“My wish for all couples starting out is that they have the love and support of their families and friends. May they celebrate their union in the way that is most meaningful to them. May the rituals and traditions of their families, friends, and beliefs help them hold strong through the calm and the storms ahead. May they grow to value all the pieces and layers they each bring to the relationship. As they create their future, whatever future they dream, may it be filled with purpose and joy. And may they bind all this together with strong threads and connections.”
– Weddings, Quilts, and the Gift of a Wish, The Curious Quilter, July 30, 3010
I wrote those words last year, when Chelsea Clinton was getting married. Amid all the paparazzi and media hype for her wedding day, I wondered if there was a special quilt among the gifts, a quilt made with love. This morning, watching the pomp and circumstance of a very special British Royal Wedding, I was again struck by how traditions and rituals touch our lives and often add meaning. How delightful that this couple has elected to request charitable donations in lieu of gifts. Their lives are overflowing with pieces of family history and traditions, and they are sure to start many new ones of their own.
Customs and rituals permeate the world of quilts. Perhaps this is one reason why I enjoy teaching young people to sew and quilt. I am helping to pass on a tradition that goes back in time. Indeed, sewing traces back nearly all the way to the beginning of civilization. I know I also love to watch new sewers build confidence and explore their capabilities. The tradition of passing a craft and skill on to a new generation runs deeply through the history of quilting. Many cultures have rituals related to sewing and textiles. In Japan, Hari Kuyo honors broken needles for their excellent service.
Even non-quilters understand the use of quilts in rituals which mark special occasions. From the Chuppah canopy in a Jewish wedding, to celebrating the birth of a child, quilts or other textiles help create the fabric of tradition. But some customs are more subtle. The color in the center of a Log Cabin block has had a good deal of significance. Many consider red centers to stand for the hearth of a home, or even the blood of Christ. But a yellow square could show the welcoming glow of a window lantern, and a black square was thought to represent a safe haven. The custom of making an intentional mistake, such as an off-color block, a reversed Sunbonnet Sue, or a mismatched seam, became common as quilting arts flourished and spread across North American with the settlers. No mere mortal could create perfection, for perfection was only created by God. I doubt if many of us today make these mistakes intentionally! Personally, I am certain that my work is highly imperfect to begin with.
Traditional quilt patterns abound, from the double wedding rings shown in this post, through countless patterns used for several generations. Stars of every sort, Irish chains, shoo-fly, spider-web, Jacob’s Ladder—there are hundreds of blocks that have been used by quilters in a myriad of ways. Today, some quilters consider it a right of passage, to be able to say that they have completed a Double Wedding Ring quilt, and a Log Cabin, and a Lone Star, and more. But long before these patchwork traditions arose covering a bed with a “countrepointe” or quilted fabric, usually a whole-cloth piece, was common among 13th Century European aristocracy.
The patchwork quilts that we love today are relative new-comers on the textile scene. As the trade routes opened and brought ornate Indian silks and Oriental rugs to the Western world, people were exposed to the traditional designs of other cultures. But I suspect that, even a thousand years ago, textile crafters told their students about the tradition of each design, and the customary use of each fabric and color. Quilters today help to carry the rituals and traditions of the past forward, with every quilt they create, and every new sewer they help along the way.
One of the traditional reasons people make quilts is to celebrate friendship. The Kaleidoscope Community Quilt project is a great example of this, and one that each of you can easily participate in. Michele at the Quilting Gallery Blog is gathering five-inch diamond fabric pieces from quilters. They can be simple or fancy, and will be added to a special quilt celebrating Friendship and Peace as part of the Canadian Tulip Festival. Michele has a template and full instructions online, and you can send these small friendship offerings in a regular envelope, making this a very easy way to join the celebration.
©2011, The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com. If seeking to share or reprint the Wedding Wish quote above, please email me. I am pleased that several people have chosen to include it in their own marriage and civil union celebrations.