More Practice

My sister shared this quote by Kurt Vonnegut with me recently:  “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.  So do it.”   Don’t you love that?  I can attest to it’s truth.   I got more practice at my art recently while teaching a few classes at Sew Simply Stitched, a quilt retreat in Vernal Utah.  More practice, specifically, with my favorite quilt block of all time:  the lone star.

lone star block with pink background

This star is my Lone Star Tree Skirt pattern.  I added triangles to four corners to square it up and frame the octagon, and a simple border.  It’s not finished; I will add more to this one eventually.   This lone star was in bits and pieces to use as samples in class and I didn’t want to leave it sitting, so I sewed it together and now I can look at it while I decide what direction it needs to go.

Lots of practice has made the lone star a simple make for me, but I try to do something slightly different every time so that element of MORE practice, more soul-growing and creativity-stretching experience can come from it.  My emotional connection to my quilts, their color, design, EVERYTHING, is what keeps me quilting.  Exploring this world of textiles, or practicing the art, is my favorite part of the experience.  I love it more than the quilts themselves.  And I love encouraging others to engage more purposefully in the process.

“To practice any art”.  Those are great words, because ultimately that’s what we do.  We practice, improve, and practice some  more.  It’s not about the perfection of a project; after all, the word “perfect” has little or nothing to do with art.  But it’s in the practicing that we grow, come alive a little more, learn new things about ourselves, our tools, the world around us.  I’m thinking it’s excellent advice for life, too.  This week I’m going to practice the art of living and creating more thoughtfully.  

Ever Slowly, They Multiply

A flock of geese flew over my house as I sat for my morning study.  In spite of dropping temperatures, a couple of windows happened to be open an inch or two and I heard them coming.  It might be my favorite sound of fall: honking geese flying in v-formation across autumn’s blue sky.  I always stop to watch and listen, take a deep breath, and smile.  It’s the season when things change slowly, then quite abruptly in flashes of tumult.  But mostly, it all comes about so gently.  The leaves change color, then fall.  Lace-like first layers of snow creep lower down the mountains. I hear the first crunch of brittle leaf beneath my foot.  And like my hand stitches, ever slowly, they multiply.

blue and teal orange peel quilt draped over tree branch

Denyse Schmidt published her book, Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration, in 2012.  A long time ago!  Studying it prompted this post about “slow middles” a few months later.  About a year after that I noticed a happy accident on my sewing table.  The adventure began when two scraps of fabric next to each other by chance sent me hunting for more.  I tracked down the print, and a friend helped me match the solid.  Squares were cut, hundreds of orange peel pieces traced and cut by hand.  A slow process, yet “ever slowly, they multiply”.

close up of applique orange peel quilt top

Fantastic momentous replica rolex is going to be options

The Orange Peel pattern in Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration, is a hand applique pattern.  I’ve grown to love hand work and this looked like a great two-color pattern.  Naturally I had to increase the size!  All the pieces went into a plastic box complete with needles, two thread colors, and a pair of scissors.  It began.

blue and teal orange peel quilt top hanging from fence

That was YEARS ago.  At times I thought I’d never finish.  I would count the remaining blocks and groan, then remind myself, “ever slowly, they multiply”.  Yet today I have a finished quilt top because I stitched those thousands of stitches, all while waiting in my car.    How often does time in the car yield a quilt top?

full view of hand appliqued orange peel quilt top on porch


A gentle breeze just lifted a handful leaves and dropped them beneath my cherry tree.  Most, still green, hang tightly to the tree.  But ever slowly, they multiply.  In 2021 my personal goals have been built around the attribute of diligence.  I’m learning the power of small and simple actions bringing great results.  And I love quilting as a metaphor for life.  One kind word, one item put away, one act of faith…. each of them repeated consistently yields powerful results.  Acting on this principle in so many areas makes the hand stitches in my quilt top a more joyful finish:  every slowly, they multiply.  

So keep stitching.  And keep trying.  Keep smiling.  Ever slowly.  Don’t quit.  



Living A Prayer Quilt – Sewing My Story

I don’t know how long I’ve sat here, fingers on the keyboard, unmoving.  There is so much to say, that I can’t seem to say anything.  The vice around my heart and stomach has spread to my tongue and hands.  How do I write it, and write it well?  How do I honor the best and worst, both?  I have sat here like this, countless times, over more than a year, and written nothing.  Today I cannot walk away.  This quilt began in heartbreak but ended in hope – a cycle we all live frequently, I believe.  So, today, because I feel heartbreak but NEED hope, I’m sharing my Living A Prayer Quilt.

There was a moment in 2019 that is burned into my memory.  I knew, in the moment, that I would never forget it.  It’s an image of one of my children in what felt, at the time, like a tragic moment.  And while we got through it, and have since lived through much better and much worse, somehow this moment was a visual representation of ALL of it.  If I was a painter, I would have run for my brush and splashed dark colors across a huge canvas. But I am a quilter, so I started sewing instead.  And every time the anxious worry returned, I made another block.  (I do that a lot now.)

You know the difference between the hard things you keep private at home, and the public life you live outside, or the life others perceive you to live.  We all have hard stuff, and, appropriately, not all of it is for sharing.  Some of it is just our private struggle to work through.  But sometimes that private struggle takes us to deep, dark places, particularly if it involves mental health, addiction, or personality/development/behavior disorders.  I have come to call it “the ocean beneath”, because we may see the surface of it, but have no real idea how deep it goes or what exactly goes on down there.  Unless we’re in it, for ourselves or for someone we love.

In this quilt, the dark red blocks represent what goes on beneath the surface.  I chose the colors to represent pain, urgency, heaviness, darkness, discouragement.  They are set on point, to depict the edgy, prickly nature of it in comparison to the neat stacking of the pastel blocks above.  It’s dimensions are a little disproportional – too narrow for how long it is.  I did this to convey the depth of hard places.  Several fabrics appear in both the top and bottom sections, to depict the back and forth of life.  The seam where the two settings and color schemes meet represents the threshold of my home. 

The pastel blocks represent the person I appear to be when I’m at the grocery store, greeting a friend, being part of my community, etc.  They also represent the lives I am tempted to compare mine to, which seem to be tidy and pretty.  There is definitely urgent and serious challenge in that world (alluded to in the darker red pieces on the right in the top pastel blocks), but it appears to me that problems are dealt with more quickly and effectively without the added muddle of mental health and other similar issues.

I want to live in the pretty pastel blocks.  But the truth is, real life is BOTH.  For all of us, no matter what our challenges are.  The ocean may go deeper for some, but we all know this duality.  A friend of mine, who deals with a personality disorder in her family, does not speak freely of the challenge because it would mean betrayal to her loved one.  Sharing the burden would destroy a precious relationship so she focuses on the positive and on what she can control.  She is not pretending all is well; she is doing her best in difficult circumstances.  It stings when people say to her, “I wish my family was like yours.  Your life is so amazing.”  They are comparing their deep dark places to the pretty pastel blocks they can see.  

Sometimes I look at this quilt and think “that pretty world is VERY far away right now”.  Sometimes when I’m out in that world I feel like a stranger there, and wonder if people can see it.  But I belong there, just like you do.  I have to just do my best.  One day my friend asked me, “Am I living a lie?” My heart ached at the sadness in her voice.  And somehow, before the words were in my head, they were out of my mouth, “NO.  You’re living a prayer.”

It’s true.  She’s living a prayer.  It’s an act of faith to get up, go out in the world and function in healthy, happy ways.  It’s also good practice.  So this quilt is titled Living A Prayer.  I made it to work through the contradictions and sadness in my own life.  I made it for my friend.  And I made it because, no matter what our ocean looks like, we can make it.  We must.  The Living a Prayer quilt is a quilt about heartache.  It’s also about faith, believing in good things to come.  Be grateful for the lessons your ocean teaches you.  Use them to serve others.  Get on your knees.  Pray with all the energy of your heart, for guidance, faith, mercy, strength, grace.  Then get up and go to work.  Believe in better days ahead.  LIVE YOUR PRAYER.

I’m right there with you. 



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