The Quilt of Us
When my partner Jodi retired from her long career as a graphic designer, her shift to doing art and design on her own seemed easy from my vantage point. She played around with materials, created new things, and found interests she hadn’t engaged in before. One of those was quilting. She started out simple, but experimented with fabrics, designs, and techniques—with the result always being something better and more interesting than its individual parts.
I knew nothing about quilting. My mother was not a seamstress or a craftsperson of any kind, so piecing together treasured squares of fabric was not part of my experience. Much to my surprise, many of our friends felt an immediate connection to Jodi’s quilts—from those made by their own grandmothers, to special quilts made from running T-shirts, to quilts used as parts of family ceremonies. When Jodi would show them what she’d made, so many friends shared that they, too, made quilts, or would like to. Her simple interest in making designs out of fabric instead of on paper, or with a computer, opened a whole world to me, and made me appreciate her artistic vision even more than I already did. It introduced me to quilt artists, fabric art, and an entirely new version of creative expression.
I’m part of other people and they are part of me, Like the most colorful, silky soft quilt, we are all so much better together than we are as individual parts.
Jodi has moved to other forms now, though I expect she will come back to quilting again. But for me, every time I see one of her pieces on a wall in our home, I’m struck not just by the beauty of the quilt itself, but by the metaphorical power of what it represents. A quick look at the history of the quilt shows that they may date back as far as 3400 BCE. The early quilts were created from what was available and used for warmth and protection, but soon quilters added other special amulets and ornaments to their creations. What strikes me so profoundly about quilts is the fact that they are many individual pieces collected together. Each of those fragments of cloth is used for a reason—its ability to provide comfort, warmth, beauty, or contrast, among many others. When all of those unique individual items are pulled together, the result is so much more than just a sum of its pieces. Each part brings out the best in the others.
This is how humans are, I think. Each of us brings a unique self to every situation, all of our experiences and achievements and blunders a part of that self. Who we are and what we’ve done—who we’ve loved and cared for, where we’ve been, what we wish for, what we’re proud of—all of that is like our own little square or rectangle that comes with us. When we stand apart from others, we each have our own bit of territory, but when we connect, even at our furthest edges, we have more. We have additional wisdom and experience, someone to hold us up when we need it, and the comfort of another, always.
I read recently that one result of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown is that people tended to reduce the number of people in their social circles. At first, we had to, but eventually, more people ended up with fewer immediate friends than they had before March of 2020. Although I think many of us treasure the resulting quiet of this, I’m not sure it was all that good for us overall. My sense is that we’re supposed to connect. Part of all of our survival depends on the way we tie ourselves to other people—for help, for companionship, and even for the relief that comes from being able to laugh and play with another being.
When I was younger, I sought independence, to see myself as separate from other people. I longed to breathe in that space where they ended and I began. I needed to feel who I was as an autonomous individual. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see myself, but I also feel the connections I can’t see in that reflection. I’m part of other people and they are part of me. Like the most colorful, silky soft quilt, we are all so much better together than we are as individual parts.