A Hundred Ways

Every quilt has a story, so every quilt should have a name.

Aside from the many practical lessons I learned from my first quilt instructor, the most valuable thing she taught me was the importance of naming quilts. 

The very first quilt I ever made was called “Quitting” — I started and finished the quilt while I was on medical leave from my job, struggling to come to terms with depression and anxiety, making the hard choice to eventually leave my job — so I named that first quilt to help me reclaim the word and treasure my decision to protect my health.

So now when I come back to quilting after over a year to make a quilt that is in part for my baby boy, in part for my own creative self-love, and in part for my new life as a mother, I have the chance to name a quilt with deep meaning for me. 

Because this quilt’s story is about perfectionism, randomness, and new identity. 

This quilt started when I was pregnant. I made a series of half square triangles joined with quarter square triangles. I wanted to pair a “neutral” with blues and teals, and at first I thought I would have a very structured layout: all blues and teals in the top right, neutrals on the bottom left… over and over and over. Then I tried randomizing the blocks.

Random blocks were definitely the way to go. 

I don’t have a large quilting space, and since we learned we would become parents, our house is more cluttered and busy than ever… random structure appealed to me because I could keep creating blocks and sewing them together without thinking much, without planning. 

This non-method method was useful during pregnancy, but as I became more and more pregnant (and more and more tired), I stopped working on this quilt. 

It wasn’t until my baby was five months old that I felt I had enough energy (and enough nap time!) to quilt again. 

I picked up the blocks hat had been sitting dormant for months. Soon I realized that the combination half- and quarter square blocks I made weren’t going to be enough to make a decent sized quilt. 

But I also didn’t have the patience to make more quarter square blocks… so I started making dozens of half square blocks. 

This was the beauty of the random layout. I could chain-piece square after square after square, trim and press them, then walk away. When I had a spare nap time to come back to my sewing table, I would mix up the squares and chain-piece the squares two-by-two, trim and press. Soon I had a few 3×3 blocks and some 4×4 blocks, all of them beautifully random. 

To get a handle of the growing blocks, I taped them to the kitchen wall. 

More and more. 

And more and more until I needed to start separating blocks to even out the quilt dimensions. 

At this point I had just enough squares to make a large 10×10 block, or I could make a few more squares to make a 10×11 block. I asked my friends. I needed input. They gave me permission to stop at 10×10. 

Once the top was complete, I needed a back. Because the top turned out to be such a wild mess of color and pattern, I opted for solid blue. But I didn’t have enough of one solid blue cotton… so I joined two. 

And because the top was such a glorious random mess, I decided to offset the seam where the two blues joined together. 

Small quilting spaces mean you make use of the space you have. In this case, the floor. I taped the back directly to the floor, then the batting (this time, an old quilt), then the top. Then came pin-basting. 

All through this process, I’m thinking about what to name this quilt. 

So much of my time is spent in reflection. Sure, I am putting my energy into being a mom. But I am also thinking about the act of being a mom.

It’s a minefield. 

I didn’t know that I wanted to be a mom until I became one. And now that I am a mom, I’m also uncovering deep-seated fears and insecurities about my abilities to be a good mom. 

Parenthood is filled with a million decisions, and with each decision comes the possibility for making a wrong choice. Breastfeeding or bottle? Swaddle or no swaddle? Co-sleeping or in the crib? Do I keep the baby up for longer (so they can get a decent nap), or do I put them down for a nap now because they look tired? Can I ever have the TV on? Is it ok if the TV is never off?

This I know about myself: my depression and anxiety surface in perfectionism… the self-defeating quest to do something perfectly, to be perfect, in order to be worthy of love. 

When in truth, I am already worthy of love (but depression and anxiety keep me from believing this).

So when I start to feel the tug of perfectionism — the need to be a perfect mom — I am learning to be wary and to be gentle with myself. 

One of the biggest and most genuine blessings of my new life as a mom is the realization that it is impossible to be perfect. 

The second quilt I ever made — a Flying Geese design that re-used “failed” Log Cabin squares — I titled “You Do No Have To Be Good” … a nod to one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

So I have a bit of a history of looking toward poetry for help in naming quilts. 

Hung above my quilting and sewing table, I have a quote from Rumi, the 13th century Muslim Sufi mystic and poet:

Today, like every other day,

we wake up empty and frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

So often I have come to this quote as a reminder that perfection is not possible, that external expectations can be damaging and dangerous fodder for perfectionism and depression.

There are, after all, hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground: to pray, to honor, to grieve, to give oneself to the holy mystery of daily life and repetition. 

And it just so happens that this quilt, born out of my desire for creative self-love and love for my little beautiful baby, should have a hundred blocks. A hundred random blocks: no planning, no scheduling, no deadlines; just a beautiful wild mess of color and pattern and joy. 

It is with great love that I name this quilt “A Hundred Ways.”

For the hundreds of ways to be a good mom, for the hundreds of ways to hold the world gently as so much hate fills the air. For the hundreds of ways to be a good mommy. For the hundreds of ways to love. 


4 Replies to “A Hundred Ways”

  1. I love your quilt!! I made a baby’s blocks quilt for my niece, the first grandchild in our family. I only finished the top of it and only gave it to her at Christmas last year, I think? She’s turning 16 this summer. Anyway! I adore your quilt and the story of your life as it came about! A true labor of love — and other emotions!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Quilting is such a rich way to spend time — so much time to think. And I’m positive that EVERY quilt gets finished in its’ own time (even if it’s years later!)

      Liked by 1 person

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