Quilts · Something to Think About

One Life • Many Lives

ESE twoyrold

This has to do with quilting, but it doesn’t start out that way.  It starts out this way, with a two-year old girl posed on her family’s front lawn.

Then all of a sudden, I was a young mother, then a mother of three-soon-to-be-four children, then a grandmother.  When I was that young mother, I took a class on how to make a quilt.  I was a Clothing and Textile major in college, so I knew how to sew, but I thought there was something extra you had to know to make a quilt.  And with one young child at home, I had absolutely no extra time (or so I thought then) but figured I could squeeze it in somewhere.  Between then and when the fourth child was born, I made about eight quilts: each child had a baby quilt, I had a quilt for the bed, and I’d even made a baby quilt for my sister and one I sold in a consignment shop.

Mothering was that life.  That was what I chose and on balance, the kids seem to have turned out all right. But somewhere in that life as mother, I also chose a life as a Mary Kay Lady and a seamstress– I was always sewing, making all the outfits the children and I wore.  And somewhere after I finished my undergraduate education (I was on the 28-year plan), the number of quilts I made took off like a rocket, blogging happened, rotary cutting happened; things just changed.  Again.

I’ve been thinking about this because of two experiences:

ESE at Trunk Show

The first was the presenting of my quilts at a trunk show at my local guild.  I reviewed all my quilts, and each represented some life I lived at the time of the making of that quilt, from the simplest beginning quilt (a small whole cloth quilt with the knots on top) to the recent finish of The Circles Quilt, with all the blocks I designed.  It was a satisfying evening and I was happy to share some of my life’s work.

The second was when I flew home last week after visiting my mother for her birthday, and I stitched improv appliqué blocks while on the plane.  The young man next to me was reading DeLillo’s White Noise, a book I had read in grad school.  The title fit the book perfectly, and that was about the only comment I could make when he and I visited.  I realized he saw this grandma-person stitching away and that was the only life of mine he could see.  But, I wanted to say, I’ve had so many other lives!

So if all my lives were strung together as pearls on a necklace, what might I see?  Would I see only the failures, the quilts I gave away, the moment I lost it and yelled at a child?  Would I see the classes I had to drop, the cosmetic saleslady I could never be?  Or would I focus more on the pearls burnished from the striving and from the use: a creative life, a life with laughter, traveling and family. A life with happiness, because in addition to all that, I get to walk into my sewing room every day, thread a needle and get to making.

tiny nine patches

17 thoughts on “One Life • Many Lives

  1. What a way to weave life in and around quilts!! Thank you for sharing YOUR story. Before I retired from many years working for DOD, I used to tell people “There is more to me than this job!” How we segment parts of our life into categories and some only know us when we are in the “expected uniform” – whether it is your work wear, your mom wear or your guild speaker wear, really shows through in those quilts we are producing! I watched a video with Ricky Tims recently, and he said something about “other people looking at our quilts.” He said “That person was not with you when you pieced that quilt, while you were mourning a loved one, struggling with a diagnosis” . It is true that we sew a piece of ourselves into our projects. Congrats on venturing out into the speaking world! I admire your work and I know that others will as well.

  2. So well put Elizabeth! As with many of your musings, I think I will re-visit this one again and again. It is true that we only ever show a small part of our lives at one time. I guess that’s why I like to share some of my life with my homeroom class each year. I think it is important for them to know that I am more than a teacher, but I am a mother, grandmother, wife, sister, friend, reader, film-goer and traveller. Strangely I don’t think they care to know that I am seamstress too!
    I love your analogy of the pearl necklace! My you have a way with words….’burnished from the striving’! Our lives are far from perfect but they makes us who we are! Enjoy your time in the sewing room. Mine will have to wait while I live my teaching life!

  3. I wish I had been able to been at your trunk show. What a wonderful post. There are so many life experiences that make up who we are. I learned a few years ago that I do not have to look back over the years and wonder what would have happened if I had done this or that. I am very happy with where I ended up. And am so happy that quilting is such a happy part of me. Thank you again for such a great read.

  4. I just love this especially that part about what the guy on the airplane sees. That is how I feel anyone under 40 sees me. Now when I see someone older than me I like to think that they were young once and led a life full of so many experiences.
    XXOO Cat

  5. As usual, it is a great post, Elizabeth. When training young nurses, I used to always tell them to try to find out who these older patients WERE as they could better care for them after knowing their lives.

  6. Your wonderful writing skills are showing and I love it. Hope you’re having a lovely, long weekend of relaxation.

  7. Oh, Elizabeth, this is so true. And in addition to the lives we live that have some continuity, there are sometimes rather abrupt changes. Entries into new lives. I’ve felt many times like a cat with nine lives, with nothing connecting them but me. But I’m the only one who knows that. Those in my current life can’t imagine that I ever had any other life. This was brought home recently by a description in an IG post that a quilter I visited (about half my age) used to describe me when talking about a miserable hike up a rough-at-times mountain trail –at night and in the rain — and I was described by her as “that sweet senior” for whom her contacts had indicated the trail was easy, short, and I would be perfectly fine. Not. Not not fine, but sweet senior? Me??? I wasn’t sure she had the right person.

  8. You are so awesome and I hope someday to meet you and see your trunk show. Even though I didn’t start quilting until I retired, early 55, I was a sewist. In high school I made my own clothes and have now learned that I actually manipulated fabric way back then. Our lives are defined by so many different things. Equating your sewing to your children is so endearing. Love your blogs.

  9. I just loved this beautiful post. I can so relate, as I get older and in some settings feel invisible. Everyone has a story, stories. And, I just want to say, wow, your quilts are beautiful!

  10. Another thoughtful post by a lovely, smart woman. I so appreciate how you model gratitude in your life. Peace!

  11. How lovely your reflections are! It’s interesting how sewing and quilting have punctuated your life – I think of these crafts as defining my own life as well. I too made my own clothes, staring in junior high school. Quilting became a passion much later, as I worked full time for many years. I relish learning others’ views on the ways that sewing influenced their thoughts, and shaped and served their lives. Thank you for this!

  12. This is a beautiful post. I love (and relate to) the idea of having lived a wide assortment of lives. What a beautiful woman you were–and are! I think your “Life Necklace” is a string of all kinds of different gems–a complex necklace where the sum is even more stunning than the parts, just like your quilts. (I don’t see you as the pearl type. LOL.)

  13. I am so happy that I have come to know (in a cyber sense, anyway) the current you through your posts. All those myriad “yous” are the strata that over the years built, and continue to build, the current you. Who knows what and who you will continue to become. I gladly will be cyber-side cheering you on. 💕💕💕

  14. So well said! We may have been young, beautiful and busy figuring out life, but now we relish the older mid-age of our lives full of experiences, understanding and greater beauty. Your quilts have matured with you. Looking forward to your next one….

    You are a gift to me! 💟

  15. That was lovely Elizabeth – The threads of our lives and how they bring us to the next moment or next quilt – and they can keep family together if we tie the knots strong – wishing you peace – jane

  16. I’m late to this post, and although it’s all been said so well already, I want to add my two cents worth of praise. Now that we know that we’re often one-dimensional or invisible to people meeting us at this stage in our lives, it’s important to acknowledge the richness off our lifetime experience. We may not be as proud of the lumpy beads as the pearls, but they make a lovely necklace, all together, don’t they?

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