In process with the Betsy-Tacy quilt.

I was sitting here yesterday on the little sofa in the front window. The front window is a big plate-glass window that looks east, over the street, and I’ve been bringing the Betsy-Tacy quilt here to hand-tie in the mornings. I can hear the birds calling and responding as the light creeps up behind the buildings across the street. Yesterday, as I sat here and worked, a hummingbird came to rest upon one of the tallest boughs of our weeping willow outside the window. And she just rested. Many of our hummingbirds have rufous heads and breasts and bright green bodies but she was dark-headed and grayish-bodied and she just sat and bobbed on the slender, bending bough. Benjamin came to sit on the arm of the sofa behind me, snuggled into my neck, and watched her too.

I’ve been working on this quilt and thinking about the next. I am really enjoying the literature interpretations as quilts; there is something thoughtful about them, as though something outside of me is telling me how to get them right, and finding a way to do this is like completing a satisfying puzzle. The one I’m working on right now is just a charm quilt, random pieces 3″ square, and I had planned to quilt it in some way–perhaps as a map of the town where the girls live, or perhaps a simple grid–on the sewing machine. It would be done faster, certainly. And I even began doing it. But the quilt argued with me. It was actually kind of painful to quilt on the machine. This quilt wanted to be tied. It was an old-fashioned quilt dedicated to a simple, old-fashioned heroine and it wanted a very simple finish. This is not to say an easy one–my fingers have felt bruised for days! But it’s gentler, somehow. I’m not throwing the machine at it. I’m touching each piece, remembering how much I liked that fabric, smoothing a square, making sure the tie is secure, moving on. Playing games with the pattern I make with the embroidery floss before I snip it into short lengths. I know, it’s kind of silly. I mean, it’s layers of cloth; aren’t I in charge? And why not do it in a way that is faster and in the end may even be more sturdy? Why be doing it at all?

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I have to respect the wishes of the fabric because the fabric has taken on a life of its own, and it is connected to and mindful of its origins in the work of Maud Hart Lovelace. These little squares are my thoughts: wouldn’t Betsy have worn these two together as a blouse and a skirt? This one would have looked lovely as a shirtwaist on Tacy with her red hair. What about this one as a part of Betsy’s sister’s clothes for Europe? And once they took on these connections, I had to be led where it would take me. I suppose this is part of that tenuous art/craft boundary.

But why do it at all? I sit here in the window as light begins to flood me and my project and I feel the cat snuggled in my lap under the quilt and see my Boy curled up under the completed quilt at the far end of the little sofa and I get angry, a little, at this question. I do it because it needs to be done. My fingers are doing what so many fingers have done for so long, find meaning in the base and the needful, interpret creatively what could be merely an animal skin. I respect the maker’s impulse, the push to bring out from the heart or the deep interior frontal cortex through the fingers and into the world. That means no shortcuts for the sake of shortness, because that means missing out on some part of the process that feels like it needs to be there. If I set the parameters of my project, whatever they may be and however arbitrary they may seem, I can only then respect them and go where they take me. To not respect them is to disrespect myself and the validity of my impulse to make.

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This is where I don’t accidentally pour tea all over the quilt and computer.

One thought on “In process with the Betsy-Tacy quilt.

  1. What a lovely meditation on craft, history, creativity…thank you. I loved the Betsy-Tacy books as a child, and I have returned to them again and again as an adult.

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