Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

Quilts—Composing an Artful Life

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#stepscrapquilts ©Stephanie Paterson

Mom and Steph

Quilts often come on the wings of angels.

I saw this photo made by my friend, Stephanie, and fell in love with the colors, composition, “Blessings,” print, textures, all. I commented on the gorgeous nature of the quilt, so impressed with how Stephanie had yet again created such a work of art, such beauty. Steph and Mom were colleagues at the university where they both worked. Here the two of them are at a pre-pandemic conference in Tucson. I love the striking nature of the patterns, how she pieces color combinations that radiate energy, life, peace, and a strong dose of whimsy! I love the independent strength of these quilts.

Raw materials. ©Stephanie Paterson

A few short weeks later, a beautifully wrapped package arrived. When I opened the wrapping, the quilt that I had admired spilled out. The card read, ‘Blessings’… This one is for you! Hope the New Year is full of good books + long runs + candlelit writing sessions. I remembered the beautiful quilt of reds and pinks that Stephanie made for Mom when she was going through chemotherapy. The past year had been a bit of a doozy for me. Stephanie makes quilts to gift. Please enjoy here some of the quilts she’s gifted and notes received over the years. A feast for the senses, the heart, the spirit: Steph Scrap Quilts: Quilt Notes. And, Steph’s treasure trove of books on quilting, creativity, writing, and teaching where she finds inspiration.

Our lives become rich and meaningful when we piece together the joys and sorrows, the questions and answers, the successes and failures, the longings, the people and experiences that have been the colors and shapes of our lives. Out of chaos we can sometimes make comforting patterns. Out of despair, beauty; out of longing, a new possibility; out of joy, visual radiance. —Rev. Laurie Bushbaum (With Sacred Threads: Quilting and the Spiritual Life, S. Towner-Larsen & B. Brewer Davis)

Steph’s work space ©Stephanie Paterson

Stephanie encouraged me to feel all that a handsewn quilt enfolds and shared Alice Walkers’ Everyday Use. Walker writes in the piece:

“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”

“I reckon she would,” I said. “God knows I been saving ’em for long enough with nobody using ’em. I hope she will!”

Stephanie’s quilt

I mentioned how quilts often come on the wings of angels. A dear friend from high school, Gidget, gifted me this handsewn Frida Kahlo quilt. Lush life, colors, textures, and the very energy and essence of the amazing Frida flowed from the quilt throughout our house.

Feet what do I need you for, when I have wings to fly?—Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo quilt

What so inspire me about quilts are not only the colors, the textures, the vibrancy, the designs—it is the what goes into creating or gifting a quilt. Gifted quilts reflect the heart and spirit of the giver. When my kids were born, we received quilts cherished to this day. An Amish wedding quilt graces our home. Love lives through the fabric and all the quilter stitched into its making and through the spirit the giver.

Our well-worn copy of The Quiltmaker’s Gift (J. Brumbeau & G.de Marcken) tells the story of “a quiltmaker who kept a house in the blue misty mountains up high. Even the oldest great, great grandfather could not recall a time when she was not up there, sewing away day after day. The blues seemed to come from the deepest part of the ocean, the whites from the northernmost snows, the greens and purples from the abundant wildflowers, the reds, oranges, and pinks from the most wonderful sunsets.” People come from far-and-wide to buy a quilt. Her quilts will only be given to those in need.

It is a story of generosity, gifting, birds, and beauty.

“The Quiltmaker’s Gift,” artist Gail de Marcken (illustration potentially me in several decades)

Starry skies

I love to sew. I love the textures, colors, creativity, thinking about the composition, the meditative time where all else—including time—cease to exist. I had a limited clothing allowance growing up, but my parents bought all of the patterns and fabric I wanted. I spent days, weekends, and summers sewing alone and with girlfriends, lost in our creations and the rhythmic sounds of our sewing machines. Mom says that after I sewed, my family stepped on straight pins for days! Mom’s forever friend took her daughter and me to a place that sold fabric by the pound. Heaven. I look forward to weaving those textures and time into the fabric of my life again one day.

I made this Mexican Star quilt the summer I graduated from college.

Mexican Star Quilt

Later, I made quilts for babies and then their magic capes, dinosaur curtains, and fairy skirts. In the intervening years the fullness of raising kids, work, and writing leaves my sewing machine dusty. I started a small piece of a sunrise/sunset many years ago. Small felt do-able. The fabrics, beads, and threads still give me great joy. Even when bundled into my sewing basket. One day, one day.

Sunrise/sunset

My dad gave me this quilt made by a local quilter on the prairies. I love that this horse runs the walls and sky of my writing room. She brings the nighttime prairie skies and scents of summer grasses when they turn from green to flaxen with her.

Quilt from Daddy

In her piece Wintering Replenishes, Katherine May writes, “There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world, and sometimes they open and you fall through them into Somewhere Else. And Somewhere Else runs at a different pace to the here and now, where everyone else carries on.”

When we fall through into Somewhere Else, quilts often catch us.

Sometimes those quilts are made and gifted by others. And sometimes, made and gifted to ourselves.

“Creativity calls for self-forgetting and deeper self-remembering (With Sacred Threads, S. Towner-Larsen & B. Brewer Davis).”

“…self-forgetting and deeper self-remembering” — yes, yes, and yes.

Mary Catherine Bateson (Composing a Life) describes life as an improvisatory art. Life as art. We piece together our lives much as quilters arrange and sew pieces of fabric into the beauty of the whole. I wish for us that we all find some form of art-making, to self-forget and self-remember in creative forms where time flows around us without our notice as we live in worlds of our own creations—worlds to gift others or to gift ourselves.

Flowers for my desk and spirit.

Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

12 thoughts on “Quilts—Composing an Artful Life

  1. How lovely. My grandmothers were quilters and I have wonderful connections with friends who now quilt. They will love this blog.

  2. Dawn, this was an amazing post. I attempted to post a comment and it was lost. Let’s chat soon.

    ~Sher’i

    “Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up.”

  3. Hi Dawn,

    Thank you for sharing your stories about the amazing quilts that have inspired your life! I loved them all; especially, the ones that you received from your high school friend, the Frida Kahlo quilt, and one from your father – such thoughtful gestures of loyalty for the love they have for you, Dawn!

    During the summer of 2006, I was reacquainted with a friend that I met when my husband was in college at MIT during the mid-90s. We both had lost contact just after her husband’s graduation, and while mine was still finishing-up his studies. They were not certain where they would land and had moved back to Wyoming where they were from and could seek help raising their growing family. A few years later, we both found ourselves following our spouses with our children at our hips and living/working in Los Alamos. All this stated, she taught me during the summer of 2006 how to quilt. She only knew one pattern, rail fence, and we bought fabrics from what was then a local fabric and quilting supply store in town and began the processes of construction. I was hooked! That summer, I made four, bed quilts and two other types of quilting projects ranging from wall hangings to coasters. I, too, now only know one pattern (laughter) because it was just after that summer when I was provoked to begin working again to help feed and support our family.

    I was able to drive my daughters down to Albuquerque to take some lessons (hoping they might enjoy having another hobby other than running) once they were a bit older during the weekends and to change-up their experiences from living in Los Alamos. I wanted them to learn more than one pattern (laughter) and be taught by people who had diverse life and artistic abilities. During that time, our son bought a book on leatherwork, and began to teach himself the craft. He made small, wallet-type items. I really need to find time to sew and quilt again, as our daughters are both still sewing and our son remains committed to leatherwork.

    Thank you, Dawn, thank you for your memories that activate my schema!

    Peace to you, your family and your cherished friends,

    Tara

  4. So many beautiful quilts — and words! Lovely.

  5. These are beautiful quilts and it appears they are well loved. I’m a quilter and hope that each quilt I gift gives the receiver the same joy. As I sew, I think of the person I am making it for and pray over them as I take each stitch. Quilting is my passion and a way for me to unwind at the end of every day. The creativity it brings to my life is immeasurable.

  6. Dearest Dawn, I love quilts and I love your quilting. Quilting brings out a way to display creativity and art even for those like me who can’t draw (I don’t quilt either). If it’s allowed to be said these days, I see a tribal aspect to quilts, in the vein of Scottish tartans and geometric Native American patterns. Okay, I just read the article again and the photos and thoughts are beyond what I can note here. Any quilt from a loved one is a treasure.

    Keep it going! Love and hugs, Dan

  7. I am not a quilter (or a weaver or a knitter), but as an incorrigible toucher of things, I’m fond of textiles. The colors and designs you’ve featured here are a wonder to weary eyes. The notion of falling through the gaps in the mesh of the everyday is lovely.

    When I saw the title of this post, I caught the reference to Mary Catherine Bateson fondly; her book Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way shaped how I understand many topics, including metaphor. I was saddened to learn of her death last month.

  8. I’m glad you still have dreams of finishing the quilt…I remember when you started the last one. I remember making quilts for my babies, and receiving heirloom quilts from my ancestors. Such beauty, story, and strength in their presence in our homes.

  9. Hi Dawn, these are all so beautiful but I am drawn particularly to the Frida Kahlo quilt. Thanks for sharing such beauty on a Sunday morning. Emanuel

    • Hello, Emanuel–Oh, I’m happy that you enjoyed this piece and the beauty of the quilts. I simply love that Frida Kahlo quilt, as well. I’m so glad this quilt resonated with you, too.
      A beautiful Sunday to you!
      Take good care,
      Dawn

  10. You done good!!!! xoxo

    >

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