to make it better, and then become disappointed in myself when I look at the finished product that still has mistakes, and that is all I can see: a mistake. As a result, I lose enthusiasm and it becomes an effort to keep working on the quilt if I am not happy with it. I often cope with the disappointment by learning another craft, so I sometimes see myself as a “jack of all trades and master of none.”
I am slowly coming to the realization, however, that aiming for perfection is a goal that becomes impossible to reach and results in feelings of disappointment; it reinforces negative feelings. Yet when I show the quilt to friends and family, they don’t see what I see. They are looking at the whole quilt, not just the mistakes. That is a reminder for me — to be gentle with myself and follow their wisdom of looking at the bigger picture. This can pertain to looking at my whole life. Am I a product of my mistakes or am I the sum of success, failure, perseverance, and, ultimately self-acceptance?
At the other end of the spectrum is the person who won’t settle for less than perfection, and consequently never accomplishes anything. As a young adult, I felt like I never measured up to anyone, which was exemplified in a relationship with a close friend who was a perfectionist in everything. Sometimes, though, this desire paralyzed him from taking chances in many areas of his life. When we would spend time together, the day had to be planned according to his specifications; shopping was an exhausting task and if I made a suggestion in a restaurant, he’d make a facial expression that conveyed his distaste. Where everything had to be just so, I was always settling with the feeling that this was merely the best I could do. It seemed as if our egos were at opposite ends of the behavioral totem pole and ultimately our relationship made me feel more inadequate than I really was. Cutting fabric for a quilt, therefore, often reminds me of this old feeling of not being good enough.
I am currently working on a polka dot duvet cover for a comforter that I bought several years ago. As I cut out the circles, all traced from the same bowl, I notice immediately that they are all slightly different in size, so I decide to embrace my newly acquired theory of appreciating this project as a whole. Therefore, instead of becoming fixated on the variations in size, I decide to scatter the circles across the fabric instead of using my original plan of arranging straight lines of circles. I also thought that a backing on each circle would make it puffy when placed on the fabric, but after sewing the back and front together I noticed that each circle has tiny imperfections on the circumference. All I can see now are little points and angles instead of a smooth curve, so the circle is not perfect. When I ask my husband for his opinion, again, he doesn’t see what I see. He sees the whole circle, the colors, patterns, and how it will look as a duvet cover. He sees himself sleeping under it, while all I see are my mistakes keeping me up at night.
I’m going to continue with this project and do the best I can. So far, I am pleased with the combination of colors and patterns in each circle and how they look all together on the duvet fabric. As I progress with cutting and sewing the circles and attaching them to the fabric, I will continue to do my best, but when I start to see only mistakes, I will take that as a sign that it is time to look within because at that point it is no longer about the sewing project but rather about my old tendency of being overly self-critical. I want to continue to enjoy making quilts and other sewing projects, I want to be happy with the whole project, my creation, and while I appreciate the end result, I will also know that we are not here to be perfect. Our flaws provide lessons about acceptance, and sometimes there is room for improvement while at other times there is an acknowledgement that there is a duality in life, our ups and downs, pleasures and disappointments, and all of the in-betweens, all of which add depth to who we are and make us the intricate beings we are, as a whole, like a quilt.