"Sometimes people look critically at a woman who spends time on her hobbies when the carpet needs to be vacuumed," Bonnie said.
"Yes, but think about it." Gwen rested her chin in her palm. "Who would criticize a male artist who spent the day painting or sculpting instead of mowing the lawn? Nobody."
When my mom died, I decided I wanted to donate a book group set to my library in her memory. The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini seemed like the perfect book, not only because many of the patrons who use our book group collection want gentle books, but because my mom was a quilter. She taught me how to use a ruler and a rotary cutter, how to thread a sewing machine and how to sew straight lines. Most importantly, she taught me the idea that making quilts is a fun and good thing to do. I once had a friend tell me that she didn't know how I dared cut into the fabric I bought. "It's so expensive," she said. "What if you mess up?" That conversation helped me realize that even though my mom didn't teach me everything I know about quilting, and even though our styles were very different, what she really gave me is confidence to not just dream about doing something, but to actually do it.
(And yes: fabric is expensive. And sometimes I DO mess up. But my quilting motto is "fabric is a flexible medium." Even when I've made a mistake I've been able to find a way around it. I'm OK if my quilts aren't perfect and I like to think that part of my quilting style is actually influenced by my imperfections. Like, someone in the future could just double check the corners, find at least one wonky one, and say "Yep, great grandma Amy made this.")
At any rate, I choose The Quilter's Apprentice to donate, despite not ever having read it, because I had read enough about it that I could recommend it without hesitation. But then I decided I needed to read it anyway.
It tells the story of Sarah, who has moved to a small town in Pennsylvania with her husband, who has recently (finally) found a new job. Now she is looking for work, but not with much enthusiasm as the career she chose—accounting—doesn't fulfill her. One day, frustrated with another unsuccessful interview, she decided to go with her husband to his job; he is working on renovating the grounds of an old house for an eccentric client. This woman, Sylvia, and Sarah have a sort of snippy first meeting, but Sylvia asks Sarah if she'd like to work for her as well, helping her clean the inside of the house to prepare it to be sold.
Sarah reluctantly agrees, but she discovers that Sylvia is an expert quilter, and Sylvia ends up teaching Sarah how to quilt. As she learns about piecing, color balance and contrast, straight lines, matching triangle tips, applique, and a bunch of other quilting techniques, Sarah also learns Sylvia's life story and the reason why she left Elm Creek Manor decades ago.
I think I definitely picked the right book to donate. My mom would've liked this book, and the patrons who use my library's book group sets will love it. It is very gentle—there is only one swear word and zero sex or violence. The story doesn't only focus on quilting, but on history and on the impact of creativity in a person's life.
I'm also glad I read it, even though it isn't entirely an Amy sort of book. I haven't found the right word to explain my response to this type of book, but it is very similar to my response to the book The Home for Unwanted Girls. It is a quality that many gentle books have: there is nothing wrong with the story itself, but the writing style somehow feels constructed. As if I can see the author moving the marionette strings in ways I don't notice with more literary fiction. I appreciate the story and the experience, but I can't entirely lose myself inside the book.
I'm glad I read it, however, because it made me feel accepted. I love making quilts. I probably have made too many. I will probably continue to make too many. I might, as a certain spouse sometimes points out, spend too much time and money making quilts for babies who might never care. So I sometimes get a bit defensive about this hobby, and to spend time with these characters, especially Sylvia who understands quilting on a more aesthetic and academic level, helped me realize that it is OK. Loving the process of making this is part of who I am. I especially loved this realization Sarah has, when she is feeling stressed about the experiences she's facing:
Sarah found herself looking forward to her quilting lesson later that day. Not just look forward to it, she suddenly realized, but needing it. Tangled, anxious thoughts relaxed when she felt the fabric beneath her fingers and remembered that she was creating something beautiful.
My mom taught me to make beautiful things. Quilts, yes—she started me on the path to learning how to make quilts. But at a more basic level, she just taught me TO MAKE something beautiful. So, yep. Quilts. But I also try to make my cakes pretty and my pies golden and glossy, and my other hobby, scrapbooking, is highly influenced by my quilting hobby. (Color and color balance and how to mix prints, for example...and I can't tell you how many times I've bought a scrapbook paper simply because it would make a great fabric for the quilt I was working on, or an entire yard of fabric because I wish it was scrapbook paper. Quite often, I don't even do it on purpose!) I think she'd be happy I donated this in her name.