Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All Hail Imperfection

When I first started quilting nearly 11 years ago, I was drawn to the traditional. I poured over books on pioneer quilting, the feed sack fabrics of the 1930s, and pictures of Amish black quilts with bright colored stars and perfectly pointed triangles.

There was something so appealing about the rich heritage of quilting, and I wanted to do it "the real way." So I bit off way more than I could chew: huge projects with lots of little points, which I sewed on a 1950 Singer Featherweight borrowed from my mother in law. Or I chose patterns with tons of tiny appliqued pieces, and to top it all off, I hand quilted them. (I should mention here that this was before I had children.)

Early in my quilting education, I learned that the Amish custom was to purposely put a "mistake" in every quilt -- a color out of order in the pattern, or a pieced block upside down, for example -- to remind them that only God is perfect. "What a cool concept," I thought when, I first read that.

But halfway through an early endeavor my thoughts were more along these lines: "Those stinking, smug Amish! Who has to put mistakes in ON PURPOSE???"

I soon learned that one of quilting's prime rolls in my life was to show me how perfect I wasn't. The first project I completed was called London Roads, and it was only as I was wrapping the completed quilt for my boss's baby shower that I realized no one was getting to London on my road; an entire row was upside down. On project number two, I cut out the backing fabric two inches too narrow, and crooked, and was forced to piecemeal it back together on the diagonal. That one still rankles a little.

The mistakes go on and on. There isn't a single project I have finished that I haven't seen an error in. The difference between Quilter Me ten years ago and Quilter Me now is not in the number of errors I make, but in how I feel about them. In the beginning, I usually found the mistakes when I was all finished. Then I said naughty words, and my husband would ask if perhaps I should find a hobby that required fewer sharp objects, less precision, and no math.

Today, I often find the flaws while they are still fresh, and whether or not I go back and fix them depends on a number of factors:
1. How much time will it take?
2. How much money will it cost?
3. How much do I want to get this over with and get on to my next project?
4. Is this a gift for another quilter, or a layperson that will never notice the error?
5. Do I know where I last saw my seam ripper?

Honestly, 7 out of 10 times, I let the mistake lie. And when I give the project away, I don't apologize for it or point out the mistake. There are a lot of quilters who are more fastidious than me, but I've decided if I'm going to stick with this hobby that gives me so much satisfaction, I better give myself some grace. I just don't have it in me to do "perfect."

So the Amish had something after all. Because though my quilts may not point others to the perfection of God, they've made me more at peace with the imperfections in myself. I'm swearing less. I'm enjoying it more. My husband isn't hiding my rotary cutter or trying to talk me into taking up lawn bowling. And we will both live to see me complete another beautifully blemished project.

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