8/25/12

The Perfect Quilt

Today I want to share something with you that changed my life in a positive way.  This might be a long post, so I hope you will bear with me while I get to the point.

When I learned to quilt, I took a class at our local community college taught by a kindly woman who had been quilting for years.  Her enthusiasm was infectious.  Our project was to be a nine patch and rail, and she first taught us to cut our fabric into strips using a rotary cutter.  While we were busy doing that, she sat on a stool and read an essay written by quilter Teri Christopherson of Black Mountain Quilts.  Teri has written some 24 books about quilting, one of them being Sweet Briar Rose, which contains Teri's essay.


If you've never heard of Teri, you can read an Interview with Teri Christopherson on Denise Russell's Pieced Brain blog.  She surely is a remarkable woman.

I grew up in a household where praise was rarely given, but criticism was applied liberally.  Without getting into too much family history, I'll just say that I learned to be highly self-critical in such an atmosphere.  Being self-critical makes it difficult to enjoy anything one does.  Nothing is ever good enough, no matter how hard one tries.  Further, one learns to be constantly on the lookout for the flaw, rather than looking for the positives in a creation.  I can't count how many potential pastimes were begun and discarded because my work was unsatisfactory to my own critical eye.  Quilting might have been one of those pastimes had it not been for Teri's essay.  It has been so important to me, that I have long wanted to share it with you.

Yesterday, I wrote to Teri and asked for her permission to publish her essay on my blog, and she graciously granted it.  So with all of that in mind, here is Teri's essay called The Perfect Quilt.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  So that I don't slip back into my self-critical ways, I have a copy hanging next to my sewing machine as a reminder.

The Perfect Quilt

I have a confession to make...I'm a fast and sloppy quilter. It's just my personality to do things quickly and energetically.  Fortunately, years of quilting experience have given me the ability to sew quickly and accurately. I give myself a mental pat on the back whenever a large quilt comes out exactly to the 1/4-inch--and these days they usually do.
I'll tell you another secret...in college, I was a closet quilter. On weekends I'd go to the football games and eat pizza with my friends, then I'd rush back to my apartment to watch Georgia Bonesteel's quilting show on television. I'd pull out my first real quilting project, a blue and white Irish Chain, and sew to my heart's delight. And what my friends didn't know was that I usually enjoyed Georgie Bonesteel's lap quilting more than the football games or pizza!
Well, that first Irish Chain turned out far from perfect.  One side is definitely longer than the other.  And I couldn't find 100% cotton batting back then, so instead I used a strange bonded material found in a warehouse that was incredibly difficult to hand quilt through, resulting in widely spaced an uneven stitches. Nevertheless, after the hundreds of quilts I have made in the ensuing years (and, yes, I do mean hundreds), that Irish Chain remains my favorite and is displayed prominently on my newly decorated living room wall. It is far from perfect, but deeply loved.
I'm surprised whenever I teach a quilting class by how critical the students are of their own work. I hear endless wailing about corners that don't match and stitches that are uneven. "Relax," I encourage them. "You're supposed to be having fun here! The more you quilt, the better you'll get. If you get hung up on every imperfection, you'll lose the joy in quilting and give it up. And then, ironically, you'll never become a perfect quilter."
Instead, I recommend my own fast and "less than perfect' method. Sew a lot and enjoy every minute. Then, by golly, one day you'll make a perfect quilt without even realizing it, and then you'll know that you weren't just having fun all those years, you were actually perfecting your skills.
Quilting is a lot like parenting. It's easy to get hung up about the details, wondering endlessly if you're doing it "right". Is your kid perfect? Is your neighbor's kid more perfect?
Nine years ago, my husband and I brought home our first baby, beautiful Kelsi.  She was sweet, cuddly, and apparently perfect. It wasn't until she was one that we realized she wasn't. She didn't sit up or crawl. It took another year before we discovered that Kelsi was born with a rare form of severe mental retardation called Angelman Syndrome. She didn't learn to walk until she was four and still doesn't speak or understand words--probably never will.
But we learned long ago that the value of Kelsi's life will not be measured in how fast she runs or whether or not she ever learns to drink from a cup. She is cheerful, loving and affectionate, and brings immeasurable joy into our home with her bright smile and nonstop hugs and giggles. What a blessing to have this sweet spirit in our home! Less than perfect, yes. And yet, somehow perfect. We adore her.
Two more children have since joined our family, healthy and normal, and one more on the way, due this summer. But in this family, no child is valued more than the other, certainly not because of natural talent or skills acquired. Each has value as a child of God and a child of ours.

What is the perfect quilt? Is it traditional or modern? Pieced work or applique? Pastel or bright? Are the seam allowances a perfect 1/4 inch? Are the quilting stitches small and even?
The next time a friend shows me a quilt, I hope she won't apologize for its imperfections. Because I can assure you that my own quilts are filled with them. Few--if any--of my quilts would ever win a competition. And yet they fill my life with tremendous joy and have, hopefully, inspired some other women along the way. One lesson I'm learning in life is that the perfect quilt, like the perfect child, is surely in the eyes of the beholder. 
~Teri Christopherson~ 
* * * * *

Thanks to Teri and Kelsi, I persevered and completed the first of many quilts, shown here:


I can assure you that it is far from perfect.  Nevertheless, I hung it proudly in my sewing room for a couple of years until I replaced it with a newer model...also imperfect.  None of my quilts are perfect, but making them and giving them fills me with joy.  And isn't that the point?

In her return email, Teri shared this with me that  "Kelsi, is now 22 and still lives at home, brightening our lives with her innocent smiles. :-)"

As I told Teri, Kelsi's story is changing lives in a positive way.  Who among us could hope for a greater purpose? 

38 comments from clever and witty friends:

sunny said...

What a lovely story. My quilts are far from perfect, but I made them, and I love each and every one of them! e-mail me when you get a chance, I have something I'd like to discuss with you.

Bianca said...

What a great way to remember all us quilters it's about fun, not perfection. All the quilt I made so far I had fun in making them, eventhough they too are far from perfect.
Today I finished my latest quilt, a babyquilt for a girl that will be born soon. I will give the parents the same message you and Teri gave here; go for fun, not perfection and in the end it will be perfect because you had fun!
Thanks so much!!!

Terry said...

loved the story, and so true, I'm still learning new techniques and none of mine are perfect. But I love them and fun making them.

Rachel said...

Love this. Thank you so much for sharing it!

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

Great story. One of my favorite quilts was a Round Robin quilt. One of the pieces was 'turned'. My son noticed it while I was quilting it. I left it like it was. It reminds me to just enjoy all parts of quilting, and not fret about it.

evelyn said...

Thank you for sharing that wonderful story of Teri's. My quilts are comforters, not show quality. When my grandkids grow up, they will remember sleeping under a quilt that Nana made .They will not remember the stitching.

My Sister Made Me Do It.... said...

What a sweet story......yes when I have looked at some of my earlier projects with that "critical" eye....it is soon replaced with the realization that it brought many hours of pleasure while I worked on it and also to the person I gifted it to......(many of those gifts have been saved by the recipients....how special is that?)

Happy Cottage Quilter said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I have a friend who I've not seen in about 4 years. Wednesday we talked for almost 2 hours on the phone. She has a 21 year old son who has Angelman's Syndrome. It's been a hard row for my friend, as her husband left her and she eventually had to put Evan in a group home. My friend always tells me how happy Evan is. God has blessed these two Mom's differently then most of us. It is a testimony of their sweet spirit in how they have accepted God's child.

Sherry said...

I have been quilting for almost two years now and have learned so much but I too will treasure the first projects. Thank you for sharing this lovely story.

Debbie said...

Thanks for sharing. This is a hard life lesson, but it is filled with the sweetest love.

JustPam said...

Thanks for sharing that wonderful story. I was a perfectionist and very self critical. I never linked that to coming from a critical household, but that sure makes sense. I have given myself not to be perfect and I enjoy quilting so much more since I did that.

Vickie said...

Thanks for a beautiful story. It's nice to know that others are as critical of themselves as i am.

Dianne said...

Wow, how I needed to read this today. I am a new quilter and for some reason decided to make my second quilt a baby quilt for a dear friend. I have been so upset with how it is turning out because it isn't perfect. I know in my heart Tami will love it because I took my time and made it but unfortunitly my head doesn't always listen. Thanks for the post, and by the way you were really lucky in your teacher. My first quilt was a nightmare. My instructor had me take it apart a hundred times nothing was perfect enough for her. I do so love making them and I've copied your post to frame and put in my sewing room. Thanks again and have a blessed day.

greelyrita said...

Sweet story for sure! I've heard a lot of parents of challenged children talk about what a gift they are. It must be true.

I came from a very critical family and also never connected those two dots. Something to think about.

Another little influence is school. I remember taking sewing in high school and getting a 'B' for how straight a line I sewed. I thought it was great and to my dismay, I found that it wasn't. That hurt. Then I got angry. Schools shouldn't make learning a source of anger.

Teresa in Music City said...

Wow! I'm so glad I took the time to read this before I went to bed tonight. I will smile as I go to sleep thinking about Teri and Kelsi, and about you my friend. I am happy to know that your life today is a far cry from the way you describe your childhood. Mine too thankfully!!! Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom from Teri :*)

quiltzyx said...

What a wonderful post!
I remember being so hard on myself too, when I first started quilting. Then I saw a quilt at the LA County Fair with a blue ribbon on it - and right next to the ribbon was a NON-MATCHING intersection!!! I then made a conscious decision not to worry about it so much!

quiltzyx said...

What a wonderful post!
I remember being so hard on myself too, when I first started quilting. Then I saw a quilt at the LA County Fair with a blue ribbon on it - and right next to the ribbon was a NON-MATCHING intersection!!! I then made a conscious decision not to worry about it so much!

JoyceLM said...

Thanks for sharing The Perfect Quilt essay. I need to read that everyday. What I've also finished reading is J.A. Jance's newest book Judgment Call - great mystery series (she writes 3 series - all very good). Thanks for the giveaway.

sandyb said...

Such a wonderful sweet story. It made my heart just melt.

I was raised in a house where nothing was ever good enough in my mother's eye. I had to teach myself to do everything - crochet, etc because my mother didn't have the patience to let me make mistakes at first. I am the opposite now and I had the patience with my daughters. I want things to turn out and I will tear out crochet all day long and do not like to knit because I cannot do it well at all but I think that quilting is more forgiving than yarn projects if you make mistakes. It still looks beautiful and warm and loving.

Thank you so very much for sharing this wonderful warm and loving story with us this fine Sunday morning.

KatieQ said...

Thanks for sharing Teri's story and your own. I think all of us carry remnants of the past that can skew the way we look at ourselves and at the world. I find myself with tons of fabric and craft supplies because I am worried I will waste the materials by not doing it right. Instead, I waste them by letting them languish on the shelf.

Kate said...

Thanks so much for sharing Teri's essay. It's so easy to be critical of what we do and forget that fun doesn't have to be perfect to be fun. I love your first quilt, it's bright and fun.

Vroomans' Quilts said...

Thank you for sharing Teri's essay and wisdom. Your story hit close to home. I love to sew for fun, and as Teri say's - the fun does lead to improving skills along the way.

Nancy in IN said...

Loved the essay; thanks for including; I ask if I may share with my sewing group (Southside ASG). I am listening to Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin (listen while sewing or driving) and reading The Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber. Both are great.
Love your blog

Dirt Road Quilter said...

What a touching story - thank you for taking the time to share it with us. It's very liberating to let go of that critical voice and simply find the joy in the journey.

Judy1522 said...

That is a very inspiring story. I don't know why we always think everything must be perfect when it is many times what we perceive as imperfection the very thing that makes something unique.

Marjorie Nath said...

Thank you for the story. I'm just back to quilting after a 20+ year gap..I think the absence was because of my "need" for perfection. Now in my 60's i'm ready to embrace my imperfections and just enjoy the process.

Marj in Mexico

Quiltsmiles said...

What a beautifully written post. Thanks for sharing. Jane

Jsoosay said...

Thank you for sharing this. I completely agree. I've always tried to just enjoy my quilting and not worry about perfection. I also want to tell you that I love reading your blog. I look forward to the emails that I get. Thank you.

Kate Brown said...

This really picked me up tonight, just what I needed to hear. Thank you so much for shsring!

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Like the other commenters above I enjoyed reading this and am so glad that as I caught the quilting bug, the Gee's Bend women made non-matched points acceptable. I have really loved hand-quilting this first "real" quilt with a block design and as my stitches are uneven and crooked I laugh and blame the America's Cup World Series that I am watching at the same time. Waves are so not-straight !~! I built it during the Olympics and quilted it now--hmmm, the sport-watching quilt; still need to name it...

Dana Gaffney said...

Beautiful and perfect, thanks.

Snoodles said...

I'm so glad that she approved the sharing of the essay -- it's so special. That will stay with me for a while! :)

QuiltSwissy said...

Such a beautiful story. I, too, am an imperfect quilter, but I love every second of my time spent quilting.

glen: even the ripping!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the story ... I am just learning to sew by hand and will eventually learn to sew with the machine at some point in time...until then I will feast my eyes and fill my heart with all the lovely projects in your blog!

Usha
usharaneem@yahoo.com

Nancy said...

I grew up in a situation similar to yours - generous criticism, little praise. It's taken me a while to overcome my tendencies to critique everything I do, and I haven't overcome them yet! Thanks for sharing Teri's story. She's spot on!

Valerie Reynolds said...

I enjoyed this story as I'm an "imperfect" quilter. I am fast and never show of my seams. But I love the creative outlet it allows me. I have to remind myself to NOT compare to people with much improved skills than mine....

Valerie Reynolds said...

PS: Truly a wonderful post to rejuvenate to remind us all to not be over-critical and to enjoy the creative process.

allthingzsewn said...

A great post from a great mother and teacher. Thanks for the Blessing