Sewing Saved My Sanity
By Morgan Baker
As Ellie, my 25-year-old daughter, and I entered the fabric store where I have spent a lot of time the last six months, Lynn, one of the owners, said “What’s next?”
“I’m making a divorce quilt.”
She and the other sales clerk admitted this was a first. But as Ellie told my brother recently, “Mummy makes quilts for people who are in transition.” I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but she’s right, I do.
I still can’t make any big plans, like when my husband and I will visit our older daughter and son-in-law in L.A. or see my 87-year-old father in England. We live in Boston. Who knows when I’ll get on a plane again and fly in either direction.
But I’ve been surprised to find that as my quilting hobby keeps me present, it also helps me look toward a better future. I am distracted from worrying about being in the classrooms this fall with masked students, or how my father is holding up after his recent surgery.
I have been quilting for as long as I’ve been teaching – 30 years. I always thought I did it because I loved giving something pretty and, also of myself, to my friends and family.
Almost every afternoon these past months I have sat in front of the sewing machine in what was once older daughter, Maggie’s, bedroom that still has her fuzzy blue rug my mother and stepfather gave her, and her empty bulletin board on her wall. Posters of Orlando Bloom, a Polar Bear and the Patriots are down and the bed linens are planned now with guests in mind, not for a little girl.
Every afternoon after finishing my work on my fall writing classes, I found my way to Maggie’s desk which held my sewing machine and there I stared into futures I knew were coming.
Sewing gave me something positive to think about instead of how much I missed my friends and family, or how many people were dying
I tacked a sheet of paper to the bulletin board above the desk. It contains a list of names – some checked off indicating their quilt is finished.
Since lock-down, I have made baby quilts and wedding quilts. I made one for my stepfather’s 90th birthday and I’ve started the divorce quilt, and I’ll make one for Ellie who will eventually move across the country. Making these quilts has saved my sanity this pandemic.
Lynn and Monique, the owners of the Cambridge Quilt Shop, were surprised at how fast I churned them out, but sewing gave me something positive to think about instead of how much I missed my friends and family, or how many people were dying. I focused on the right colors and design for particular people.
For Ted and Maria, I chose aquas and greens to remind them of the Cape where they got married. For my stepfather, I went with birds, browns, greens and reds for the woods he walks through every day; I alternated between blues and greens and pinks and teals for the babies coming. For Luke and Nicole, I selected soft pastels folded on top of each other.
I have decided on a pattern for Ellie who will move west where she may find more acting opportunities once the pandemic makes it easier. She loves teals, blues and violet. I can’t wait to get started for her. I want my brother to have a quilt without memories. He is moving forward in blue. I know the patterns for Eleni’s wedding quilt and Grant’s going-to-college one, but not the colors. Another niece just got engaged. Sophia’s name will go up on the bulletin board.
Quilts suggest a future. Babies, weddings, birthdays, even divorce all represent life moving forward and we sure need that now more than ever – now when we are all stuck in the same place, unable to envision what is to come for us as individuals or the country and world. But for a moment, I can concentrate on the future of these people. There is promise.
To start, I washed, dried and ironed my fabric, and cut it into proper shapes and sizes. Then, I stitched the pieces together, in a way that showed how chaos can be made to make sense, the way we all wish we could put our lives back together during this horribly disassembled year. I sat at the machine while the radio kept me company and the fan blew hot air around me, and I concentrated on making my seams straight and even. I ironed the fabric flat and pinned the next pieces together. Sewing is meditative. There is no room to worry about my fall classes, my family’s health, or when I might get on a plane again. I might even make a quilt for my dog Mayzie’s dog bed. She lies on all my fabric when I’m quilting. She deserves her own.
The one quilt I wish I had made is for my father-in-law who died of Covid this year. He would have loved one. He always supported my creative endeavors – my writing and pottery even when it was off-center. He loved star-gazing through his telescope. Maybe I would have made him a quilt that reflected the night sky.
A quilt can’t resolve racism and poverty or create a vaccine. But, I like to think mine say, I’ll be with you soon. Hang tight and snuggle under this coziness until I can hug you again.
About the Writer
Morgan Baker is the managing editor of The Bucket. After a year in Hawaii, she is back in Cambridge, where her new adventure is adding a puppy to her family. She teaches writing at Emerson College. Her work can be found in The Boston Globe, The Boston Globe Magazine and The Brevity Blog, among other publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I love this piece, as I understand exactly what you mean. I do wool applique pieces for friends and family. Your quilt is beautiful and I love the reason for it – divorce. I agree that hand work keeps us in the moment, while making something for the future. Suzy Beal
I was on the receiving end of four quilts from a college roommate – one for my wedding, and then one for each of my children. The memories woven into my life, and as I read your essay, hers too – that is something truly special. Thanks for this.
What a lovely essay. Working with my hands has always been a way to cope but also a way to show my love for others. Although I sew, I knit much more. I’m thankful for family who live in a colder climate otherwise I’d have no one to knit for 😉