My Scrap Angel: Life Lessons Learned While Quilting

Sharon Barnes Overcoming Adversity Leave a Comment

FRCQ Entries-Angel-Hannah 001-1Have you ever started a creative project that went so badly you trashed it? I have–more times than I’d like to admit. I had heard that mistakes can be our finest learning experiences, but I’d not relished that idea until I reclaimed one of my discarded pieces, and unexpectedly discovered how to reclaim my life, too.

An hourglass quilt block I had made from scraps contained too many mistakes to use, so I pitched it. The triangles didn’t have points; I could have done better when I was nine years old. The parallel lines weren’t parallel–they would have made a good class project for “Perspective in Art.” In one place, the fabric ran out before it reached the edge of the block. Yes indeed, it was beyond repair. Toss it, I must. Before garbage pick-up day, I needed a piece of fabric to practice on, and I didn’t want to waste new fabric. I had just the thing! I retrieved the square I had thrown away, thinking, “I can’t make it any worse than it is”.

I plopped blotches of color here and there, with no rhyme or reason, except that I purposely covered up a few of its errors. After continuing to use it for several practice sessions, Idubbed it Chaos: it looked chaotic and it matched my life. I was recovering from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. At least, I hoped I was. I was better than I had been, but still not well enough to work more than a few hours a week. I couldn’t anticipate if I’d have energy on any given day. I felt like I was stuck on a teeter-totter, going up and down in the same place, with no predictability. Some days I’d have energy and be able to do a few things. Then I’d crash and be too tired to do anything but lie on the couch for days at a time.

Yes, this was better than taking all day to do one load of laundry. But having my stamina return and then vanish in the blink of an eye was maddening, frightening, and oh, so chaotic. It left my head spinning. Would my strength come back this time? If so, how long would it take? What would I miss out on or who would I let down in the mean time? Would it ever come back to stay? Would I ever have a normal life again?

In the midst of this turmoil, I was having great fun. I could sew on this rehearsal block on good days and crash days, since there was no pressure to do it right. I practiced fusible appliqué, machine free-motion embroidery with metallic threads, and then machine free-motion quilting, also with metallic threads. My machine purred on happily for weeks, then months. As I stitched, it was as if I entered another realm, where all was peace and light; where space and time longer existed. Pain, fatigue, fear, and worry were far behind.

FRCQ Entries-Angel-Hannah 004Each time I finished sewing, I’d pin Chaos on my design wall. As it hung there, one day I noticed that the dreadful blunders no longer glared at me. Sometimes I couldn’t even find them. Then it hit me—I couldn’t throw this away! It was too beautiful to discard. In fact, it would make a great center block for a medallion quilt. I could see it now: four borders, the same colors as the flowers I had appliquéd and embroidered. Yes! I got excited as I visualized the finished wall hanging.Eventually, it was time to add the borders. But wait! It needed something else first. The metallic threads didn’t stand out enough. I finally found some over-sized gold moire´ piping, and placed it around my reclaimed centerpiece. Then I could attach the borders that matched the flowers. But it still didn’t feel right, so I added another layer of three dimensional borders on top of the cotton ones. I wanted something soft and comforting, so these were made of chiffon and georgette. (I could hear the quilt judges now: “Inappropriate use of fabrics”)!

Finally I quilted and bound my reclaimed throw-away block. While I worked on it, it seemed to talk to me. It spoke of those awful things in my life that hovered in the air space around me …

  • Humiliating, abysmal failures,like not being well enough to work more than a few hours a week
  • Chicken Little times when I had held back in fear for no reason
  • Missed deadlines due to inattention, over-ambition or procrastination
  • Botched, dropped or neglected opportunities
  • Worries about my health and if my life was worth living like this
  • Miserable hurts I’d received.
  • And yes, horrid ones I’d given, too

I saw that these issues in my life were all like this textile square I had gotten rid of. As I sewed on it and listened with my inner ear, I heard that this throw-away block, and my life, too–could be reclaimed, with some creativity, work (sometimes spelled P-L-A-Y) and time.

Grace showed up, too-in the form of what looked like an angel to me. There she was, a scrap of embroidered cloth nestled in the upper chamber of the metaphoric hourglass. How fitting! I’ve struggled with time all my life. My internal clock, if there is one, runs at half the speed (or less) than everyone else’s. I’m in tune with chairos, or seasonal time, not chronos, or clock time. My Scrap Angel said to let go of trying to control and even of having to know the timing of events in my life. She suggested that I trust, relax and enjoy the ride.

That quiet voice of inner wisdom continued to speak softly as I stitched and also as I gazed at the altered threads pinned to my design wall. A whisper urged me that all was not lost in my life, just as all had not been lost for my hideous quilt block. This fabric piece has recovered from significant setbacks. Yes, I had, too.

None of my blunders mattered any more. What mattered was my ability to use my creativity to transform this adversity into advantage. I had seen the metamorphosis of this worthless piece-of-junk into a shining, vibrant, work-of-art right before my eyes. What’s more, my hands had guided the cloth as my ancient relic of a sewing machine stitched along. I began to believe that if I could reclaim this hopeless wreck through my own playful work, I could retrieve my life, too. All I had to do was to follow the same process. Oh, no. What was that process? It was …

  • Retrieving my horrid work from the rubbish
  • Tossing out the rules about what could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t be done, or how it could or should be done.
  • Playing with it; having fun while doing what interested and intrigued me
  • Listening with my inner ear: opening up enough to receive guidance–and follow it.
  • Risking enough to transfer this counsel to my life.

Angel of the Hourglass quilt photo-1One day it occurred to me to write down what I was hearing. The result? Now I have instruction and inspiration as I continue to make mistakes, meet challenges and encounter unexpected reverses in life. Here’s the messages that I caught as I created, and later as I contemplated my creation:

  • Don’t throw it away just because it’s not perfect.
  • Lighten up; have some fun and take some risks with it.
  • Build on its tedious, yet essential structure.
  • Transform the multitude of mistakes with loveliness.
  • Include glowing images of things you love.
  • Discover its vibrant themes and develop them.
  • Add shimmer and sparkle until your eyes shine.
  • Surround it with strong, broad borders.
  • Create a cuddly, cozy container for the chaos.
  • Make it elegant and regal, fit for a queen or king, despite its randomness and imperfection.
  • Let the angel in the hourglass reveal that time is in her hands.
  • Enter her timeless place often, and she’ll guide you peacefully through life’s chaos.
  • Open your heart to the healing power of
  • Love, Beauty,Wisdom and Grace.

I hope my Scrap Angel inspires you to reclaim some of your creative projects, and reclaim your life while you’re at it. May you face your cumulative errors and misfortunes, knowing that no matter how chaotic and imperfect things begin, they can end beautifully.

Would you be willing to share some of your stories and creative results? Let’s encourage and inspire each other as we reclaim our creative mistakes and our lives. Please comment using the link below.

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