A hand-quilted spirituality
finding God in a pile of fabric
I first fell in love with quilting at my grandmother’s dining room table. I sat with my mom and her mother, who I call Meme (Mee-Mee), around a large mass of fabric. It was a quilt top—a chaotic yet beautiful amalgamation of color, pattern, and texture. The quilt top, consisting of hundreds of mismatched squares painstakingly stitched together, had been pieced together by my great-grandmother but never turned into a complete quilt. More than fifty years later, Meme found it in a closet and asked Mom if they should have it finished. Mom's response? "Why don't we finish it?"
The decision to finish this quilt was an easy one for Mom. She had already seen the benefits of hand-stitching with her ninety-something-year-old mother, who stood on the precipice of dementia. Mom didn’t particularly care that neither of them were quilters at the time. She instinctively knew that to keep Meme's hands moving was to help her hold onto her mental presence and clarity, even as her mind had already begun to fail her. Around the dining room table, we saw this to be true, and with a quilt made by four generations of women and stretched out between three pairs of hands, I caught a glimpse of what a quilt could be. It was a profound tool for spiritual wellness, not only for my grandmother but also for Mom and me.
Since my college days, I have been captivated by contemplative spirituality (I have Brian Ammons, my wonderful college chaplain, to thank for that). However, especially early on, I shamed myself a lot for never feeling like I could get it right. I liked the idea of simply being present with the Divine, but I didn't know how to practice that. I tried—and failed—to turn it into a task to be checked off a daily checklist. When I didn't stick to my strictly regimented and lofty goals for when and how I should be contemplative (oh, the irony!), I felt like a total failure.
Many of us picked up in early childhood that prayer is folding our hands, closing our eyes, and speaking words to God, but then never really learn anything beyond that or develop that practice further. Too often, our understanding of spirituality doesn't grow with us or adapt to the myriad of ways we express ourselves as older children and adults. But, as the mystics have been observing for centuries, there are innumerable ways to understand prayer and spirituality! It stuck somewhere deep within me when I heard Brian say that prayer is anything that turns our attention toward God. That understanding opens so many new doors into praying with our bodies, with our art or our craft, and even with our presence to ourselves and one another.
So for me, quilting is a form of prayer. All it takes is setting the simple intention that through my process of creation, I am communing with myself and with the Divine. Upon framing the process of quilting in this way, we can allow the shaming self-talk of "I'm not good at prayer" to fall away. In its place, we can experience our spirituality as an ongoing practice and a process rather than a task.
Needle and thread in hand, friends, let us begin this journey together.
Does the idea of this practice resonate with you? Want to dive into the spiritual wisdom of the time-honored practice of quilting?
Whether you’re a seasoned quilter or have never quilted a day in your life, join me in my virtual workshop Stitches that Mend: A Workshop for Hand-Quilted Spirituality.
We’ll gather virtually for one hour a week for six weeks. You can register for just $45 (or if that’s too much, $20, no questions asked).
We start Tuesday, August 23! Read all about it and register here: https://www.molliedonihe.com/workshop
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