Sometimes, I think, patchwork can sound shabby, the idea of cobbling together something, often utilitarian, from leftover scraps. But patchwork is much more than that. For example, a patchwork quilt, even though humble in origin and purpose, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Because, you see, those aren’t leftovers; they’re souvenirs, treasures, stories, memories. Each of them having so much power in its own right is then carefully lined up with the others, a craft of both eye-pleasing design and technical ability, fine stitches must hold the design together and the design must stand alone and yet be part of every one of its individual components.
I love patchwork, it appeals to me that those squares can unite and become an integral piece, no longer just a blue square or a red square, but part of much bigger design. I love colour too. I love history and heritage. But I can’t sew.
I’ve long wanted a patchwork quilt on my bed, for all of the reasons above and probably many more. But patchwork quilts don’t make themselves, they need a big investment and commitment of all kinds of resources and as we on the whole are no longer thrifty and making our own clothes, I doubt many of us even have a scrap bag anymore. This forces you to turn to specifically designed and branded fabrics, which are available, particularly on the internet as fabric shops are now far and few between these days, but at great cost. Or at least at what I perceive to be great cost. The colours are dependent on some fashionable palette which has little to do with what colours I actually would want. I don’t really do psychedelic flower power or twee pastels. I’d rather there was a middle ground.
If I could get my hands on fabric then what? Well, as I said, I don’t sew. I’m also terrified of sewing machines. (And most other electric equipment). I can mend things with mismatched thread; in fact I’ve become quite a dab hand at darning socks. However, this is more motivated by thrifty economy than any particular aptitude or talent. Patchwork would require both. In large quantities.
You see, this is what I do. I dream something up then decide who is the best person to do it. I rarely count myself. I can see other people’s strengths and abilities, focussing on those. I know that someone else could do a brilliant job of it. I’d just mess it up. There’s a sort of humbleness in asking for help, in knowing and accepting that someone can do a better job than myself. I rely on others and I count on their talents.
It’s not likely that I could ever succeed in making a patchwork quilt and frankly, I don’t think that there are too many people around me who could do it either. Husband sews beautifully but he really isn’t keen on taking on such an ambitious project. Especially as it is my project. He feels, for some reason, that if you want something done, you should do it yourself. He doesn’t appreciate how I evaluate skillsets and find the right or best person for the job. After all, it normally involves him.
It’s not really laziness. Just a profound fear of a failure. Why risk doing something that you know you’re going to fail? Why risk messing up or making a mistake? I don’t trust myself. And failure is unpardonable.
Recently, however, I’ve been thinking and working through a lot of thoughts and fears like this. I’m starting to realise that there are things that I can do myself and that I might not necessarily be bad at everything I do. This is quite a revolution which has rather changed the world around me. A little new, a little different, a little scary but possibly positive, however much I don’t like change.
So I return to the line ‘I cannot sew’. It’s true. It’s not just a question of negative perception. I won’t be able to sew my own patchwork quilt. My abilities aren’t there for that and possibly never will be, although I really do think that someone my age should get over their fear of sewing machines at some point.
So what can I do if I have really set my heart on having a patchwork quilt? (Which I have).
Well, there is something.
I can knit.
I could knit a quilt, the quilt.
That in itself sounds quite challenging. I can’t count, I have a poor attention span and I’m not overly confident about my knitting abilities.
But there, you see, is the wonder of patchwork.
Patchwork is elements, simple elements, brought together as one cohesive design; it only becomes big right at the very end. A patchwork quilt, however big, is just the size of each ‘patch’ or ‘square’.
I can knit something that small. I can concentrate on something that small. I can succeed in making something that small.
I will knit my quilt.
Now, I just need to start saving up for the yarn. I have some in my sights, in just the perfect colours.
And what could have been unachievable suddenly has become achievable. I’ve matched the project to my skill levels and I know now that I can approach it just like life, one square at a time.
That brings me to more patchwork thoughts. Knitting, for me and in these posts, has often been a metaphor for exploring and enabling progress. Knitting has slowly built my confidence and given me a tangible way of developing my creativity and measuring success. They laugh about knitting ‘for therapy’ but it has been, I couldn’t have got this far without the metaphoric qualities of knitting and the peace that I get from working one stitch at a time.
It might sound strange but I’ve never been able to ‘see’ the future. The future is an absolutely fear-inspiring monstrosity that I try to avoid facing at all times. It’s difficult for me to understand and perceive the future, never mind a future. Perhaps it comes back to that fear of failing again, the future can be a huge responsibility and it’s definitely something that I believe that I can and will fail at. I am often overwhelmed too, both physically and psychologically, so living in the present is normally all I can manage. The future is almost like an unbelievable dream, a mirage. You can pin so much hope in it but it might never materialise. I don’t like wasting my energy chasing the impossibly ephemeral. I don’t like trusting and relying on things that perhaps will never exist, that only bring bitter disappointment and loss. I don’t want to feel either of those things. I hate them. I can’t find a future, never mind the future. It’s too big, too intangible, too much responsibility and too much disappointment.
So I began to think about goals, goals are often tangible, quantifiable. If you achieve what you set out to achieve then that is success. You can tick it off and prove to others that you’ve done it, that you have achieved. Maybe working on goals, something that I also avoid for fear of failure would enable me to slowly get used to working towards that distant, threatening future. Perhaps rather than jumping into the future, I had to take my more familiar small steps towards it.
Then it clicked.
The future is patchwork.
(That isn’t a trend prediction).
The future is patchwork.
I don’t have to present a complete quilt; I don’t have to make a complete quilt. Patchwork doesn’t work that way.
Patchwork is the small steps.
I just have to choose a square to work on.
Then work on it.
It’s only when a life is finished that you can hold it up to the light to see the finished design.
I don’t have to have the finished design ready before I start.
I don’t have to commit to all of it. It can grow from one corner, one piece, one square. The future can be manageable, broken down into individual portions. Portions which are small enough to work on, to concentrate on and to put your best effort into.
You can choose the broad themes, of course, before you even start. Colours, eventual design features, techniques. Maybe even stitches, if you’re a knitter. And those themes will repeat in other squares, in other squares of your life.
The future is patchwork.
I can choose one small square and work on that.
I could even work on more than one.
If needs be, I can put it aside and work on another.
Just like I would do, just like I will do, when I knit myself that physical patchwork quilt.
I’ve found the future.
The future is patchwork.