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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Starting in the Middle and Working from the Center Out

I named this blog from my interest in sewing, and I just realized I've virtually never mentioned a thing about sewing in any form. It's about time I remedied that.

I was born with gracious stitches all around me. All the women in my family were amazing seamstresses and craftswomen with fabric and thread. I was brought home from the hospital in hand-stitched receiving blankets, laid in my crib in a room filled with home-sewn curtains and quilts and blankets. My first wardrobe, and for most of my childhood, I wore hand-created garments by my mother and grandmothers; little dresses with my Grandmother Lorraine's beautiful stitching and hand-smocking on them,
mittens and socks knitted with love, and jackets, hats, scarfs and ponchos crafted just in my size. I slept under heirloom quilts and laid my head on hand-embroidered pillow cases. My bedroom walls were hung with hand-stitched treasures, including a framed Noah's ark crewelwork piece with all the animals, and my bed was strewn with handcrafted dolls, stuffed animals, and crocheted toys. My childhood was surrounded by humble and practical artistic beauty, and hand-stitched love.
I naturally grew up with a needle between my fingers.

I started with simple stitches of my own design on scraps of cloth from my mother's sewing basket. Gradually I worked my way through the different sewing techniques: needlepoint, cross-stitch, huck weaving (Swedish embroidery seen below),all kinds of embroidery, crewel, counted-cross stitch and quilting. I learned to sew with a machine and kept myself and my dolls in simple little garments. I remember in particular, making my own complete outfit, a top and slacks, just in time for it's inaugural wearing on a 5th grade class field trip! I was in heaven.

As a child I never went anywhere without either a book to read or a project to stitch, and preferably both.
There are many life lessons that come from a childhood surrounded by multi-colored threads and fabrics, but for me the most profound is probably that sewing is seldom a linear thing. You can't quilt a beautiful quilt by starting at the beginning and working in a straight line to the end. Sewing and stitching beautifully, almost always consists of starting somewhere in the middle and working from that center out. As much as it may seem logical before actually trying it, creating a satisfying and beautiful piece of stitching is never a linear, top to bottom task.

Let me try to explain. Think of something that seems very linear to the eye, for instance the huck weaving example above. It sure looks to the eye as if you start at the edge and stitch horizontally right across the bottom of that towel. "Hucking", done on huck toweling with a special fabric surface for the stitches to be "woven" under, is actually begun right smack in the middle of the towel. You fold that baby in half, find the middle, and stitch a middle guide stitch to be removed later so you don't lose track of the middle as you sew! You then work your stitches out and away from the center, returning to the center point every time you need a reference. This is the only way a pattern will be sure to center and end on both sides with matching edges. If you were to try any other method, you'd either end up lopsided, or you'd end up with taking out lots of stitches (a subject for another blog on another day!)

The same is true with quilting. Start in the center as you piece together your pieces. Usually pieced quilts are done in small sections, and the sections (worked from a center-point out if they artist knows what they are doing) are then brought together in a larger and larger piece, consistently working from the center out.

This is even true when constructing a garment of clothing. "Now a shirt can't be started from the center," you argue. "Start at the top of the top and work to the bottom of the bottom... collar first, hem at the bottom last," you might think. Wrong. You will have nothing your pet boa constrictor will be even able to slither into if you follow that method. You start always with constructing the center of the garment, and work up and down from the center, working in a logical progression so that pieces are stitched on in a manner that allows the next piece to be attached. Example. You attach a yoke of a shirt to the body and the collar to the yoke, before you can begin to attach the arms, the front placket or sew up the sides. You must have a center from which to anchor the work that will flow out of it.

The center is the anchor of all that we do as we create art and fashion from needles, thread and fabrics. You can choose the most amazing fabric combinations, use the most complex sewing techniques, but if you fail to understand the "chord" that will makes the different parts into a "symphony," the piece you create will never be artistry.

As I live my life, I am more and more aware of just how much this is the basic reality of my life's melody and rhythm. I don't see the world from the edges in, or linearly, from top to bottom. I see the middle of issues, the center of the picture, the soul, and then work from that point out to the edges to clarify the picture in my mind. I tend to think that maybe this is a God-gift. I tend to think that maybe God sees the world from the center of its being too... from the center which is God's self, and that God works from that point out, to understand and view all of us.

God is the mirror in the center of our being that our person is reflected out from. The center of us is the center of God's self, and we are seen by God from that center-point. We are seen by God from the center of our hearts, minds, bodies, needs, hopes, dreams, challenges, heartbreaks... outward. God sees us from the center that is God within each of us. We are only capable of seeing that same center in each other if we seek in grace not to look at each other linearly; from logical top-to-bottom, front-to-back, outside first. We see only the individuals around us, if we see them with the eyes of love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and hope.

Our center is our foundation. What we are built out from. What we fail to attach well onto our central foundation, what we pick up as trash and debris from life, what injuries we do to the externals of our foundation, what evil bits we glue onto our central selves by choice, do not still, in their whole, destroy the inner beauty of the core that God built us from, because that core is Godself.

What I hope to do with this blog, with this life that is mine, with the children I have been given to raise, with the relationships that I have the privilege of being a part of, within the churches I serve, with the bits and pieces of my life and all its hours, is to sew the most beautiful gilded patches I can, with the most gracious thread I can find, onto the lives of the people I encounter. It is my intention and dream, and always has been my joy, to take the beautiful foundations of thread and fabric, and create with them objects of beauty that build from the center and the heart of their reality. It is my dream to stitch away the broken spots of people's lives. strengthening them and taking away their ugliness, revealing spots of rare beauty that reminds each person with pride, that God has not forgotten them, but seeks to bring out that which is their center and create a great masterwork of their life.

That is my dream.
With wool and silk,
floss and thread,
paisley-ed and patterned,
fringed and gilded bits and pieces,
to see the middle of God's great handiwork and work from that center out to patch with gracious threads the broken hopes of the world.

Oh Beautiful Seamstress of the Eternities, hear my prayer.


  1. Well said. This DOES mean when folks call you a so-and-so, you get to hear "sew " - and respond "Thank you! " :)

  2. beautiful.

    Welcome to the RevGalBlogPals! We're glad to have you in our community.

  3. this analogy works on many levels! Great to have you as one of the RevGals! :)

  4. This is lovely! I am so happy to meet you and look forward to reading your words.

  5. So glad to welcome another Twitter friend to the webring!

  6. Thanks to each of you for your kind words. I guess I hadn't realized that people would actually start reading what I wrote, so hadn't checked back in here after I became an official RevGal! What a blessing! Thank you again!

  7. Thank you for your beautiful insights about fabric and faith. I am a lover and collector of quilts. Being around beautiful fabric is always kairos holy time for me. We now have an annual quilt and fabric art show during Lent at the church where I serve and it is indeed a deep time of God's rich blessings for many of us. Thank you for your meaningful prayer. I posted a link on my facebook page. Blessings on your ministry.