Saturday, July 17, 2010

The last chapter of my new book, Turn Your Face, is titled "Dance When You Can. " I am using the phrase as a metaphor for any activity that is fun, renews your spirit, makes you feel connected to your Creator.
I started learning to sew when I was 15. Last summer I took a quilting course. Susan Nelson, who teaches classes at the Charlotte Sewing Center was a kind, encouraging, patient guide who taught me a new craft that helps me write and enjoy my days off work. Here is a story I wrote about it:
Falling in Love with Quilting
Barbara J. Linney

I saw a beautiful quilt hanging in the Charlotte Sewing Center and my heart leapt up. It had intricate little pieces going in all directions, blanket stitches made by a machine, appliqu├ęs of leaves and flowers. I thought, I want to do that. Then an email from the Charlotte Sewing Center popped up in my inbox advertising a “quilt-as-you-go” class. I’ve never wanted to be wrestling with a whole bedspread at the sewing machine—too much pulling and tugging. But make one block, quilt it, make the next one, and join them together at the end. Now that was appealing.

Unsure that I wanted to commit to a class on my day off, I didn’t find out more about it until the night before. I called the teacher, Susan Nelson, to see if I could still get in and if you had to know anything about quilting. The class had room, but I did not have supplies and had not done the pre-work. There was no way to do all that before the next day at one o’clock. Susan said, “Come anyway. You can use what I have quilted.” How nice.

I’ve sewn since I was 15 so I knew a thing or two, but in quilting class I knew nothing—a roller blade, self healing cutting matt, 5 by 24 inch clear plaster ruler with black marks all over it were strange. You can’t really mean ¼ inch seams are enough to hold everything together. I’m used to 5/8 inch seams.

After the class I was hooked. I didn’t sleep that night. I tossed and turned in bed the way I did when I was first kissed at 14. My favorite colors kept flashing in my mind. As I rolled around I thought—am I crazy? The next morning I tried to work by myself, to continue making the table runner we had started in class. I could do nothing. I couldn’t understand the directions without Susan showing me what to do.

I drove 20 miles to Mary Jo’s to choose fabric for the quilt I had seen in the window. I had found the pattern on line and wanted to start that quilt rather than finish the table runner. I got a yard each of six fabrics I loved, brought them home, and could do nothing with them.

I emailed Susan and said, “I can’t pick out fabrics that seem right. My prints are too big.” She said, “I’ll meet you at Mary Jo’s.” I drove the 20 miles again. Three hours later we had picked out fabrics. I knew colors but didn’t know what size the pattern of the print should be. Susan would gather three bolts of fabric in the same color range from around the store and say, “All these would work. Which one do you like?” Painfully I chose. I bought 11 different fabrics, batting, spray-on glue, a 9½ inch plastic block, a large ruler, cutting pad, and a huge spool of cotton thread. I went home, read the directions, and I could do nothing. I couldn’t fold the fabric or make the first cut.

I emailed Susan. She said, “Come to my house.” She lives half way to Mary Jo’s. After three hours of her guidance and encouragement, I had cut out all the strips. I read lines of directions over and over and over. It took me nine months to finish my quilt.

How do I explain my love of quilting? I can’t explain “the love at first sight phenomenon.” It had an other-worldly feel to it as if God might be saying, “Do this. It will help you.”

I can explain why I continue to like it. It is totally mind consuming and yet relaxing. While I do it, I don’t think about my mother losing her memory, my grown children’s unmet desires, or my own quirky fears. I am so excited that I have the discipline to follow directions when normally I read directions as a last resort. It helps me edit my writing because with both I must pay attention to small details.

For a long time you have no idea what you are doing and then you turn the block over and the colors and design are beautiful. That is what I feel about God’s help. I have big plans, know nothing about how to carry them out, more big plans, know nothing, big plans. Then gradually and sometimes suddenly I know a little, enough to move forward at a slow methodical pace. God has a plan worked out and I need to discover how to carry it out, but I do get to choose the colors of the fabric. Keep moving, be persistent, then turn over the block and there is something wonderful. That has been true for my life many times.

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