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March 27, 2009

Patchwork Pillows

I realized today that patchwork pillows are really just art for the artistically challenged.

When I was in third grade, my grammar school had an art show – it was like a science fair for the artistically blessed. Unfortunately, I was not one of those people. I couldn’t even get all the crayons back in the box, let alone make snowflake garland or fold an origami tea set. Participation in the art show was not optional, and I upon receiving the assignment, I immediately envisioned all the parents and teachers snickering as they walked past my pathetic display. I knew that unless they let me submit a haiku, I was doomed.

In the weeks leading up to the show, I lived in denial about my required participation. I had convinced myself that if I didn’t talk about it, I could will it away. No such luck. On the night before my project was due, I sheepishly went to my mother with the assignment, prepared to take the wrath for my ill-preparedness. Fortunately my Mom was (and still is) the kindest, most forgiving mom in the universe, so she didn’t dwell for too long on my superior ability to procrastinate, but instead cut to the quick and started figuring out how to get an art show-worthy project done inside four hours.

Unlike me, my mother is incredibly gifted artistically. She is also incredibly honorable. So unfortunately for me, when I suggested that I re-sign one of her oil paintings, or blow the dust off one her handmade dried flower arrangements (she even used to grow the flowers herself, then dry them), she wouldn’t go for it. Instead she reminded me of the importance of working to the best of my ability, using my God-given talents, and doing my own work (a lesson I am so blessed to have learned).

“So you want me to fail,” I thought?

But failing was the furthest thing from her mind. Instead she took off up the stairs and started digging through the storage closet in her bedroom. She had nearly vanished amidst the garment bags and the Christmas wrapping when I heard her yell, “I found it!” With that she tossed a black garbage bag onto the floor of her room.

One of my mother’s many artistic talents was her ability to sew, and the bag was overflowing with remnants and scraps of every fabric she had ever worked with in her 24 years of marriage. I looked at her blankly. I didn’t know the first thing about sewing, and with three and a half hours ‘til bedtime, it was not the time to learn.

“You’re making a patchwork pillow,” she told me, “start picking out fabrics.”

Still confused, I emptied the content of the bag on the floor and started looking at all the fabrics. There was every color and texture imaginable -- florals, stripes, checks, plaids, denim, corduroy, taffeta, lace, velvet, eyelet, pastels, and jewel tones. Before we even did a thing with it, this pile of fabric looked like a work of art. My mother was a genius – even I could do this.

I started pulling out the fabrics that I liked, and laying them side by side on the floor, moving them around to see which fabrics looked nicest next to each other. My mom showed me how to cut the perfect little squares, and pin them together in the layout that I liked. Once I had the patchwork pinned together, she would sew it on the machine, add the solid back panel, and then I could stuff it and hand stitch the small seam to finish the pillow.

I ended up picking out ten different fabrics in all. Each one representing a special occasion my mother had made something for throughout the years. Among the swatches were fabrics used for prom dresses, Easter dresses, Halloween costumes and much more. The backing was a sturdy fabric that she used to make curtains in our family room. When it was all finished the pillow told a story of many happy memories for our family.

After each square that she joined together, my mom showed me how beautifully it was all coming together, and the whole pillow was completed with time to spare before bedtime. I felt badly that my mom had done the sewing, but she assured me that it was “the creation of the patchwork layout” that was the art – the sewing was just the mechanics. My mother had found the perfect outlet for the artistically challenged.

My patchwork pillow didn’t win any awards at the art show, but I didn’t hear anyone snickering as they walked by my display.

Thirty-some years later I’ve realized that life is a lot like a patchwork pillow. Every experience is its own piece of fabric, joined together to create a special little work of art with intricate texture and dimension, held together by a sturdy backing, and filled with a stuffing that you never really see – but it is what makes this hodge podge of fabric a pillow.

Yes, I do believe life is a lot like a patchwork pillow.

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