the joy and misery of one quilter

I like cloth, the way it smells under the heat of an iron, the way it feels in my hand, how it drapes over my lap, responds to thread. I like stitching up bits of it and then moving the components around — first this way, then that and then the reverse and perhaps back again. Removing, adding, slicing in half, saving some parts, dispensing with others. Writing does this for me too, but cloth carries a special legacy.

My mother was a seamstress extraordinaire (think: upholstered couches with contrasting piping; lined, tailored wool blazers; Austrian shades; my wedding gown, pieced from antique laces and linens). Her mother sewed and hear tell, worked for a famous milliner in New York for some years. One of my maternal great grandmothers made quilts. There is a lineage here and a reassuring one, especially since my writing veers off into more challenging territory.

At some point, a quilt emerges, but it’s inaccurate, in a way, to call it ‘finished.’ It’s more like a slice in time. The piece could’ve come to a halt sooner or I could’ve kept going. Because digital technology makes these things easy to track, I’ve learned that it’s not unusual for me to strongly prefer an earlier, vanished iteration. I don’t wring my hands about this though and never have, not only because there’s no other way I could work but because each iteration offers some new leaping off point. Really this is about accepting one’s basic circuitry.

But even so, do I wish I brought a higher level of intention to the table? Maybe, though I’m not quite sure what I mean by that.

Self-acceptance and reliable absorption aside, misery does gain entrance now and then and when it does, you can be sure it stinks with comparison-mind.

Have you noticed how consistently comparison produces misery — as in Every. Single. Time. More and more I stand witness to its corrosive bullshit and step aside allowing the sanctity of life, my unique life, to hold sway.

Comparisons, if given free reign, would gnaw my fingers off. Is my work selling? Does it evidence a voice or is it derivative, merely? If I like X’s work a lot, is there a way to internalize her process so that it becomes my process, thereby creating work I like as much as hers? And if not, how come I can’t identify my process nearly so well? Has my color sense progressed or is it stalled? What about my themes — are they moving forward or is it the same old shit every time? What do I say to charges that I’m not staying in my lane? Why do I have so much fabric? Why does Y get acclaim in the form of gallery space, instagram likes, and invites to teach — is her work that much better than mine? — and what does it say about me that on some fundamental level I don’t care enough about all that to even step into the game?

A recent post in Jude Hill’s online class reminded me that connecting with others and letting the work be about joy might be the keys to letting the chaff fall away.

Ah yes! Look at the scraps of unnecessary thought juddering away!

12 thoughts on “the joy and misery of one quilter

  1. snicklefritzin43

    It is interesting to read your thoughts today, they so run parallel to mine after reading the same post of Jude’s that you reference. Box by box I am letting go of a massive textile collection, looking at what I am feeling led to create and where my spirit settles time after time with palette. Learning to be truly comfortable with my work and ideas and letting go of those comparing conversations inside is giving me more daily joy and enjoyment of working with wonderful cloth. I always enjoy seeing the pieces you post.
    We, too, share the journey with written words. I write op ed’s, lte’s and poetry…a good balance for me.

    1. deemallon

      I also plan to box up a lot of fabric this summer. I’ve done it before but it’s time again! Learning to be comfortable is a big part of joy

  2. Liz A

    Oh, that italicized paragraph made me cringe … and then the relief of your conclusion about “connecting with others and letting the work be about joy” … amen to that, to which I would add “let us play”

    P.S. I would know your work anywhere … always it is the same but different, in the best way …

    1. deemallon

      That conclusion was a paraphrasing of Jude’s. I am impressed time and again how expansive her views are on things.

  3. Michelle Slater

    I think I find it easier than some others to skip over comparisons and critiques because I don’t sell my work. However, when it comes to writing, well, it sneaks in and some pieces are still in stacks waiting for me to care enough to finish and file them. With photography, I’m mostly happy to print up some and make cards for occasions, for friends and sometimes will sell my images if someone asks, but I make no effort to market them and don’t have a shop because I won’t do financial transactions on the web. Why? Because. Your writing and stitching is so accomplished and singular in my estimation, I offer you applause.

    1. deemallon

      Selling makes some of these issues stand in sharper relief, but I notice them even in the periods when I’m not selling. When you say “file them” (worked on writing pieces) — what do you mean? I always love it when you share your writing on your blog.

  4. Saskia

    yes and yes to all you have said and stated here!
    oh she does make us think, doesn’t she, ha
    great teachers do that, and so much more…….


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