The Angry Quilt

Tumbling blocks quilt pattern

My mother was steeped in anger as long as I knew her. Satisfied with her two sons, she did not anticipate having a daughter later in life. A daughter who was not content to sit on her mother’s lap, but wriggled off and ran off to explore. A daughter who was not servile and obedient, did not like to iron, and would spend days sitting in a tree, reading, instead of knitting socks for her brothers. No, this little girl was not anything my mother imagined as a good daughter.

Sarah’s choice quilt block from Annie’sChoice quilt patterns.

Life did not improve as I grew older. I was smart, but too shy, didn’t make friends fast, cried at sleepovers, couldn’t understand why I couldn’t bring books and read while the other girls painted their nails.  I shamed my mother. And that was not a good thing to do to her. It made her angrier. The years rolled on, my shortcomings and faults piled up around me.

When I left her house, she began to concentrate on her needlework. A skilled knitter, crocheter, tatter, and sewer, my mother took up quilting. This was in the years of traditional quilts, and my mother attacked quilting with a fervor that was amazing. She made both of my much-older brothers and their families quilts. Log Cabin, Arkansas Traveler, Art Block, Flying Geese, Shoo Fly, Nine Block, Wedding Rings. The quilts grew under her fingers, were finished and were sent off to corners of the world where she had friends. I asked if she’d make me one. “You don’t deserve it.” she said. I asked again, every year.

Log cabin quilt block

Finally, she relented. But I could not choose the color or the pattern. Fine with me. She began a sampler quilt, a mix of patterns she liked. When she asked me to help her paint her house, as partial payment, she asked me to suggest colors. In the end, she chose the combination I liked the least–Williamsburg Blue and Milk Chocolate Brown. Remembering my complaints about the colors, she announced the quilt would be in those colors as well–her favorites. I didn’t argue.

Over the next dozen years, she would start and stop, according to her anger at me. Most of those years were in stop mode. She joined a Guild and made elaborate decorative cloths, wall hangings, bed covers for strangers. But not the quilt I wanted.

Double wedding ring quilt block

I was visiting her one year, when I noticed her memory gaps, her frequent stove accidents, her confusion in counting stitches. She had Alzheimer’s. Before it got too bad, we arranged a trip for her. To France, where she was born, to Germany, where she had lived with my father. Each stop was arranged so someone would pick her up and put her back on a train or plane. It was a long trip. When I went to pick her up at the airport in Washington, D.C. she looked at me with no recognition–she thought I was a Lufthansa flight attendant. She liked me more in that role, and I did not correct her.

The quilt was not finished. It was now beyond her skill. Finally, I could have my quilt. Unfinished as it was, and showing some odd stitches and mistakes, I loved it for what it was–a long-term story of my mother’s anger told in tight stitches. And the release of that anger, unwillingly. Long after she was in an Alzheimer’s facility and her house sold, she would remind me I was not to touch the quilt.

I’m not a quilter, so after I gathered it and its pieces up, I asked an excellent

Lone Star quilt block

quilter if she would finish it. She agreed, and asked as payment for some of my mother’s fabric. I delivered 30 pounds of fabric and the quilt. After tactful inquiries over three years, the woman said she simply didn’t have time. The quilt returned home, still unfinished.

This story repeated three more times. No one can finish the quilt. I’ve not asked to complete the patterns, simply use the fabric still available to complete the shape, bind it and machine stitch it. My mother is now nine years dead, and the quilt travels around the country with me, confusing quilters everywhere I live. I’m not sure if it is my mother’s anger that stalls them, or the mistakes that shape the unfinished quilt, or just that it’s a sad project, but no one can finish it.

This week, I will pick it up from another person who said, truthfully, “I don’t know what it was about the quilt. I’ve had it for four years, but I’ve never been able to really work on it.”

The quilt is having its own moment of retribution, and I imagine my mother smiling over this. I may find someone who will finish it, I may not. In any case, the quilt, in its refusal to be complete and to grow old on a bed, has done what I could not–fulfilled my mother’s wishes.

–Quinn McDonal is a writer. She is not a quilter.

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96 thoughts on “The Angry Quilt

  1. I am so sorry your Mom treated you that way. I feel that you were emotionally disabled from the actions of your Mother. I loved my mother, she was weak, but a good mother. I care not to explain th a

    • My mom was a person unto herself. She did not disable me emotionally. We might not have been close, but I learned a lot about self-discipline. Had she treated me differently, I would not be the person I am today. And I like the way I turned out.

  2. Going back and reading all the post again makes me consider that hurt people, hurt people. That’s why I’m trying to fix the brokenness in my generation, so my son can have better memories and look back and say, that was rough, but we determine our own destiny. I don’t have to be who my father was to me. He doesn’t have to be who I was in the early years. Dealing with the issues I have around how I was raised hasn’t been easy. I know the way I am with him is a direct result of that. It wasn’t until I began work with children by accident that I realized the upbringing I had was skewed and that it was negatively impacting him and I have to do something different. My parents had good intentions, but that didn’t stop the from dishing out some pretty mixed up ideals before I ran away at 17. I always thought I didn’t want children, but when I found I was with my son, I could just let him go. The first 3 years were awesome. When he started school and I started to face life pressures, things quickly went down hill. He was no longer a remarkable child who knew so much, but instead an “over” active child that had problems keeping still. Little did I know kids aren’t supposed to stay still. Both myself and the schools had it wrong. After beginning counseling and working with kids I realized my expectations were outdated, not normal, and impeding on who my son was and is going to become. He is a bright individual who’s at the top in his class. I don’t want him to be impeded by me, and that’s why I’m working so hard to be effective now….and not only be effective, but to effectively show him love. I’m still learning what it is to love unconditionally. It’s not easy but I’m determined!. Even though my personality is still serious, my son can have the freedom to be who he naturally is and know I love him. Though I also know it won’t undue our past, my hope is that he can look back and say mommy changed because she loved me, and know he’s worth having people in his life who will treat him well and love him unconditionally. I also want him to be confident and that starts with what I do. I’m determined!!! It takes time and I’m not expecting a miracle or accolades it’s a task I’m up for and should be. And though I may be judged for my last post (though I hope I’m not, so I’m going to leave it anyway) You’d be surprised how many people are out there like your mom and won’t admit it. That’s why I’m sooooooo glad you posted this. it’s sobering, keeps me humble, and more determine to do a better job and leave a better impression. I’m going to keep at it until I get it right and though there is no “right” my son will know he’s loved before he leaves home of his own free will. Thanks again for posting this. – Bluu

  3. I’ve found this a time later but am humbled by this honest and reflective work. The words I need to express the thoughts that go with it aren’t there. Sobering may be one word. It speaks of the relationship I want to have with my son, but don’t. I hard on him and don’t know why. I want to show him love and be more gentle (even in times of discomfort) but can’t/don’t. I’ve gone to counselors, and therapist, but haven’t found lasting success. I’ve tossed it over and over in my head and it doesn’t make sense. I work with kids daily…How can I love and get along with them, and not my own child? I have stopped trying to solve the riddle and now I take our relationship day, by day and minute by minute. When my son grows older (you’ve expressed yourself so eloquently, but no offense) I don’t want him to sound like you. Though your hurt has past, it must have been painful. I can’t imagine what my son is going through. I felt that way as a child and am trying so hard to break the cycle. I want him to be well rounded, to love completely, to be sure of his worth and cope with life’s situations well. That won’t happen if I stay as I am and don’t change. Not say change, but actually change. They say children are shaped in their primary years, and his were painful, but I don’t want him to become crippled or defined by them. I can’t go back. I can only move forward, but day by day, moment by moment, love by love will do it. Thank you for sharing this. From the perspective of the one that doesn’t love the way she wants to, it gives me a meaningful look at how what I do impacts my son. Though I won’t stay guilty, I will stay diligent. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: The End of the Angry Quilt | QuinnCreative

  5. What I love most about the internet is the ability to connect, and not feel so alone or isolated.

    This morning I woke up feeling saddened that my mother had invited my three younger sisters to open gifts together on Christmas, before we go to my aunt’s but not me or mine. The last year has been the one where I have grown devil horns apparently, while one of my sisters has donned a halo which has satisfied both of their needs.

    Mostly I have figured my way out of the thorns, at least enough to live with mostly at peace. I always say I mother as I wish I had been mothered not as I was. But still today I was sad and wishing she could see I am not such a bad person as she thinks I am, and then I read this.

    I am so grateful for the sharing and the knowledge that I am not alone with mother troubles. Also, what incredible comments you have received. Thank you.

    • I have to qualify this by saying my mother was not a bad or abusive mother, but there were times when she was, well, emotionally unavailable. We called Mom a “bookaholic”. In the course of a day, she might read three or four books, and she was totally immersed in them while she read. Sometimes, I’d want to talk to her, and I’d say, “Mom? Mom? I need to talk to you.” No response. I’d repeat this several times, and finally, I’d lay my hand over the page of the book–and sometimes, she’d backhand me. Books were her escape, in much the same way that alcohol or drugs are to addicts. And yet, in many ways, she was a wonderful mother–she made it clear that we were all (I have four sisters and a brother) talented, beautiful, worthy people who deserved to have fulfilling, rich lives. There were times when she went to great lengths for us. Example: thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, we had moved to Milwaukee, WI. Mom & Dad lived in upstate Nee York. I called a mom to tell her. And she told me she was coming to be with me. Now, Mom was phobic about flying–but she flew out to be with me. I can recall an episode when I was injured in High School, in gym class–I broke my finger, and when I went to the coach and asked for a pass to go to the nurse, was told that I was a wimp, and needed to get back on the court and play the game. I went to the nurse (without a pass), who took one look, said, “oh my God” and called my Mom. She came so fast it made my head spin, and after getting me to the ER and my finger was treated, she went back to the school and (from what classmates later told me) gave Ms B a dressing-down of monumental proportions. And yet, so much of the time, for the everyday things, she just wasn’t there for us. People are complex. I hope that, whatever the problem with your Mom may be, you and your sibs can resolve it, and that your holiday is a warm and happy one.

      • It does seem to be a mix of ups and downs, and we do seem to inherit some of the behaviors, wanted or not. People are complex, indeed. My problems with my Mom are long over, she died nine years ago. But that doesn’t always put an end to the unrest.

  6. Quinn,
    A very Dear friend forwarded your blog to me and asked if I could help.
    After reading the many comments I’d say you have lots of help if you decide
    to finish the quilt and I think you should.

    Mom is speaking to your heart, this is why it is so heavy on your mind. There is no anger now, all is healed, her mind is sound and full of love. She wants you to know her. She didn’t know it at the time but she chose those colors so you would have something of her when she was gone. It was never finished, because if it had been, you would never of had this journey of discovery. She trusted you with all her imperfections. She showed you her true colors, what do they mean? She is asking you to love that which is unlovely. Can you find Beauty there?
    Ask yourself, “is there more here than I realize?” Did the colors represent her emotions or her sadness or the place to which she went to escape her pain. Did she like Chocolate? Do you?

    I guess I’m saying, “look again”. This does not have to represent pain and sadness. Many quilt tops have come my way over the years and many were so sad looking at first . But, by the time the last stitch was in place each had
    a beauty and wonder of its own. Yours will too, We find, just what we expect to find, so we must take care of that which we expect.
    Color me willing to help
    Teede Guarino

    • Thank you for your kind and loving words. I, too, was touched and amazed by the many replies I got to this post. I had to smile when I read your heartfelt words. They transformed my mother into someone entirely different, as surely her spirit is now that she left this life. I never meant the story to be painful or sad, just unfinished, as the quilt is. I have no expectations for the quilt. She and I shared several characteristics, some of which I worked hard to change–and did, over time. And yes, we both loved chocolate. Thank you for your kind offer and loving words. I am not sure yet what I will do with the quilt. I have taken it to prayer, and I’m certain there will be another post when I am sure.

  7. I’ve obviously read you post, and now the amazing comments . . . wow!

    I consider myself very fortunate by comparison to some as I have long since forgiven my mother fo being far from perfect. I understand her as the child of her parents, a woman of her time and place, a woman who was discontent with what society expected of her and the burdens placed upon her when my father died quite young. I see her frailties, as a person first, my mother second. I also see her strengths and the gifts she passed on to me.

    When I accepted that I didn’t have to like her, just respect her as my mother, the woman who gave me life, that’s when I got to know, appreciate her and most importantly, to forgive her for her maternal shortcomings. She was a truly unremarkable remarkable woman with many talents and strengths and much wisdom – as all of us are.

    Yes, I consider myself fortunate, especially in that I was able to do this while she was alive.

  8. I keep thinking about this post…if you don’t burn the quilt, and I could definitely see that as a possibility, I imagined an embroidered bridge, extending from the area your mother reluctantly worked on and growing into your favorite colors and designs…I would work in all the symbols that overcome negative energy, and make this become a powerful, transformed piece…in addition to quilting work, I would definitely have amazing, highly detailed embroidery worked into the entire quilt, showing ugliness becoming beautiful, hate turning into love, that which was crushed becoming strong…there is magic possible; a fairytale that can be written into the very fabric…and whether you need to sprinkle the quilt with holy water, or burn sage, and whatever else, I would make a phoenix rise from the metaphorical ashes.

  9. My mother was not a nurturing person. When she died there was nothing of hers that I wanted. My brother made me take a few pieces of jewelry. Ick. She died 20 years ago and all that time I didn’t like having anything of hers around me. I stuck it in drawers, at the bottom, but I knew where it was. So, recently I sold the jewelry. The quilt you speak of, I would not be able to have it in my house. I would burn it, as others have suggested, as a way to let go. Not as revenge but as a way of letting go.

  10. My mother was always anger at me being born alive, she never relented on finding ways of “getting even” with me for ruining her life, but she loved my 2 brothers – even got jealous when my oldest brother became my best friend and still is — I’ve had my share of those hateful moments but I survived to be self-reliant, independent, and happy with my own goals. You can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you don’t get to pick your biological parents – sometimes your the fly, sometimes the windshield. Karma evens everything out.

  11. Quinn – I just read your blog post today and all I can say is wow! Your story is heartbreaking on one level but on another level it’s inspiring because your Mom taught you so many lessons. You are now strong, independent, and self-sufficient and you acknowledge and accept your flaws. Your mother taught you how to love your son, she taught you what NOT to do. All in all, your mother did the best she could with what she knew and what she had available in her heart. It doesn’t make her relationship with you “right”, it just makes it what it is. So often, we struggle with trying to change the past, even though we know it’s not possible. We fight and fret and along the way and lose sight of the tidbits of love or the lessons learned because we want to correct the relationship and make it perfect, or at least acceptable.

    Only you can decide what is ultimately the best thing to do with the quilt…a letting go ceremony, a round robin with good vibes, someone else finishing it with love and attention or doing nothing. Whichever you choose, choose from your heart and what you feel is best for you and the memory of your mother. As long as you choose from your heart, the bad vibes and negative energy surrounding the quilt will disappear. I’m here…

    • I’m grateful you are here with me, Traci. And you are right–one of the biggest lessons of my life is that forgiveness is giving up any idea of changing the past. That was a big step I finally understood. And the quilt and I will figure out what needs to be done in time. And you’ll hear all the different thoughts!

  12. Just out of curiosity, do your brothers and/or their families know how you feel about this? Have they expressed an opinion? Or suggested any helpful ways to deal with this? Or were they jus old enough to have missed everything?

  13. Wow, Quinn! Speaking to you from my viewpoint as a mature woman, artist and storyteller, I think Pete is right in his comments.
    As clear, articulate, discerning and “on point” as I have always found your writing to be, you have an unexpected gift from your mother in this story that you have lived. The gift is golden, and worth gold,– in the telling, in the sharing, in the resonating in others, and in holding all mothers out there (who read your story) to a higher standard of loving their daughters. Your story is worth gold, but it more closely resembles a pearl…a very LARGE pearl…in fact “a pearl of great price”, referred to in the Bible (new testament). We all know that a pearl is formed in an oyster when the oyster coats an irritant or foreign body, like a grain of sand, with secretions of mother-of-pearl. Somehow, since it was more than just one “grain of sand”, but a lifetime of undeserved anger, you have produced a long, impressive string of pearls!
    I am looking forward to your book about the “inner critics and inner heroes”, and I am wondering, “does your inner critic ‘wear’ your mother’s voice, or is is it your own authentic voice, tempered with the love you must have created for your own unique, beautiful self?” Kitty McNaughton

    • My mother was, indeed, a gift to me, but not the gift I wanted or prayed for. Some prayers go unanswered, and some answers come without prayers. She was her own kind of gift. Interestingly enough, in German “gift” means poison. My inner critic does not have my mother’s voice. My inner critic is the embodiment of every element of every boss I ever had whose values were different than mine–so it’s a man’s voice, big and booming and sarcastic and sure of its own right-ness. And totally uncaring or interested in listening.

  14. As I read this, I had so many ideas… first, would offer to work on it for you, though, I’m not a quilter so you might not want my help with that! Next, I kept thinking about suggesting that you take it apart… undo that bad energy and perhaps gather some friends together in a sort of an old fashioned sewing circle and make a new quilt that is full of new positive juju. (I always like to sprinkle positive juju everywhere I can) I would maybe leave a couple of them as they currently are, though, just because I can’t help but think that some of them were done with love.

    Perhaps before making it into a new one, though, being so into words/journaling, what about creating your own story on the squares with fabric markers and paint? Make the quilt into your own… your own story, using the material from your mother as the base and markers, ink and paint that are materials you use… just as we use/grow from the base/life that our parents give us and we make our own lives. It could be something kept, or saved, or perhaps even given to your son… something that was started by your mother, and then taken and made into something of your creating. Perhaps fill the squares with favorite travels or memories of your son’s childhood or family history. I think hand sewing them would be the way to go, and the more imperfect the squares and stitching, the better!

  15. Dear Quinn
    This post found the tender inner places that I only bring to my circle of silence when I feel comfortable, strong and confident in my own skin. Nineteen years ago, October 23rd my mother passed and though my journey with her was filled with some painful and challenging chunks, this time of a few weeks after that anniversary inevitably comes roaring to life with hyper-sensitivity and yes deep sadness. Your words pulled some of that sadness to the surface, giving me yet one more opportunity for healing and peace.
    In my creative space I have some of mother’s handmade items that need completion or mending. The story of the life still moving through and out of your quilt blocks to folks who had intention to make whole the pieces gave me awareness of why my mother’s pieces just kept being put back into the box. There is a powerful energy that comes from the soul of the creator of anything tactile and it stays there within the creation until there is an intentional release, I believe. Just as the energy lives in written words and in the plants grown with the soul of the gardener. Perhaps I had this knowing within me all the time; your words pulled that information to the front of me and I wept as the knowing of truth washed over me yesterday.
    My first thoughts were to offer my skill as a needle-worker and quilter to put your pieces together, yet as I allowed the story to fill every crevice, every nook, every corner, every cell of me it was clear that I could not take to my soul any more sadness about mother-daughter struggles. My journey with that process continues to unfold in my own life; perhaps I would put into any stitches I added the unresolved pain that I still carry.
    So I sit holding your words and story now for a full day; great thanksgiving for your sharing of the struggles, pain and darkness that accompanies the process of looking at memory. Now there are tangible, breathing pieces of fabric in your home, in your hands that can hold the stories, feel deeply the memories and journey forward. What steps that journey will include is surely a path that will evolve as it is to be for you. My steps with a similar story may not look anything like yours yet it is a path, a journey, a finding of peace with that ever so often challenge of the mother-daughter relationship.
    Blessings dear Quinn for opening up your heart to share this story. You have gifted me in so many ways over the time of daily following your words; this gift brings me closer to a healing process, a ceremony to embrace the goodness of a life lived with some pain and scarring. Thank you, thank you.
    Kristin

    • Thank you for writing. I wouldn’t have your courage, and I am grateful you are sharing it. When we become vulnerable, we find empathy and love. When we close off, we just find loneliness. This is a lesson you and all the other comments remind me. May your healing continue, in the steps you can manage. Maybe one of the actions that needs to be taken is not so much a putting the quilt back together as it is of letting all the painful stitching together of hurtful memories go.

  16. Your story touched me Quinn. I come from an extremely abusive childhood and understand anger. I think burning the quit is a good idea. Maybe it will finally release that anger and allow love to flow again.

    • I’m sorry you had such an abusive experience. It’s something you can never “get over.” And burning the quilt is such a strong statement, isn’t it? Almost like acknowledging everything that went wrong and separating from it.

  17. Your story bought tears to my eyes. I too had an angry mother who loved her son,( my brother), and just raised a daughter (me). Our relationship always puzzled my Dad, who somehow assumed we should just get along since we were both female. When I became a self taught seamstress at age 17, she started asking me to make her clothes. I instead taught her how to make them herself. This softened the edge of her anger, but it never really left her. It would flare up again at my daughter, who like me, explored and did things her way, rather than doing what “she was supposed to do.” I have long since come to terms with her anger, taking the view that she did the best she could with what she had.
    While your mother didn’t use colors you wanted, and give you any say in its design, she finally did consent to making your quilt after years of saying no. Somewhere, somehow, you had done “something to deserve it.” I would like to focus on that slim 10% and offer to finish your quilt for you.

    • You are kind to make this offer. So incredibly kind. It is a gift of tremendous love and compassion, and it brings me to tears. So many of these comments are so incredible, so understanding, that I need to sit with the wisdom of them for a while until I can understand what happened with this blog post. It’s huge. And you are part of it. Thank you. I won’t say No, I will just say, “Let me figure out where my heart is about the quilt.”

  18. I agree with the use of sheers..perhaps sandwich the quilt between silk tulle…or what a museum might use to conserve it….the least done to the artifact..the more it reveals of itself, for study of its uses or purposes.

    • When Susannah suggested it, it made me smile–it was such a different approach. I’m glad you think it’s a good idea, too. It allow it to be both unfinished and complete at the same time.

  19. Good god, that was hard to read. But I couldn’t not read it.

    I can tell from what I read here that you didn’t deserve that. And I hate to offer unsolicited suggestions, but … stash that quilt somewhere and have someone start a new quilt from scratch.

  20. What I heartbreaking story. I’m so glad that you’ve become such an inspiring person in spite of – or because of – what you’ve gone thru. I also like the idea of a letting go ceremony. While the quilt might serve as a reminder of things to avoid, having so much bad energy in your house can’t be a good thing. I hope you will go out and buy yourself the most beautiful and perfect quilt you can afford as a symbol of the love and comfort you deserve. While it’s kind of you to see your mother as doing the best she could it concerns me that you still describe yourself as a flawed daughter. (Especially since your childhood behaviors sound so much like my own.) Go pick out a quilt for that cool little girl to snuggle with.

    • I like the idea behind a new quilt. I always thought that doing that would be still trying to find love. I was flawed. I am flawed. I am a recovering perfectionist. And I love myself for it. That dichotomy is perfectly logical in my mind, and I think it would never have been without my mom. She gave me a gift without knowing it.

  21. Hello Quinn,
    I have a friend who is a professional quilter. I sent her a copy of your blog. I hope she feels like taking it on. I wonder if you have considered “updating” the quilt? It would mean (probably) undoing the work your mother has done, perhaps adding some other colors and fabrics and putting it together again. You could use the same pattern or a new one but it would be a complete version of what she started, a more contemporary, more to your liking version with the essence of your mother still attached…
    I appreciate so much the fact that you love the relationship that you and your mother had. It was you and your mom dancing your own mother/daughter steps through life. I could almost hear you chuckle when you wrote the line…”She loved not giving me that quilt.”
    Although a sad story, it is yours and I love that you understood and understand that her issues were hers. You are an old soul. Thank goodness you got that early on. Your mom’s refusal to learn what she needed to learn, instead holding on to that anger, means she is somewhere out there and the universe is still working to help her get on with it.

    • My mom loved her anger. It was hot and kept her warm. It didn’t cast much light on her life, though, so she kept fanning it. I treasure every stitch in that quilt as a story of her anger and love, struggle and control. I want to keep every thought she put into it just as it was. I never want to “use it” because the fabrics are much degraded. But looking at it as a story is still fascinating to me.

  22. That’s one of the saddest stories I’ve heard.

    I wonder if there might be a different approach. Instead of trying to make a quilt, could the pieces you have be used differently? By you? into, not so
    something that will lie on a bed, but into something ( or things) that celebrate the steps you have made in the world, starting, as it always does, with your mother, and all the baggage she carried?
    Frame the piece you like most.
    Experiment and play with the rest.
    See what happens

    • The quilt is almost a quilt. I would never put it on a bed (the energy is way off) but I would like to look at it every now and then and see what it has to say. I like seeing if that changes. I also love your idea of seeing the distance I have traveled in that quilt. Or, follow Vicky’s advice and burn it, letting energy return to energy.

  23. Oh, the damage that is done by parents to their children. Often it is done unknowingly or unintentionally. This story feels so sad to me. I can understand why you don’t want to just get rid of the quilt blocks. Perhaps you could stabilize them and finish each block (you could have somebody help you), and then put them into some type of fabric book. Then you would have them as a reminder of your mom, but not have the issue of trying to finish an entire bed quilt that just doesn’t seem to want to be finished.

    • The blocks are finished and mostly sewn together. I’d say the quilt is 85 percent complete. A whole corner is wonky and doesn’t quite make a rectangle. I do not sew, have no desire to struggle with it again. My mother tried to teach me to sew, but I was a miserable failure–I couldn’t cut straight, and still can’t, not with all the modern equipment we have. Last year, I bought striped material and a friend came to help me sew a book cover. The stripes were to be guidelines. She watched and approved every step, and when the time came to line up the pieces, one was way off. She was astonished. I wasn’t. If someone else finishes it, it will have to be with their skill. And my appreciation for it.

  24. Hi Quinn,
    Such a sad story.
    That unfinished quilt has bad vibes, from your mother not wanting to make it out of love for you, to her picking colors you don’t like — on purpose.
    If it were mine, with your history with it, I would think of a “letting go” ceremony such as burning it, which would release the bad vibes. You would never have to look at it or ponder it’s need to be fixed again.
    Even if you could find someone to finish it and quilt it, you would still have to look at it and feel bad all over again. No amount of money spent finishing the thing is going to make you feel better.
    I know that sounds harsh, but even from the grave you are being taunted and saddled with a giant burden. Let it go!
    Vicky F

  25. Quinn – I also have an unfinished quilt from my mother. When I announced my engagement at Christmas 1978 she took me out to pick out fabric, it was to be a wedding gift. No quilt at the wedding. In the early years I waited expectantly for it. Over time, as we switched to a queen size bed, and our color sense moved in a different direction I dreaded that quilt would make an appearance and I’d have to gush over a quilt that no longer suited me. In 2003 I helped Mom pack to move from her condo to a retirement apartment. That quilt was tucked away in a drawer, in bits and pieces. She had brought it with her through two changes of address. When I opened the drawer she said “just get rid of that.” I told her no, I would take it home with me. She offered no explanation and I didn’t ask. We’d already struggled that week with lots of topics she didn’t want to talk about.

    I had thought I’d finish it and give it back to her. But the fabric is poor quality – both because of what was available at the time and because Mom was always concerned about costs and often put incredible effort into inferior materials. And in the late 70s Mom took an intro to quilting class at a time when the only true way was hand piecing and quilting. So she set out hand piecing a full size quilt in the pineapple pattern. She must have repeated to herself “tiny seams” because they are mostly about 1/8″, half of the typical seam allowance. That coupled with her large stitches means the seams pucker and pop open all over the place. She had stitched together a row and a half of blocks – I can’t believe she stuck with it that long, especially with the results she was getting.

    I don’t think my Mom ever made a quilt. She moved on to counted cross stitch and found her creative niche. Both of my sisters got lovely cross stitch samplers as wedding gifts. But I still have this unfinished gift. I can’t bring myself to continue with her work. I can’t just let it go. So it sits here in a box, full of her love and her frustration.

    • My grandmother was my inspiration and was the ultimate craftsperson – she lived until she was 99, and the last Christmas she was able to make things she crocheted items for us all (it was very important to her and she worked industriously for months.) We still treasure the things she made that year, even though her stitches were dropped and they were ragged and uneven, but still made with love.

    • Yes, I recognize that story. And you are holding onto that box because it tells such an untold story your mother could never tell you. It’s precious for its knowledge. I feel the same way. And thank you for being brave enough to share that story.

  26. I have another friend who was never able to please her mother, either. It was only recently that she was able to let it go entirely, and say, “it’s not my fault, it’s in her.” Now, I know you were fortunate, in that you figured that out early on. But it still hurts, and will doubtless always hurt. As for the quilt, instead of finishing it in the classic sense, perhaps it should be stabilized, loosely, with some tulle or other extremely sheer fabric, which would let you look at it whenever you wished, without having it fall apart any further. I wouldn’t think it would make something you’d want to hang on the wall, but as I say, you could take it out occasionally and look at it. Because here’s the thing: she didn’t have to make it at all–but she started it. There is still work of her hands for you to meditate, reflect, and ruminate upon, but on your terms. She didn’t want to finish it, so don’t. But you wanted to finish it in a different sense. You can, on your terms. That way, you both can be at peace with it. Does that make sense to you?

    • That makes a great deal of sense, and it is exactly why I want it finished. She did start it. She struggled with control and love in that quilt. Witholding and giving. Anger and forgiveness. Who wouldn’t want to look at that story every now and then?

  27. How generous of you to share your story about your mother. I have difficulty with my own daughter, it makes me sad to think she might feel like you. I know that I love her unconditionally and wish she knew that, maybe that is how your mother felt……..
    I wish you could get the quilt finished, it might settle your thoughts.
    You know the saying:
    Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. I keep thinking, HOW MUCH DO I NEED TO KNOW?

    • That’s one of the quotes from my last quote blog, maybe Friday. It’s one of my very favorites. I need to know enough so I can understand the value of a different way of behaving. More effective. More loving. The quilt is now a metaphor, and I have given up controlling what will happen to it. I have no expectations. So whatever happens will be interesting. I have long forgiven my mother. I’m sure she loved me in her own way, because you can’t hate someone you feel indifferent to. It was just not a love I could understand. Like telling a horse how good a hamburger tastes. It just doesn’t work. And I am grateful to her, because without the deep spiritual struggle I went through because of her, I’d be someone else. Probably indolent.

  28. Very interesting story, being a quilter myself I wish you could get the quilt finished. Thank you for sharing that heartfelt post today. Having difficulty with my own daughter it saddens me to read your post. I wonder if both sides could let go of the anger, would it make it better. I keep hoping that is true, but so far it hasn’t happened. I think my daughter may feel like you do, but I know, as her mother, that I love her unconditionally and I wish she knew that too. Perhaps your mother felt as I do, but didn’t know how to let you know…..

    • My mother’s story is quite complex and has everything to do with her inability to know what to feel toward the world that had mistreated her (and she had been mistreated), except anger. To let go anger, both sides have to let go of expectations and their own story. Our stories are the foundation on which we build our rationalizations for our decisions. Our stories is how we make others wrong. For example, for years, mine was, “My mother never loved me enough, so how could I ever be expected to X.” Until I was willing to let that go, create a new perception, I couldn’t move ahead on a different path. So I kept switching paths, hoping each new one would be different. (You know the definition of insanity, right?) And every new path, bravely started, still had me walking it. So until I gave up the story, I walked the same path, different scenery, over and over. It took a long time to let go the expectation and satisfaction of that story. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

  29. It never ceases to amaze me how quilts can carry such stories. Usually fine, happy and satisfying ones,but just like life, some stories can only have unsatisfying endings. You have taken your lot in life and made so many people realize the greater good in their lives. I have always admired your and your talent, but even more so now. Thank you for your amazing insights into so many things!
    Since I AM a quilter, perhaps we could organize a round robin quilt completion project? And minimize the bad juju that one person is exposed to? We could all absorb (and process through) the juju, sending in back to you completed and juju-less?? Someone else’s bad juju is much easier to eliminate than your own personal bad juju and leaking stuffing!

    • What a great idea! A round-robin quilting project, where bad juju is absorbed, written about and shared. Stories of mothers, both confusing and loving–what a wonderful way of handling this. Hmmmm, deserves some thought as a project after the book is done.

  30. How sad, but these things happen. I was blessed with both my parents. they were the BEST and always encouraged me in my art pursuits, except that my practical Mom made me do shorthand and typing, and I am now glad she did!! those skills allowed me to have money to pursue my artwork

          • Well you’re already an excellent, published writer, have the discipline, and come on, this is a *great* story. I guess it could be a memoir too, but somehow it seems better as a foundation for something more like a novel.

            I don’t think you need to write it in just one month though. That’s always seemed wrong-headed to me, like the Iron Butt motorcycle rides (have you heard of those? Seems to be “how to find a non-enjoyable way to ride a motorcycle”).

          • If I wrote a memoir, it would have to be fictionalized. Which is fine with me. I took a memoir-writing class and realized that my perspective was different from my brothers as all eye-witnesses are different. But as a novel, I would not have to apologize or explain, and it might even be a related series of short stories. Which I can write more handily. But no, it would be over years, not in a month.

  31. OMG Quinn, now I know why you touch me with so many of your stories. I, too, could never measure up and climbed trees to escape in books,roamed the woods and fields from early morning to late afternoon at age 4 and 5, except it was my father I could never connect with. His nickname for me was “Dingus” (a useless appendage or thing). I was sixteen before I realized that he actually did know my name. I am continually amazed at your finding the path you have out of the darkness into the light and now guiding others.

    • See–it’s a head scratcher why some parents have children. I often say, “If nothing else, at least you were the thrill of your creation.” My mom just didn’t have it in her to raise a daughter with flaws. But I also am pretty certain that if she had nurtured me and loved me, I would have turned into a spoiled waistral. I needed to learn to stand on my own two feet early; it was a skill I’ve always found useful. And hey, wasn’t sitting in trees reading, just the best nurture ever?

  32. Quinn, thanks for your honesty and transparency in this post. My heart was sad for you as I read your story. So, I am sending an electronic hug your way. . . (((((((((Quinn))))))))) I hope you have a blessed day!

  33. You have such a wonderful take on the world. I can’t imagine anyone being angry with you. Behind closed doors we all carry our stories. Your blogs often resonate with me and lift me . I am accused of being angry sometimes when I am not in the least. Maybe the quilt is destined not to be finished…and thats ok.. Perhaps there is a group of quilters who could take it on and do it together so no one person has to do it alone or carry the energy it seems have! I spent yesterday with my friends mum in hospitable in uk and she has Alzheimer’s and just suffered a stroke,it’s all part of growing up and learning to deal with things,some not very nice. You have been through so much,no wonder You sound so wise and i love reading your blogs .What a year. Roll on 2013…..

    • I get lots of people angry, and that’s OK, I screw up, get angry myself (although rarely), but I can tick people off. Don’t make me send you a list of names! I disappoint people most often when they expect me to be angelic and always wise. I have my edges, ask Cooking Man! Your idea of a group working on it makes sense. I hadn’t thought of that, yet.

  34. You know, Quinn, I have read your amazing nlogs each night with awe at how you put words together. I finally felt I had to comment on this one. Even though you never got amy kudos from your own Mother, you constantly amaze, thrill, and make many Mothers happy with your own unique talents. So…keep on making us happy because we’ll never let you down in our praise of you!!

    • Aww, Leslie, that’s so generous of you. It makes me feel good, too, to know I can connect with people through these stories. My mom was emotionally damaged and did the best she could with what she had. She loved not giving me that quilt.

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