Tuesday, August 24, 2010


by Jacqueline Kramer

[This piece appeared in the September 2010 "Hearth," the newsletter for the group of mothers that my friend, Jackie, works with online. For more information please go to www.hearthfoundation.net. It is also a continuation of the conversation that she and I had after visiting a powerful exhibit of Amish quilts at the DeYoung this past Spring. I am going to ask Jackie for a picture of her quilt. For now this 1930 Amish crib quilt will stand in.]

My daughter’s best friend went into labor this morning. We were awoken by a call from Sarah’s father, “She’s five centimeters. If Nicole is coming, she better come now.” I had been languishing in bed. The weather outside was thick, overcast, chilly, and my bed playfully teased me with a warmth it had practiced all night and finally perfected in the morning. I tore myself from this divine comfort and moved into full gear.

The quilt, where is the quilt? Sarah had come over on a clear June day and picked out about 10 pieces of blue fabric from my quilting cabinet. They were all blue, each one of them-blue. Most had patterns on them like stars and planets. Some looked like watercolor paintings. There was a large piece of blue corduroy and an even larger piece of blue velvet left over from matching dresses I made for Nicole, my mother and myself when my mom was still alive. I sat with this strange arrangement of fabrics, different than I would have chosen. I would have added a bit of orange or yellow to set off the blue. Sarah’s choice challenged me to design in a wholly new way. I cut a couple of hearts out of each patterned fabric and a couple of squares to sew the hearts on and then mixed them all up with a starred heart on a water color square here and some sort of cosmic looking heart on a floral square there. The hearts were all appliqu├ęd onto the squares then Nicole, Nai’a and I spread them out on the floor moving them around until we found an arrangement we liked. The blue velvet was cut in lattices and the squares were sewn to the lattice.

This whole process, of completing the front of the quilt took weeks. The project was draped over a chair in my art studio until another chunk of time showed up. Every time I went into the art studio I would think, “I better finish that quilt. You never know with labor, it can happen any time.” Eventually a chunk of time became available and I pinned the quilt front to the blue corduroy with batting between the front and back. Proud of myself for getting this far, I let the unfinished quilt sit for what felt like a long, long time but was only a month. One quiet evening I sewed up the long sides in my signature style. But there was a problem. There was not enough corduroy to finish the top and bottom so they lay open with exposed edges, ready to be finished, as I sat with the question, “How shall I sew up the ends?”

The question I asked, the question I truly did not know the answer to, was deposited in the same place that I put each koan I’m working on. I think of it as the Don’t Know place. I have all sorts of unanswered questions there, and most of them, the big ones, swim around happily unopened. While this question was enjoying its stay in the numinous part of my consciousness I suddenly felt an impatience to answer the question before the answer rose to the surface. That happens with koans too. I grope around for something to say about them when I have nothing. The question of how to sew up the ends of the quilt sat with “Not knowing is most intimate” and “How is my hand like the Buddha’s hand?” ripening. Now and then I would peek in and see how things were progressing. But the quilt koan did ripen before messy, messy life intruded on my process. Woken up out of a dreamy morning sleep, in a haze, the answer needed to be spoken NOW! Nicole was going to Santa Cruz in 15 minutes, that’s all the time I had to come up an answer. So I turned the ends under, pinned them shut and asked Nicole to sew up the ends when she got there.

The solution to the quilting koan was inelegant at best. But elegance, grace and beauty are not always how koans, and life, show up. Sometimes they show up in beautiful flashes with waves of bliss in their wake but sometimes they just show up as old tin cans or dishes with spaghetti on them or diapers that need to be changed. Either way, there is a glow about them. They meet us where we are and, since life is messy, they may appear to be messy as well so that we may take it all in, the red, red rose and the scratch on the car. Yet, there can be something magical and wondrous in even the most inelegant solutions. The quilt was finished quickly and any quilter would wince to see those cut off ends. But Sarah would now wrap her baby in a quilt that was warmed by both mine and Nicole’s hands and within the stitches of the quilt rests a reminder that life doesn’t need to be perfect. Every time Sarah looks at the quilt she will remember to embrace the messiness of life. Though the quilt is imperfect, it is still beautiful, maybe even more beautiful for it’s flaws and what they bring. This is my blessing and wish for Sarah on this day as she is being initiated into the feminine world of the mother, that she embrace the messiness of life, finding her happiness in however things appear.