Ode to a Quilt

I’ve collected quilts for about 5 years. My dear friend Joe is my dealer. Sometimes I playfully refer to him as my drug dealer, because quilts are so addictive.

All the quilts I own are antiques, dating from 1830’s to the 1950’s. Most of them date from the end of the 19th century. Think about it; Unique folk art over a hundred years old with amazing artistic design hangs all over my house. To boot, they were made by women who lived during times when women got little credit for anything but baby making and housework.

The utilitarian nature of quilts adds to their richness. They are made to be used. Their makers didn’t need to trouble themselves with design. But they did. So the artistic inspiration embodied in these quilts is pure. These are noncommercial works of folk art. Their beauty was purely for the pleasure of the maker. Although pleasure is not the best word to describe this labor.

I am quite sure these women did not have time to spare for pleasure. Life in the late 1800’s was not luxurious for most people. I can image a women with a house full of children, working long hours cooking, cleaning, making clothes, washing clothes by hand, tending to a kitchen garden, perhaps tending to farm animals, and many other tasks, before having some time to hand stitch parts of a quilt.

Yet they did it. Each quilt contains that history, that labor, and those women’s hard-won “flights of fancy” in its cloth. The result is more than folkart. An unmistakable spiritual quality resonates in many of them.

1890's logcabin, light and dark

Ode to a Quilt

Textile Bach-
stitched counterpoint
structured freedom.
Alert before you
rising up to your call,
yet yielding supplely
with a ripple.

Nexus of particulars:
a culture
a function
a person
A “herstory”
carved out of scraps, recycled
moments sewn together
with devotion and care
by chapped, aching hands
under dull candle’s sight.

Subtle joyous rapture
corralled by tradition.
As much a mirror
(reflection of a world within)
as a style of one.
(you with no sin)
Gravitas of conviction.
Swirling with
primal weight, hypnotic concision.
She recedes silently
with days fading light
then, later
twinkles nocturnally
with comfort and warmth.
See her yarn?
Familiar, now new.

such rich modesty
such crystalline grace
a percolating prism of possibility.

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16 thoughts on “Ode to a Quilt

  1. David, my mother has been making quilts for many, many years. I’ve seen first hand, even with today’s technology, just how much time and how much labor go into a single quilt. They truely are works of art, labors of love.

    I’m in love with your Ode. David you write like warm butter on a hot roll–the words just melt in my mind, the aroma makes me want more and at the end of one of your postings, I have a very full and satisfied feeling that I got more than I paid for. I do appreciate your blog and the thoughts and love you share in this space.

  2. I only have two quilts, one that was hand-maid for me, as a wedding gift, and the other that was hand-made by my grandmother, eons ago, before she died, but I love them, both for their art, and for the history of the form, and I’m slowly teaching myself how to make them. I cheat, I’m afraid, and use a machine, because I don’t have the time or dexterity to do hand sewing, but I think it’s okay to use technology, because it’s an evolution of the craft, a continuance.

    Lovely essay and poem.

  3. I find it really touching that you collect quilts and think about the women who made them, what their lives were like and how much work they put into them.

  4. Dear David, I agree with you- quilt making must have been a spiritual experience for all those women. It is such a pity that poring over our ‘puters we have lost touch with all that we can create with our hands- simple things well and lovingly crafted and fashioned- be it any form of handicraft! 🙂

  5. I appreciate your appreciation of quilting, Garnet! I have a quilt my mother made out of old clothing, and it embodies so many memories for me, not only of my mother, but of who wore what when… So when I look at old quilts, I appreciate not only the art, the design, the work and the care that went into them, but also the lives and relationships, thick and rich, that are stitched into them. And as much as they were extra effort, they were also often a form of necessary recycling – gotta reuse those old clothes somehow for more warmth!

  6. Trée- I consider it the highest compliment possible to be associated with butter. Living richly, like butter, I feel happiest.

  7. Stacey-Ann- Ever since reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, I’ve held women in the highest esteem. In some ways, I feel I relate to the women in my life like sisters.

  8. Shankari- Indeed. Most of us miss much from the loss of tactile learning in our lives. I have a friend who is a spiritual potter.

  9. MB- Wonderful point about recycling. All that adds up to spiritual in my book. My chiropractor has quilts by his grandmother in all his treatment rooms. On one, he pointed out fabrics from shirts he wore as a child.

  10. The first words that came to my mind after reading your post this morning were “disturbingly appropriate.”

    Have a great week and thanks for sharing your thought-provoking post and stirring ode.


  11. Teri- Im not sure what you mean by “disturbingly apropriate”, except possibly in reference to women’s plight around much of the world.

  12. Yes Garnet-David. Spot on. Sorry I didn’t clarify. But not just the “plight,” but also the parallel to today’s women and the single hard-working mothers tending to our youth with limited time, energy and resources, yet still getting the job done…and getting it done well.


  13. Teri- I know what you mean, and whom you refer to. I don’t think I’m very good about showing my appreciation on a daily basis for those women. Thanks for reminding me.


  14. I can’t imagine living their lives, which were probably just as you speculated. (I think I’ve got it rough!) But I remember from the needlework I used to do during long busrides during my teen years how satisfying it was to produce (and FINISH!) something tangible, something which has the potential to live beyond its creator.

  15. whirlingbetty- Shankari had a good point. Most of us suffer ignorance of hand work and craft. I’ve decided to take some pottery lessons to give myself the satisfaction you mention of producing and finishing something.

  16. Hello Garnet,
    It’s been a while since I’ve stopped by and I’m very happy to see your blog’s doing so well. There are so many interesting posts, I wasn’t sure which one to comment on!

    Thought you might enjoy this website:


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