Wednesday, April 27, 2011

written in the hand

Recently I was asked to sew sleeves to two quilts made by Phyllis Kirkpatrick. Now I first became aware of her work way back when I was starting my career and did the Ashfield Fall Festival. I loved her simple designs based on traditional designs and her fine attention to detail and fabric. I was saddened to hear by word of mouth that she is no longer making quilts. So it was with delight and awe that I examined her work today.

Yes, it still held up. Her piecing was exquisite. Remember, she was piecing before paper piecing was discovered. She used scissors not a rotary cutter. And the fabrics back then were very different from the cottons we know today. But-ah-the designs. Here is one--a simple mosaic--about 37x37 inches.

I don't know the name of the pattern in the center--do you?

But I loved the detail. Look at the piecing around the edge. So simple and perfect. Remember the entire quilt is 37x37 inches. Don't you just love the flow of the hand quilting?

The other quilt was based on diamonds. Again look at the overall design. Simple, complex and elegant. The quilt is alive with the various patterns that the diamonds form.

Again the piecing is exquisite. See how sharp the corners are. Each one carefully outlined with hand quilting stitches. Isn't it amazing how fabrics have changed?

 And the hand quilting--again simple and elegant. The feeling that this is a quilt to be respected and honored.

This got me to thinking about the importance of the hand and hand work. I went back to the NPR show On Being and the interview with  Renate Hiller--a spinner and the co-director of  the Fiber Craft Studio in Chestnut Ridge, NY. As she said“Our destiny is written in the hand.”  The process of working by hand, she says, grounds us and changes us so that it becomes a spiritual practice. It is a way of connecting with that which is essentially human and meditative. Indeed she says it becomes a way for being healing to our world. And it’s a service for the divine that we are surrounded by.

Take a moment to think about the importance of that statement. Working with your hands as being a service for the divine. What importance is put upon it. What significance. You can see and hear the interview HERE.

Now I will be the first to agree that we all have to find our own ways of working with our hands. Certainly there are quilts that are made for the simple need of warmth. There are quilts that are made to show your care to cover a person. There may even be quilts made simply to relax from our long tedious days.  I will be the first to admit that I frequently clean my house with "a lick and a promise." I can throw meals on the table with the best of them. And I do know that I have my critics who think I am a "quilt snob" because I do think that craftsmanship is important.

But shouldn't we also have at least one place in our lives where we make something with our entire spirit and essence? Shouldn't we sometimes slow down and make quilts with the determination to do the best we can? Isn't the search for fine craftsmanship important? And isn't that the lesson of the quilts of Phyllis Kirkpatrick?

OK--that is my two cents. I would love to hear from you. What do you think? What do you do to ground yourself? Do you have one thing where you try your best?

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