Saturday, 22 February 2014

Leaning on my Angel

Several months ago I presented a talk to the local quilt guild about my quilting journey. In the next few blogs, I’ll be sharing some of this story in the hopes that somewhere in my story you will find bits and pieces of your own. Stories have a way of doing that.

I made my first quilt almost exactly 26 years ago. I worked on it with the Calgary Olympics playing on TV in the background. Both the athletes and I were trying to achieve a goal. They got the medals, but I still think I came out a winner! That’s because I began something that felt very right to me, and it’s become an integral part of who I am.

And who am I? These photos will tell you a little bit about that. The first one shows my father
 holding me on the day of my baptism, when I was exactly 1 week old. It is taken in front of the place where I was born: a tiny houseboat used for housing on the family farm in Holland. In our church tradition, babies were baptized on the first Sunday after birth, even if it meant my mom couldn’t come because she was still on bedrest. The baptism meant God was saying, in effect, “This is my child.” My parents made sure I knew this, and it is as foundational to me as breathing. Into every piece of art I make, I weave a thread of gratitude for the life and the gifts I have been given.

This is a photo of me, a year later. We were on a ship sailing to Canada, where my parents immigrated in 1949. My mom was very seasick, so dad had to take care of me, and he let me run, climbing on the machinery and exploring the nooks and crannies of our ship.

This photo tells a lot about me too: I still love adventure and exploration. I don’t like to be hemmed in, or having people tell me in precise detail how to do things. I’d like to figure it out for myself, thank you very much.

This is very much true of the first quilt I ever made, back there in the basement rec room in Edmonton during the ‘88 Olympics. I’d been sewing since I was a child, but had never made a quilt, and had not taken any quilting courses. I think there are special guardian angels for beginning quilters. Their job is to ensure that the first quilt that anyone makes is enough of a success that they’ll be encouraged to continue. I can imagine the discussion amongst the angels: “She thinks, just because she read something in a book, that she knows it all. Not only that, but she went to the bargain aisle at the fabric store and bought some stripes in red and blue, a patchwork print in dark and light blue, and a green floral print -- and she thinks it’s going to look good together. And get this: some of it is cotton, and some of it is poly-cotton, and I don’t think she preshrunk it. Now she’s beginning to cut out the squares and triangles, and she’s forgotten to add seam allowances to some of the pieces. Who wants to take her on?”

The Guardian Angel of Averting Quilting Disasters. She still watches over me!

I made every mistake in the book, but I must have gotten the guardian angel of averting disaster, because that quilt actually turned out quite well and was used, and used, and used by my son till this is what it looks like now! Much of the fabric has worn away to reveal the innards, and it’s just too old to fix. How delighted I am, however, to know that my son and his family have been sleeping under my blanket of love for so long.

I wonder what would have happened if I’d taken courses first, and quilted later? For sure, I would have made fewer mistakes. My quilts would have looked better: less lumps and bumps, less crooked seams, less puckers and frays. But would I have had as much fun? I don’t think so!

I went merrily, ignorantly on my way, making more and more quilts, never using a pattern, learning as I went, just enjoying myself immensely. I look back at these works, and I think, “Oh my goodness! Oops! Oops! And oops again!” And then I smile. That was fun, wasn’t it? (And I did get better over time, and eventually did take courses, when I was confident enough to know what I could use that worked for me.)

I know some of you seasoned quilters are cringing in your boots as you read this. My way of learning would not work at all for you. That’s because you are you: your story is different than mine. I believe the best work we do, whether it’s quilting or building, homemaking or teaching, or whatever else, comes out of our deepest, truest selves. I’m an adventurer: ergo, that’s what is revealed in my quilts. The work we do may not win prizes, but somehow, it is an expression of us, it has our mark on it.

And it bears the fingerprints of the original Creator who made us the way we are and declared it good. And it was so.

Image of vintage sewing machine taken from, a royalty-free clip art gallery.


  1. Super first quit story Jessie, reminds me of mine.

  2. I never saw that pic of you on the ship. That's really interesting.