Mending Fabrics/Mending Hearts
Sometimes the two are awfully close.
I was asked to mend the quilt that had belonged to the beloved of a friend who had died suddenly, tragically and far too young.
The edges of the quilt had worn away. If this were just a quilt, then it could have been given away to one of the many charities in the neighborhood. But the beloved one had slept under this quilt, so it was to be somehow preserved.
My task was to remove the worst of the fraying and to create a stable edge. The fraying was distributed unevenly around the edge of the quilt. The quilt needed a strong edge that would protect the remainder from disintegrating. the edging needed to visually take a back seat to the quilt itself. A solid color would overwhelm the quilt visually.
I decided to use an edging I had learned about from the brilliant quilter Bird Ross. You sew squares of fabric to the edge of a piece and then madly stitch over those squares. It’s a nice way to bind a piece if you are like me, slightly math challenged. I also love this edging technique because you can fine tune the colors along the edging using the colored threads of the stitching to get the color close to what it really needs to be.
I knew that I needed to get the mood of the edging to exactly hit a moment in history, the late 1970s and early 1980’s.
I had recognized some of the fabrics used in the central motif of the quilt. I had a skirt in one of the fabrics. I had worn it to a dance I had attended in when I was fifteen or sixteen, in the late 1970’s.
Like most people who sew, I often buy fabric. The truth is I often buy fabric not for practical reasons, (“This will make an excellent Shabbat dress.”) but I often select fabrics because they remind me of a particular place or a particular person at a moment in time. I have bought fabric because it reminded me of a sophisticated skirt my mother bought my sister for the start of seventh grade. I have chosen fabric for no other reason than it reminded me of the dress that Mrs. Levin used to wear to synagogue in the 1960’s, or the dresses my chic 6th grade Jewish studies teacher, Mrs. Wachstock used to wear in 1971.
Since my mother died earlier this year I have found myself helplessly drawn to the fabrics and dress shapes my mother wore in the mid 1970’s. I find myself drawn not only to the sorts of garments my mother wore, but also garments and textiles we saw on our visits to “Hippy ‘stores from the early 1970’s. I am loving Indian block prints, Guatemalan hand-wovens, central European embroideries, Hmong reverse applique, the sorts of things we admired in the stores that lined Harvard Square.
Over the past few months I have purchased fabrics that evoked the late 1970’s and early 80’s for me. Some of those fabrics have been turned into garments for me or boxers for my sons. Some of those garments have been successful, others have been what my sewing friends refer to as wadders, things you wad up and put into a corner because they have failed.
So I had an array of fabrics that I knew evoked exactly the moment that the quilt emerged from and in the correct colors. I cut strips from left overs from garment making and cut up a dress that had gone wrong. I cut the fabric into roughly three inch squares and sewed all of the squares to the edge of the quilt on a diagonal so it appeared that the quilt was edged in triangles.
After the fabric squares are attached to the quilt you stitch randomly and densely over them. This does several things. It means that those squares are going no-where and are really secure. by using several different color threads you can push the color to read closer to what you want it to read. I wanted the colors to blend with the original quilt so I used threads that appeared in the quilt. You can sort of play Seurat in thread and let the eye mix the colors.
As I stitched and stitched I thought about the nature of grief. I remembered how after my father died I felt as if every cell in my body was in the wrong place. I felt that the only thing keeping me from dissolving into a puddle on the sidewalk was my skin. During those months anything would dissolve me into a puddle of tears, a look, a verse of Psalms, a color, a taste. Eventually, I was less fragile. I felt like I had solidified into a new shape. I wasn’t exactly the same as I was before. My grief and formed/deformed me into a new shape but I was once again solid.
I thought about how this quilt was being made strong again. It wasn’t exactly the same. It was mended.
My friend came this morning to pick up the quilt. It was not exactly as she had imagined it. It was no longer the way it had been before.
More importantly, it did not bring back the beloved one. My work didn’t really make things right.
My friend took the quilt. My friend was in tears.
She left and I cried as well. I couldn’t mend what really needed mending. That is beyond my abilities.