The End of the Angry Quilt

A few months ago I wrote about the mystery of the quilt my mother wouldn’t make for me. She stopped and started the quilt for more than 20 years. The part of the story that confounded me was that for the years my mom was in dementia care and in the years since she died, no one has been able to complete the quilt. People want to take it, but once they have it, their energy wanes.

Double wedding ring quilt, from SarcasticBlogger

Double wedding ring quilt, from SarcasticBlogger

Something happens to each person who offers to work on the quilt. Months or years after I hand the quilt over, I get it back, stuffed into a black trash bag and handed back quickly, as if it were an illegal transaction. Or one of mourning.

After I wrote about the quilt, many readers made kind and thoughtful suggestions (you can read that blog post here) of what I should do with the quilt. Some offered to make me a new quilt, which was touching and amazing to me.

There were also a few mothers with difficult daughters who wondered if I might have been on the other end of the perspective. Maybe.  And at the end, I promised to tell you what I would do with the quilt.

I’ve thought about it for a long time. Here’s what we know: The colors (Williamsburg blue and milk chocolate brown with touches of ivory and burnt orange) are not a palette I’d choose. (Notice I’m not saying it wouldn’t match my walls or the couch–I don’t think art has to do that). The calico my mother used was not the cotton of today, and the fabric has degraded over the years.

I took the quilt to meditation and was struck by three shockingly clear facts:

1. The proof, rather than the quilt, was what I was after. I wanted my mother to love me, and prove it by making me a quilt. She made quilts for so many others, why not me? That idea set many years ago, and I never questioned it. When I did, the answer was–my mother did not finish the quilt. I need to accept that as I have accepted the other truths that didn’t taste great the more I chewed on them.

2. If the quilt were finished, what, exactly, did I want to do with it?  I did not want it to cover my bed. Don’t like the color, the design is incomplete, and it would be a reminder of the whole story of loss, every day.

3. The fate of the quilt would be to lie folded in a box in the garage, degrading some more until I pass it on to a relative whose history it doesn’t fit, and who does not need to continue the story.

It took a long time for me to mourn what I did not have and to decide on the next step. Part of my business is designing rituals for others. I join people in marriage or commitment; create and perform sacred ceremonies; end of life transitions; house selling, moving and new home blessings; even new job celebrations. What I needed was a ritual for letting go of the quilt. Vicky, one of my readers, has left the comment, “Burn it.” When I read it, I was shocked. And I knew she was right.

images-1The quilt has served its purpose, and it is time to transition the quilt to another use. I am going to bundle it up, write a letter to my mother, releasing her go of the obligations to complete this quilt or  prove she loves me. I will then burn the quilt and letters and save the ashes. The ashes will be mixed with water-soluble varnish and distilled water and become ink. I’ll use the ink to record the history of the quilt in a journal. My mother was the quilter. I am the writer, and the quilt will find a purpose in the way I know how to use it. The lessons of the quilt can be passed on

  • No one can be forced to love you.
  • “If you loved me you would. . . .” is a sentence that is about control, not love.
  • Loving yourself starts when you accept yourself and know you cannot change the past. Everything else comes after that.

When the day comes to burn the quilt, I will invite people to create their own ceremonies of letting go–of failed love, of regret, of a loss that won’t heal. Whether you burn old love letters or set your sorrows afloat, tied to a stick that you drop into a river, it will be a day to celebrate your own strength.

Take photos and write your stories, and we will create a blog chain of support and celebrate the power of letting go. I’m thinking that October is a good month to do this. I’ll remind you from time to time about your plan, so you will be ready. It will feel incredible light and right to let go.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. Her word for this year is “let go.”

34 thoughts on “The End of the Angry Quilt

  1. Quinn: I applaud your decision to burn your quilt – which is something I NEVER thought I would say. As a fiber artist, and the daughter of an amazing mother who hand quilted and gave away over 100 quilts, I couldn’t imagine burning a quilt when I read your blog a couple of months ago. But it is obvious that you have given this a great deal of thought. I love that you are going to “Release” the quilt itself, but through that process you are going to “Transform” it into ink and then journal about it so you can be “Renewed”. My word for the year is “Release” so I will be with you in October or whenever you decide to burn your quilt. Not sure what I will burn, but I will give it some thought between now and then. It would be great if you would share the process of making the ink from the ashes so if we want to do that we could. Thank you for sharing your very personal thought process with us.

    • Please consider more than burning–releasing by floating on water, by lifting up to the air, or by burying in the ground are all possible. The burning was a way to get to the ashes and the ink portion, so I could use the quilt in a way that is mine–by writing and journaling. I’m investigating making a paint or an ink, probably by mixing the ashes with a varnish and some gum arabic–which is made from the acacia tree that grows here. It will allow me to write with a fine brush, which is a good way to use the ink without damaging a pen. I may have to paint a design around the page, or do a lot of brush practice! The ritual will be a blessing for many leftover emotions. “Release” is an excellent word, and I think the blog tour of letting go will be helpful to many people. I fell in love with both letting go and helping others to let go, too.

  2. It’s always hard to accept that someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to, especially when that person is a parent. I like the idea of the ritual of letting go, it’s something to think about for sure.
    As always I really appreciate the way you open your heart and show us how much we are alike under the skins that seem so different.

    • There are some feelings that are so universal, they need to be put in the sunshine. Not everyone wants to do that. I will. And yes, there are other things I never mention.

  3. Last August I contacted my birth mother,( whom I had found through After 65 years of a wonderful life filled with great love, I wanted her to know I was OK. I also found two sisters and three brothers ,who knew nothing of my existence, After a day long visit,which was a joy, my mother has decided she just can’t accept her actions of so many years ago, so we do not see each other. However, my sisters, have simply enveloped me wiith love and grace. I will burn my sense of loss and unfulfilled expectations, and celebrate my greater gain. Perhaps it was the three sisters who were always meant to be together. Yes, I believe it was!

  4. I´m burning a lot of my past nowadays. It is a physical and emotional experience to haul all those boxes out, go through them and let them go. I´m burning a lot of papers from our UK years. It is one of our most beloved periods of our lives (I´d say “the” if it weren´t for the kids who came later 😉 ) and it also means letting go of the carefree younger version of me.
    I´m on a tighter deadline but I will be with you when you go through the fire release. 🙂

  5. I can only suggest that for me the book “How Good Do We Have To Be” by Harold Kushner helped a great deal with the letting go process and the forgiving myself and my parent as well. I highly recommend reading it as a companion to the ritual of letting go.

    • Actually, the October choice is terribly ordinary–first of all, the heat breaks here by October, which is nice. Second of all, I need to have my palo verde trees trimmed, as they hang over the chimney right now, keeping the kitchen in shade. But no fires in the fireplace till they are trimmed back!

  6. I am pleased that you have found a solution that works for you and that we can share in if we want to when the time comes. I was one of the people who suggested burning it, as I believe you will find some healing that way, and am so happy to read the things you will be doing in addition to the burning – mixing the ashes, and so on. I really enjoyed reading the three shockingly clear facts that emerged after meditation.

  7. Oh Quinn I love this idea. I love that you are ready to let this quilt become something else. Keep us posted. I will need to figure out what to let go of.

  8. Dear Quinn, I had a feeling you would burn the quilt. Really what else can you do with it? You have your memories of your mother and things are just things unless we allow them to become something more….It’s time for the quilt to go. I love how one of your “Angry Quilt” readers, Lisa Brown, put it ….”I would make a phoenix rise from the metaphorical ashes.” and so you shall. Your idea of making ink to write about your mother and the quilt is inspired and perfectly suited to you. Congratulations on a thoughtful, loving way to put your quilt to rest.

  9. Amazing how you have found the way to use the quilt in a way that suits you. I admire you for being able to do this and for sharing it.

  10. Quinn — I just finished reading the book “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” by Aimee Bender for a book club that meets tonight. I can’t tell you that I loved this book, but it has been haunting me since I put it down! In it, the main character is able to detect the emotions of the cook when she eats food prepared by another person. If some of your friends were unable to finish the quilt for whatever reasons, maybe it carried the same vibes for your mother and she just couldn’t get it done either. Maybe it’s something in the fabric…who made it, how the cotton was grown… Bring on the fire ceremony with blessings from all of us! I’m going to gather a few items and set them free, too!

  11. Let go….I wrote that over and over in my journal yesterday….so I will be there with you. I am having the biggest letting go in my fifty years on this planet in every way imaginable. But,it’s ok,it needs to happen. I knew you were going to write burn the quilt before I read the article!! Absolutely the correct action! Inspired as ever by how you find the time to do so much everyday!!!xxxx

  12. Quinn I am so happy that you came to a point where you can see closure. I scattered my mothers ashes on relatives graves (my brother ans sister in law, my grandparents, great grandparents and her brothers), so that is part of my “ashes & release” I would like to join the ritual and Samhain does seem perfect.

  13. This seems like a reflection (in the mirror sense) of something you wrote a while back.

    “Wearing a talisman helps you focus on what the talisman is about and brings those thoughts to the forefront. That helps you concentrate on what you need to accomplish, and Voila! Magic.” (-Quinn McDonald, Jan 28 2007)

  14. I too have a rejection/loss from a parent (only it is a father in my case). It is time for me(I can feel it) to let it go. I had “let it be” long ago, so there is no pain that I carry around any more. But there is a heaviness about it (if that makes sense) that I need to release. I will be there with you.

  15. I’m so happy to hear that you have found the right way for you to deal with this. And count me in too. I’m not quite sure yet what exactly I will burn but I’ll be there too. There are things in my heart that need to be set free. And that All Hallow’s Eve would be perfect.

  16. Samhain (All Hallow’s Eve) is a great time for a fire ceremony of letting when the veil is thinnest and we can be most in touch with our ancestors – I’d like to join in from across the pond!

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