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Denise Russell: Sewing together a quilt resemble our lives, relationships

By Denise Russell

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, April 16 2013 4:51 p.m. MDT

As I thoughtfully lay out each piece on my design wall, I see how quilts resemble our lives.

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My cutting table is full of fabric rectangles of many colors. These shades of green, purple and yellow in plaid, checked and herringbone designs go well together. I am somewhat relieved, as scrappy quilts disorient me with their multitude of colors and textures. This quilt will be another example of the “Turning 20” pattern. (Life was wild when I was 20; Is it how it got its moniker?) As I thoughtfully lay out each piece on my design wall, I see how quilts resemble our lives.

I am ready to sew the rectangles together. As if by magic, this quilter turns into a goddess as she creates someone’s life, all powers conferred to her by the sewing machine. Happy yellow moments sewn to prosperous green ventures in one row, and turbulent purple times forever stacked next to pale green and yellow plaid trials. A patchwork of highs and lows mixed and sprinkled throughout rows or years, forever a part of that person’s story.

As the sewing machine hums, I see people as colorful, unique and mysterious as the fabrics on my stash. Cotton, wool, silk, natural or synthetic, stiff or soft handed, tight or open weave, textured or smooth, blended or not, commercially or hand dyed.

High-quality quilters’ cotton abounds in my arsenal. It doesn’t shrink much, its colors rarely bleed, and quilts retain their shape and luster for years on end. The "Cotton" people in my life have been around me since I was born, or may have entered it recently. Either way, they provide solid support, help navigate calm and troubled waters alike, celebrate or mourn with me. I rely on Cottons for a measure of sanity when a new life pattern proves more challenging than I bargained for, and I am hanging by a thread.

Equally resilient is the wool I use for appliqué projects. Almost immune to wear and tear, dirt resistant and natural, wool will not unravel when felted. Sheep, llamas, camels, goats and other animal coats are present in small portions in my work, embellished with colorful threads, buttons and beads. The Wools in my life are the elders who contribute wisdom and strength. Although some people complain of being allergic to their scratchiness, not all Wools come from the same animal. Fortunately, I have mostly been surrounded by Cashmeres and Angoras. Their warmth and silkiness have comforted me, their abrasion resilience provided sustenance, and their experience, imparted during countless welcomed monologues, has prevented me from coming unraveled at the seams many a time.

Silk is another strong fiber I use in art quilts, and as ribbons in appliqué and embroidery work. Shimmery, cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and easily dyed to suit the user’s needs, silk’s versatility nevertheless demands extra care. The Silks in my life are those who add color to each encounter with their peculiarity, yet constant interaction with them would require more tolerance, patience and flexibility than I ever have in store. Their mere existence alludes to the role acceptance must play in life.

The iron glides over the seams, pushing them to one side or the other, a hotter version of the wind that blows the leaves this way and that outside my window. The seams are powerless against the leveling weight of the iron. In the end, as seams accept their fate, the blocks lay perfectly flat. What began as a pile of unrelated fabric pieces now is a whole.

Relationships grow much the same way as a quilt is assembled. The effort put into the details will determine its durability. Sew straight ¼-inch seams (have integrity), or learn to live with wonky blocks and ruffled borders. Measure twice, cut once (be mindful of others), or have an endless supply of fabric to replace the mistakes. Pin (think) before you sew (speak), or accept mismatched seams and points.

The backing fabric is taped to the floor. Next comes the batting or wadding. Finally, the quilt is placed on top. With the three layers secured I am ready to adorn it with stitches, in hopes it will age gracefully.

What would a “Turning 50” quilt look like?

Denise Russell majored in Psychology at the University of New Hampshire. She is an entrepreneur, quilting blogger, and mother of three. Contact her at derussell22@gmail.com.

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