Stitching Stories from Stains
God is in the restoration business. He reminded me today after a candle scorched our anniversary tablecloth. The marred keepsake will likely join my pile of patchwork possibilities, because in our family, we’ve been stitching stories from stains for years.
It’s tempting to mourn the losses. But it’s also comforting to realize that’s okay. “God seeks what has passed by” (Eccl. 3:15, NASB). God cares about our past, the has-been’s and might-have-been’s.
But as the NKJV puts the above verse, “God will call the past to account,” because He cares about our present too and stitches good stories from past stains for our future as well. He creates pictures from our patches, mosaics from our mistakes, and entire collections from our scars.
“The quilt of my life is made of imperfect pieces lovingly fitted together by the Master Craftsman, to form a beautiful pattern… He makes no mistakes.” –Unknown
Patches to Patchwork
My dictionary defines “patchwork” as “piecemeal, hodgepodge, mix, collage, mess.” While God doesn’t mess up, I certainly do—regularly. I rarely eat anything with a red sauce that doesn’t end up decorating my clothes before I finish. It’s almost a tradition.
Do you see what I see? Is it a smudge…or a stain? (A family joke: a smudge can be scrubbed and salvaged, we hope, but a stain—now that’s permanently spoiled.) Is it a rip or a tear? A smear or the gray shadow of mineral-hard water?
In your darkest times, when everything feels like a disaster, God is still stitching stories from the stains in your life. He’s still working on your behalf, turning messes into marvels of beauty.
When the unexpected happens, when things fall apart, ask God to open your eyes, as Elisha did for his servant when threatened by calamity: “Lord, give him eyes to see what I see!” (2 Kings 6:17). We will grow in grace and glory to the degree we can trust God with the pieces of our lives.
He can stitch stories from stains and embroider patches into crazy quilts that become works of art. As my daughter would say emphatically, “It’s not a stain, it’s a creative opportunity.” Masterpieces can spin out of those mistakes.
Droplet Gift #25: When life hands me scraps, I will make quilts. And believe me, that’s not easy to say. It’s no dollar-store gift. Instead, it’s priceless.
Like the classic and vintage patterns I so admire. Intricate designs and themes abound. Many relate to nature or the weather—Bear Paw, Fox and Geese, Pine Tree, a dozen kinds of stars. Then there are household objects—Dresden Plate, Broken Dishes, Fan—and buildings, such as Little Red Schoolhouse and House on a Hill.
Wedding Rings and Log Cabins
However, I began my quilting “career” as a newlywed in Nova Scotia with a simple Nine Patch. A dear friend walked me through the steps of my first baby quilt, lovingly stitched for my daughter from remnants of my college senior banquet dress and my wedding gown. The happiness of pink eyelet and white satin passed along to another generation.
Then I grew more ambitious at stitching stories for life’s special occasions. I certainly overreached my skill level when I attempted an appliqued wedding quilt for a brother. But my heart was in it even if it perfectly illustrated the dictionary’s patchwork “mess.”
Much later, while I worked on a Wedding Rings for the “baby” daughter getting married, I taught a homeschool quilting course. The two younger girls, artistic to their fingertips, loved the Log Cabin project which ignited their own patchwork pastimes.
Ever since a college roommate’s quilt, I’d longed to try that pattern. Total success as a family activity and a connection with our history.
My original Nine Patch days had come a long way when I copied the ancient—and gorgeous—Sunbonnet Sue (the most popular quilt character of all time) which we enjoyed in the speakers’ cabin at a Christian camp. I called my variation on the costumed-doll theme International Girls and ended up making two that long, cold winter, one appliqued and one stenciled. Both stitched with stories from our years in the Chiloé Islands.
“The best kind of sleep beneath heaven above Is under a quilt handmade with love.” –International Girls quilt label
A Chilean version of the appliqued quilt is the arpillera, unknown to me in those days as it was considered subversive art. Spanish for “burlap,” arpilleras are brightly colored patchwork or 3-D fabric pictures, now usually depicting pastoral scenes. Earlier, they narrated forbidden tales. Stitching stories from stains and pain and scraps of grief.
Peace Work, one of the books planned for my series about Angélica De la Cruz’s life, features her involvement in a clandestine arpilleras sewing circle. While she preaches no political agenda, her secret risks not only her husband’s career but very possibly her life. Angie’s lovely piecework is the main story motif.
Nowadays you can find more generic Chilean Sues in souvenir shops.
“…We, as quilters, can tell literal stories in our quilts…” –Gracey of Burlap and Blossom Patterns
Pinwheels, Posies, and Patriots
Quilts can also help us celebrate friends, family, neighbors, and the extraordinary joys of ordinary life. I’m reminded of this every time I see three special creations I’ve been gifted:
My mother passed on a quilt top from a great-aunt. It’s an adaptation of the Pinwheel design, mostly blues and reds blocked in sunshine yellow. I backed it with a sunflower-sprigged material, so it became a team effort. The delicate hand-stitched top requires frequent restoration, but it tells such happy stories.
The green Yo-Yo Flower Basket joined my collection from a godly New Brunswick grandmother who wanted to share her hobby with a young missionary years ago. She served up blueberry “grunt” while we talked patchwork patterns. Another sweet friend with the Lord.
Formed of sections of overlapping triangles, the Patriotic Friendship Braid came from a thrift shop. A jewel snapped up for a couple of bucks, with a mysterious label tacked on back. I pray the original owner had to downsize rather than didn’t make it home from deployment. I’m stitching stories here…
The T-shirts of Our Lives
My Daughter #2 made a quilt a few years ago that I consider a combination of crazy quilt and Trip Around the World. It showcases, well, not everything about her life, but certainly a great glimpse into her childhood. Through the medium of her old, sometimes threadbare, and usually “smudged” t-shirts.
Talk about stitching stories from stains. What a wonderful journey…
- Her name in Greek and hand prints in fabric paint
- The pink basket of Maine potatoes
- The Florida sharks and dolphins
- The dog and cat in a garden—and the cat looked just like her own striped Tiger
- The teddy bears sharing a tea party at the beach
- The lavender Minnie Mouse from an “Ohio Star” couple who blessed my kids with a shopping spree
- Bar Harbor CAMPING with a raccoon
- Riding orcas (¿¡?!) off Viña del Mar, Chile
- The piping plover, Nova Scotia endangered species
- Purple flowers and a straw hat
- Gray racehorses from her sister
- The Prince Edward Island Bugs Club!
So many memories recreated and restored every time we look at that quilt. If we can do that with scraps of fabric and thread, I’m sure God can remake everything.
“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… You shall…be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord” (Joel 2:25-26).
Lord, don’t take me home… until my eyes have seen your redemption…
…Of all that the bugs have eaten, the sun has baked, the rain has mildewed, and the damp has rusted. All that time has faded and wrinkled and stolen.
…Of every burn hole, mold stain, health drain, and mental strain. All the torn towels and dingy days.
…Of the pain in every breast and the patches on every knee.
All of it restored, stitched into stories. Praise the name of the Lord.
I absolutely love this post. One of my favorites. I so look forward to Monday mornings so I can learn what is on your heart. Have a wonderful week!!
I thought you would enjoy the quilting stories!