I know I’ve already talked about making art. Crafting is an art. Making things in is a craft. There are many other forms of crafting aside from drawing and sculpture.
I grew up in a crafting house. My mom would tell you she was nothing special. She would tell you the things she created were not magical, mystical, or wonderful. For so many people who craft, they don’t see what they make for what it truly is – a work of art. My mom was crafty. She knew how to do the basic sewing things: hemming, stitching, fixing holes, fixing buttons. But, where my mom excelled is quilting. My mom’s quilts are beautiful. Every stitch, every piece of fabric, every layer has a story. My mom’s quilts were fun and functional.
She tried to teach me how to do those things. She wanted me to have those old fashioned skills. Those were skills of self reliance. I’m just not that into that kind of precision or time or effort.
My mom had books of all the different patterns and and how to cut the pieces of fabric. She had piles of fabric in different shades and patterns. She organized them by color. Solid on the bottom. They grew in vibrancy and busyness of the patterns to the top. For as complicated as they were, they were all so simple. They were elegant. My mom could tell you looking at any random piece of fabric on the wall and name off the pattern. Her favorites were double wedding ring and tumbling blocks. She loves Amish quilts. Mom has always been a fan of dark and simple.
Quilts are something so many people take for granted. Not many people even notice them in a store. My mother would be the one to rush up and pick the fabric up in between her fingers. I have actually seen her run her thumb nail over the fabric. So gently, caressing the stitches. Feeling every individual thread. It was a need to connect with the fabric.
There was a look of disappointment on her face when she looked at the stitching and could tell that it was not hand-stitched. That’s not to diminish the hard work and labor that it took to create that quilt. But, my mom has a level of quality she expects from items that say hand made. For quilts, that standard was hand-quilted. My mom enjoyed the perfection of a machine stitch. She enjoyed the uniformity and consistency of clean, even stitching. But when she saw an hand quilting piece, her eyes lit up. Seeing the irregularities of human hands working brought her joy. Mom understood only God was perfect. Much in the tradition of ancient weavers, my mother saw perfection as a slight to the divine. She would purposely make her stitching less than even to not displease the Great Creator. When she would see an imperfection in a quilt, it would give her pause. Seeing something that just wasn’t the same as the others she would often wonder in that moment what happened to the quilter to cause them to have that happen. She would sit and gaze at a gap in the stitches and wonder if someone had been talking to the quilter or if the phone rang or if someone showed up at their door. It was never anything simple as they just weren’t paying attention.
My mom is special like that. She always noticed the small details. She saw if your cheeks were to red because you tried to hide wearing blush to school. She noticed if you walked funny because your shoes were too tight. And your shoes were too tight because you knew the money was too tight but you didn’t want to say anything. My mom was the kind of lady who would have a new pair of shoes waiting for you when you got home. No words to be said; just a box on your bed.
When my great grandparents died, everyone else in my father’s family was doing a rush of who gets what. My mom is for the one who asked for the one thing nobody ever asks for. She wanted their shirts, My grandmother’s dresses, my grandfather’s corduroy pants. Nobody understood why she wanted these things. My grandmother had jewelry. Who wouldn’t want Grandma’s rings? Who wouldn’t want Grandpa’s pipes? My mom wanted their clothes. Even though Grandma had jewelry and Grandpa had pipes. That wasn’t them everyday. That was what they pulled out for Christmas and Easter. That wasn’t what they wore everyday. They didn’t wear the flashy things on a regular basis. They did use their clothes. And so my mom made a quilt. She made a quilt out of their clothes. It was one of the warmest quilts I’ve ever had. That quilt warmed me, comforted me, and traveled with me. That quilt grounded me. It reminded me of where I came from and who I was. Unfortunately, through several moves, that quilt has been lost. But the memory of it stays with me.
I do have a second one that she made. it’s unfinished which seems appropriate. It’s appropriate because I’m unfinished. Life is like a quilt. Every stitch is a foot step. Every event is a patch. The quilting hoop might move as we move from city to house. Our friends change. The color of the thread changes. Our partners change. But that quilt is our life.
I love that my mom gave me this appreciation. Quilting is a craft. Even though I have a real hard time with fabric things in the way of crafting I can appreciate the art of the work. I am truly grateful that I can sit back, just like my mother used to, in amazement at the time and work that goes into each and every Stitch. If you’ve never quilted before, let me tell you, it’s not easy. Quilts are not just two pieces of fabric back to back. There is this stuffing called batting on the inside. Depending on the types of fabric that you’re working with, it could actually be very difficult pushing that needle in and out. It is hypnotic. The rhythmic movement of the needle in a sequential fashion. The trail of thread creating a pattern of dashes and dots. All of that happening in an even stroke through different thicknesses of fabric and stuffing. If you’re not careful in your quilting induced hypnotic state, you will stick your finger. it will happen. It will hurt. You do that enough times, you’ll develop a callous. If you hit your callous, you won’t feel it so much. But the first hundred times you do it, it gets your attention.
That’s a great metaphor for life. The first hundred times you do it, it’s going to hurt. But you don’t quit; you keep going. You keep crafting. And when it’s finally finished, you have something. You have something that can either be used as art on the wall or on the back of a couch or on a bed. Or, you’ve got something that is actually functional and warm. It doesn’t matter if it’s emotional or physical warmth or even if it’s just a comfort thing. That quilt serves as a reminder. Someone loves and cares for you so much they put blood, sweat, and tears into creating this thing for you. In the case of my grandparents, they were loved so much my mom memorialized that with a blanket. With a quilt.
My mom doesn’t quilt anymore. The arthritis in her hands has gotten too bad. Holding a needle is tasking at best. Her chosen craft lately is knitting. And don’t get that confused with crochet. Knitting is two needles. Crochet is one hook. mom has no problem educating people in that. Interestingly enough she doesn’t make blankets or anything big. She makes what she calls snake blankets. That’s just her way of saying she makes scarves. One of my favorite scarves my mom has made for me looks like Sully from Monsters Inc. She said the colors were pretty. She’s never really watched the movie even though she’s going to Disney World almost fifty times. She’s been to the Laugh Floor but she really has no basis for those characters. It says a lot for her as a person. She can appreciate something even though she has no basis for that thing. So, she makes these snake blankets. She buys too much yarn. She can’t pass up a yarn sale. Her yarn collection is like her fabric collection. But she can because she’s retired. And because she is retired she sits and knits. A lot. She’s at Disney World right now. I can guarantee, if she’s in the hotel room, she’s knitting. She actually brings balls of yarn with her. If she’s on a bus you can guarantee she’s knitting. I don’t know if they let her carry knitting needles on the plane. That seems like a huge security issue. She probably packs them in the suitcase. I know she’s in the hotel room, knitting. You might think that’s crazy to be at Disney World and spend time knitting. I can honestly not think of a better place to knit than Disney World. There aren’t a whole lot of places I can think of to do anything that are better than Disney World. But that’s just me.
I really love my mom’s craftiness. Some of my favorite memories are crafting with my mom. She still has ornaments that we made when I was a kid. They are essentially stained glass. There were little crystals and you had these little metal frames. You would put the crystals in the frame and then you would bake them. They would become beautiful stained glass ornaments that shine so pretty on the tree. They still do. It doesn’t surprise me that my mom still has those. She is in essence a hoarder. But at least she hoards things like memories as opposed newspapers and bottles.
My mom loved making for other people. She still does. Did she know they may not appreciate it because it didn’t come with a price tag or from a store? Yeah. She still made gifts for them. For the longest time my mom was the laughing stock of my father’s family. We knew they made fun of her for making everyone’s gifts instead of going to JCPenney’s or Wanamaker’s. My mom chose to spend hundreds of hours creating something rather than spending hundreds of dollars. She was OK with that. It hurt her, but it didn’t stop her. She made toys for the kids and scarves for my aunts and grandmother.
One year, my mom made ornaments and a Christmas village and gave it to my grandmother. And even though it wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t from a store – it wasn’t something you’d find in a Hobby Lobby for a hundred, two hundred, or three hundred dollars – my grandmother still put it out every year. That little Christmas village that my mom hand-stitched and attached herself every year sat in front of my grandmother’s entertainment system every year.
Last year was our first Christmas without my grandparents. The only thing my mom asked for were my grandparents’ clothes and the Christmas village. I don’t know if she’s going to be able to make a quilt out of those clothes. I really don’t know what she has planned for them. But I do know the Christmas village will be placed out in front of my mom’s entertainment system this year.
After work, I’m going to go to Walmart and I’m going to pick up some craft activities. I will sit with my children and I will craft. We will make those memories. I’ll probably call my mom and cry and tell her about all of this. She’ll probably laugh at me and that’s OK. I want my kids to have memories like I do of my mom. My mom could do so much with so little and she did.
Today, in honor of my mom, I will craft.