Stitching with Mom

Mal | Here and Now,Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Binding a quilt

My parents were visiting for the weekend, which means that I didn’t get any of my chores done (laundry? food? shopping, anyone?) but I did get to spend three days stitching, designing, and laughing.

My mom is a very talented seamstress who spent the last 30 years raising her 7 children. In the past few years, as the last of us have finally moved into adulthood, she has made more free time for sewing, and gravitated toward quilting specifically. Every Tuesday night, she and two of her neighbor friends move into a large sewing room that one of them owns. It has a design wall, a television set, a mini refrigerator — you get the idea. Basically, it’s a needle-and-thread bomb shelter from the rest of the world. Mom calls Tuesday her “sanity day” and on particularly tough non-Tuesdays, she’ll sneak over there by herself to work. It’s kind of inspiring how she uses her chosen medium to regulate emotions and frustrations, connect with others, and find an inner center.

My mom also buys lots of books, takes lots of classes, and meets lots of other quilters. I, for my part, am a child of the Digital Age and because my mom lives far, the nearest thing I have had to a quilting tutor is the internet with its crackling circuits and bytes. It’s not exactly the most nurturing of teachers, but in this day and age it will have to do.

Binding stitch

Mom wanted to see what I’ve been working on, so I showed her some of my recent successes — the doll quilt on the wall (I’m sorry! I just think it’s cute!), the Obama cross stitch (with some trepidation, as our politics are quite different), and the next installation of my band sampler (stay tuned for photos).

What I most wanted to do, though, was share my recent frustrations and failures. I knew she would have fixes and solutions for me. I, as a visual learner, would benefit from her wisdom as she sat next to me, demonstrated with her able fingers, and brought clarity to my confusion. A few times, I asked her questions whose answers I already knew. I enjoyed making her feel wise and important and smart. I wanted to soak in the look on her face and savor the moment.

As we sat there together, chattering away, needles in our hands, I felt something deep and primal and wonderful at work. We were taking our part in the cycle of textile arts — one generation learning from another. For various reasons, I have more memories of that experience with my grandmothers than with my mother, so it was nice to close the gap a little bit. Plus, she taught me the neatest binding stitch I’ve ever seen. Armed with this little finishing gem, I think I am going to quilt like crazy, now.

What about you? Who is your best teacher? Do you teach yourself? Have you had a generational moment like this?


  1. What a great post! I love learning things from another generation than ours…especially when the teacher is your mom! I think that crafting and creativity are such a wonderful way for women (and men) to connect! Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Sarah — 23 March 2009 @ 1:57 pm

  2. @Sarah: I get into snits where I fear losing all of that accumulated knowledge from my elders. I treasure these kinds of moments with my mom and miss my grandmothers dearly.

    Comment by Mal — 23 March 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  3. Great post. I think the older generation is definitely the true pioneers of craft. Unfortunately, no one in my family is relatively crafty. And I have no knitting or crocheting skills in my bones. But the effort and want is there. Skills, no. But I am working on it. I find some much beautiful stuff online I can’t help but want to learn and do more. Thanks!

    Comment by urban craft — 23 March 2009 @ 4:30 pm

  4. I really like this post. Sounds like you had a wonderful creative visit with your mom and sounds like she has a great deal with her Super Tuesdays. I’m going to have to go find your Obama x stitch and your quilt.

    My grandmother taught me all the needleworks, tried to teach my mother to knit when I was a teen but didn’t have the patience(she was a painter not a needleworker), but I’d have to say my mother was my greatest teacher as she taught me about life and what a wonderful mother is(and isn’t) and I learned so much from her that has helped me to forge a pretty wonderful relationship with my son even though he’s a senior in high school and I had a great relationship with her until she died.

    About teaching myself, the older I get the more experimental I’m getting at least in my work. I’m trying to paint fabric and try different techniques . In regular life I think I’m reverting back to my youth.

    Comment by debraann — 23 March 2009 @ 4:39 pm

  5. Great post, makes me a little sad though for no familymember is gonna teach me. So the net is my very patient teacher and therefore I have a question. Is it possible that you show all of us the binding stitch?

    I have the similar experience as debraann, the older I get the more experimental I get. Love trying new things, probably because I feel secure enough to leave the paved pathway and take babysteps outside my comfortzone. Just want to give myself new experiences, new things to look at, feel the energy of learning something new. I’m really excited about this.

    Comment by Elizabeth — 24 March 2009 @ 2:03 am

  6. Your mom sounds like a really special lady. Happy that you two were able to spend such a lovely time together doing what you both love to do!

    Comment by Victoria — 24 March 2009 @ 8:51 am

  7. I love the way you reflect on your projects and are attentive to process!! I would say that you ARE practicing what you preach –

    My mother was a very talented seamstress and incredibly resourceful — she made our homes look like decorator homes by using her considerable eye and abilities and without all that much money — she had the ability to know what to splurge on and where she could conserve like mad… all in service of her vision.

    Since I have made sewing so central to my life, it is a wonder to me that I can hardly remember my mother sewing at all — I DO remember her talking with her mouth full of pins and I do remember standing on a stool for her to mark a hem — but when and where did she make those incredible Austrian pleated shades? Or the first, the second and the third set of slipcovers?!!

    Since I was too impatient to learn very much from her directly (something I still lament), I consider her teaching to have been more in supporting all her children in their creativity and in instilling a kind of ‘can-do’ attitude… I learned SOME things, like the importance of pressing, and how to find short cuts when following a pattern — and to love the smell of fabric.

    The older I get, the more I see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I truly wonder at the likelihood of a fabric gene.. (her mother was a seamstress in Brooklyn) …or a design gene… or a ‘make a mess and thoroughly enjoy it’ gene!

    I heard a variation of the saying ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ which the Irish use and I’ll close with it (it has a very different flavor) — ‘You can’t lick that from rocks.’

    Enjoy your time with your mom… and thank you for visiting my blog!

    Comment by Dee — 25 March 2009 @ 12:38 pm

  8. Thanks to all for your kind and thought-provoking comments on this entry.

    Comment by Mal — 26 March 2009 @ 3:39 pm

  9. Hi,
    I’m just wondering about the binding direction. I think I bind in the other direction, so: right to left. I’m right-handed, and I think it’d be neat to see if people just have different preferences or if it has to do with “handedness”. Or maybe people switch back and forth? (I don’t know how I bound my last quilts, as there was a multi-month break between binding quilts…)

    Comment by Christine — 30 March 2009 @ 5:59 am

  10. @Christine: I also sew right to left, I think, but I may hold the quilt upside down or something! (Don’t put it past me.) I think I’m going to be taking pictures of my process this weekend — will be seeing my mom again. So, let’s see what happens when you see those photos!

    Comment by Mal — 30 March 2009 @ 11:08 am

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