Putting the Pieces Together

Piecing a quilt is easier when a pattern is the starting point.

I know. That’s a no-brainer, but every so often I try something without fully considering the ramifications, and making Sara’s new quilt falls into that category.

I realized she needed one when I visited last summer while she was expecting my grandgirls. The one I made when she started college, which has since traveled around the world with her, was more than a little frayed. The threadbare fabric was starting to split. I embroidered hearts over many of the small tears, but the more I patched, the more tears I found.

Before beginning the new quilt, I decided I wanted it to match the ones I made for Paige and Avery. My mom used to dress us in matching mother-daughter outfits. (I have the pictures to prove this.) I occasionally made matching outfits for Sara and me when she was small. I could not imagine my fashionista dressing to match her girls, but I could imagine her appreciating that private symbol of their bond.

I also decided, before beginning, that I wanted the quilt to have a hearts and butterfly theme. As my girls could tell you, those symbolize one of the guiding principles of my parenting style – roots and wings.

I believe parents give their children roots when they provide stability and love them unconditionally. I believe we give our children wings when we cultivate self-confidence so they can pursue their dreams. That is what I wanted for my girls – roots and wings. No matter where their dreams carried them, I wanted them to go boldly, knowing they went with my blessing and love.

I did not think it would be difficult to find a quilt pattern incorporating hearts and butterflies. Both are popular. I was wrong. I spent hours looking through magazines and searching the Internet. Yes, I could find butterfly patterns. Yes, I could find heart patterns. No, I could not find a single pattern that incorporated both.

Sometimes I can be stubborn. (Don’t tell anyone, OK?) I was not going to give up simply because I didn’t have a pattern. I decided to design one myself.

I’d adapted patterns before and seen others do it as well. I was sure I could blend elements from heart and butterfly patterns I liked. I pulled out some grid paper and went to work. After several (dozen) tries, I came up with a design I found visually appealing and developed a pattern from it.

Unfortunately, after making the blocks, I discovered they didn’t go together quite as I had imagined. Instead of a visually striking medley of butterflies and hearts, I had — well, a bland mess. I decided to put it away for a while. Sometimes I can be overly critical of my own work. On those occasions, I need to allow time to separate my expectations from the finished product.

That approach didn’t work this time. When I pulled the quilt top out of the trunk after three months, it still looked like a bland mess, so I decided to take it apart. Once I’d separated the blocks, I started playing with them. What would happen if I did this? What would happen if I did that? Eventually, I realized I just needed to incorporate some jewel-toned strips.

Such a small change, but what a difference! It doesn’t even look like the same quilt!

Life is like that sometimes. It’s just not working. Parts of it are OK, but as a whole, it leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

When I was young, I used to think that inchoate feeling of restlessness required a dramatic change of some sort. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate what small changes can do.

Several years ago, I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages after noon. As a result, I started sleeping better. Once I was sleeping better, it was easier for me to get up in the morning. When I didn’t have to rush around before work, I was less stressed starting my day, which in turn affected my attitude.

Small change, big difference. Other small changes have had similarly dramatic results. The tough part is figuring out what small change is needed. However, it is possible with a little trial and error, and with a little patience. At least, that’s been my experience.


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