“You’re standing there just smiling quietly to yourself,” said the woman in the fabric store. I’m not a person who smiles readily, so was pondering this observation until I realised that I’m never happier than when in a fabric shop – shelves and racks of glowing bolts of loveliness, running for tens of metres, disappearing round corners to emerge again in different tantalising colours. And you can touch them and feel them and choose them and take some of them home to rearrange and fondle and fold away again.
It has been argued that fabric obsession and quilting are two distinct, but inextricably linked phenomena. I agree – why wouldn’t I? But they have one thing in common and that is the unerring joy both bring to the happily ‘afflicted’.
I’ve always sewn for one reason or another, but patchwork and quilting came to me later on when I was flailing about in the fluctuating frenzy that is menopause. That feverish frenzy infected a lot of my output in those early days. I made quilts out of curtaining fabric and flannelette, cotton knit and sheeting – whatever came to hand; I wrestled clumsily patch-worked tops into submission; I thrust great bulky waddings through my uncomplaining Bernina; and I lavished these strange, but from the heart offerings upon anyone who was getting married or having a baby or just looked like they needed a present. Looking back, I’m sure all that saved me from whatever it was that seemed to be lurking menacingly just out of sight.
Sometime later on, a visit to my aunt in Canada brought things into focus. “What do you like to do?” she asked, as we hadn’t seen each other for over 40 years. “Oh,” I said, “I like quilting.” Anyone who has been to Canada knows what ensued. I had never been to nor seen such magnificence as are the quilt shops in Canada – anywhere in Canada. I had found my passion and my solace.
The other morning, some 20 years after my Canadian epiphany, when the view from my window in Warwickshire was grey and damp and cold, I posted on Facebook how grateful I am to have cloth and a sewing machine to keep me from the gloom that threatens to overtake me in the winter. So many other quilters responded, sharing similar feelings. In a time when hurry and bustle, deadlines and demands, too much, too soon, too often keep pulling at us, quilting – as that is our particular medicine – has become a refuge. Whether it’s the corner of the sofa or a beautiful bespoke sewing room, that space where we work is sacred. It’s where we connect again with ourselves, where time no longer intrudes and all that matters is the thread, the needle and the cloth. It is the meaning; it is the mindfulness; it is the meditation.
Sometimes I look up from my work and recall the words of that woman in the fabric store, and find that I am already smiling quietly.