The Patchwork Quilt of Life

“When I quit concerning myself with projects and turned my attention to process, my work really took off,” explained internationally acclaimed fiber artist Sandy German in a talk about the work shown in a local exhibition. Sandy leads a group of quilters who meet weekly in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. to  explore quiltmaking as a vehicle for personal growth and creative expression.

“Sandy gives us a theme to work on, and when we come back with our finished pieces, no two are alike.” said one group member. "We celebrate the differences in our work."

“This group is a marvelous place to learn. I’ve never been told I did something wrong. Everyone looks at my work as an expression of who I am and what I have to say, not as a piece of sewing that has to be perfect in every detail. It’s supportive and exciting,” said another.

As group members briefly discussed their experiences with quilting, the group, and the pieces they each had on display, Sandy’s comments formed a thread weaving the program together. Several times she emphasized the need to take time to be aware of the message of a piece of work. “It’s not always what you think it should be. Sometimes you are surprised.” Herein lies the element of self-discovery and personal growth. She and group members continually returned to the concept of process above project.

As I listened to the program, I was struck by the similarities between the processes of quilting and writing. Serious life writers discover that the process of writing, of listening to the message of each piece, is the source of inspiration, self-discovery, and personal growth. In a very real sense, piecing memories together to comprise a meaningful memoir is much like piecing fabric together to form a quilt. Both quilter and writer face the challenge of selecting, discarding, snipping, and arranging to form a meaningful unit from a universe of possible components. Like Sandy, many of us have discovered that when we switch our focus to process rather than simply cranking out predetermined projects, our writing becomes deeper, more meaningful, and more eloquent.

Whether you quilt or write — or dabble in oils — it’s okay to make messes, to experiment, to let the story inherent in the work bubble forth of its own accord. Be willing to be fresh and surprised by your results. Forget about forming a coherent story and just write, for the pure joy of it, and for the satisfaction of seeing your words, your meaningful thoughts, on the page. Eventually those madcap scribblings will form themselves into a more eloquent story than you would likely ever have imagined. Your writing voice will take on more resonant tones.

While you are at it, you’ll also do well to find a writing group much like Sandy’s quilting group for support, appreciation, and a general sense of writing community. If you can’t find one, start your own!

Write now: find some paper and write for twelve minutes on the topic “What I would write about just for fun and adventure without worrying about producing a finished story.” Or, “This is the most important thing I want future generations to know about me.”


Livvy U. said...

Hello, this is so, so true, all of this - especially about not being afraid to make messes, to experiment and see what happens... in life and writing! I've dropped by because I'm finally sorting out my blog links for 'Livvy's Life' and want to add you. Hope that's okay by you.
Kind good wishes

Sharon Lippincott said...

Livvy, I'm honored that you chose to visit, and to add a link on your site. I love having guests from "across the pond."

Livvy U. said...

Thanks for linking back to me, Sharon - hugely appreciated.

Maryellen said...

Hi Sharon
I like your blog, and have visited several times, but haven't commented before.

I've been journaling for years and like to write. You're very generous in sharing your experience with others.
It's both helpful and encouraging.

I have an Elder Blog, which is sort of like a patch-work-quilt. I've never actually had writing lessons except back in school when we had writing assignments, so a site like yours is pure gift.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Hi Maryellen,

As a blogger yourself, you know how great it is when someone peeks out of the lurker closet. Thanks for your vote of confidence. The good news is that until fairly recently I had no writing lessons either. I have taken a few classes and workshops now, but for the most part I'm self-taught. I've learned by reading and writing.

And by teaching. The old maxim, "You learn a subject best by teaching it to others" is so true!

Teaching doesn't have to be formal. Join a group -- start one if there isn't one to join. Join an online group. The Life Writers' Forum is an excellent choice:

Above all, keep writing. Keep journaling your Caregiver experience. Follow the path of words.