My Old-Time Religion

I grew up in a family committed to missionary work. One aunt was a Christian missionary in Mexico, another aunt and uncle were Wycliffe Bible translators in Vietnam.

I spent last weekend witnessing as well, proselytizing and evangelizing, but not for Christianity.

Those who follow along here may have a vague memory of me announcing that I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I’m not religious in my beliefs.

It’s just that my religion doesn’t have a god . . . but its heaven is most inviting, or at least it’s the place for me.

It’s a small sect, with few faithful adherents. Some are the equivalent of C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christians—they practice the faith but casually and only on their own terms.

My religion isn’t well-represented in this region; we few members seek each other out and rejoice when we find another believer.

It’s a fundamentally old-fashioned belief system, slow-paced and beholden to the olden days.

My religion, it seems, is hand quilting.

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Last weekend, I spent two days at the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild, sitting at a quilting frame–demonstrating, teaching, talking about quilting by hand–and looking for converts.

Like all missionaries, I got a variety of reactions. Some people walked by and laughed, and walked on. A couple of hand quilting atheists shook their heads and called me crazy.

But my slow work, with the serene smile on my face and the peace in my movements, drew others. They sat, they watched, they picked up a needle and joined me.

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Some people were curious—they seemed to come looking for a new kind of meaning, a place of belonging.

Others were already true believers. We spoke in almost spiritual tones and words of how we felt about the hand quilting. It has a soul; it carries the spirit of our ancestors; it allows us to transcend the mundane, to find a peace unavailable through a machine.

I asked them to look at the three or four quilts, in a show of 400, that were quilted by hand, by members of the faith. We could all see and sense the difference, even though we admitted that the quilts done by machine were often awe-inspiring in their own ways.

We agreed that, while we’d never go to war or start an Inquisition to defend our faith, we’d never foist our beliefs on others, we still agreed that our ways suit us best.

Everyone needs to believe in something, I guess. And I believe in taking it slow . . .

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One of only three or four hand-quilted quilts in our guild show. Maybe next time, there will be more!?

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102 thoughts on “My Old-Time Religion

  1. Not only did I like this post, I loved this post. I too am a hand quilter and learned our art in the 70’s by 2 elderly woman from Oklahoma; seated round their hand quilting frame hung and dangling from the living room ceiling working silently in prayer. I was an immediate convert. Your post was awesome and awe inspiring! Your quilt magnificent. So happy I found your blog 🙂

    • My mother was born and raised in Arkansas, and she uses this kind of quilt frame. It hangs from the ceiling of her small living room in a senior apartment. She’s 87 and still hand quilting on this hand-made frame. And she totally disapproves of machine quilting.

      • What a wonderful image of her still managing to quilt, at her age and in her tight space! And, to be honest, I pretty much disapprove of machine quilting, too! 😉

    • Thanks so much for visiting and for your great comment! I love those old frames that were hung from the ceiling and lowered when needed–so practical and homely. You have some wonderful memories!

  2. Never thought I would but I’m planning to hand quilt my Down the Rabbit hole quilt, it’ll be the first in about 30 years!! I want to do patterns etc to match the quilt and I know I couldn’t do it justice on my machine but I think it will take forever!! You never know, you might have a convert…or at least one who bats both ways 🙂

    • I do believe that certain quilts *deserve* hand quilting, and your Down the Rabbit Hole definitely qualifies! You’ve already put so much time and love into it–hand quilting will add to the heirloom quality!

    • Thanks, Janice! The “Christmas and Easter” reference may be an American thing–we have lots of people who claim to be religious but only go to church twice a year.

  3. I love what you’ve done with this post.
    I’m a believer but not a practising one. If I could learn how to use a thimble properly and be less impatient, I might even be a convert one day.
    Your red and white quilt is stunning!

    • Using a thimble and patience are, for sure, prerequisites for hand quilting! I read somewhere to find a thimble that is quite tight fitting and put it on and leave it on all day, for doing whatever you do. I did that for a couple days and then it felt so comfortable. Now I literally sew nothing without my thimble!

  4. Kerry, what a gorgeous quilt! Every stich by hand. It must have taken quite some time to make it. Such an accomplishment!

    • Thank you, Susan! Just to clarify, the piecing of the top was done on my old Featherwight sewing machine. It’s the stitching together of the three layers (top, batting, and backing) that was done by hand. and, yes, it took quite awhile but it’s a process that I love.

    • Thanks, Joanne! I think it’s so interesting how we each have the patience to make things but not necessarily the same things. I have no patience at all for counted cross stitch, for example, but hand quilting doesn’t faze me a bit. At the end of the day, I think the “religion” is about something being done by hand more than quilting specifically.

  5. Beautiful quilt in a stunning colour. And, as Laurie Graves said, great to see a picture of you. Sometimes you make up an image of someone from how and what they write and it can turn out to be completely different 😀 .
    Have to admit, though, that my eyes grew ever wider during the first few paragraphs reading about religion and sects… Glad to hear quilting is your religion 😉

    • Yes, and if you’ve seen my avatar, you would think I have a little turquoise bow and my hair in a flip! I was kind of happy to read that were convinced by all the references to religion since I was going for that in the way I wrote. On the other hand, I’m like you, and get rather put off by overtly religious writing. My religion is doing things by hand . . .

  6. So gorgeous! I love to hand quilt although I don’t do it often, and I have never been able to get nice fine stitches. But sometimes a quilt just calls out for some kind of hand-stitching, even if it’s not on the masterpiece level.
    And since I only have a small domestic machine for machine quilting, I find hand quilting much more restful than wrestling the fabric through the machine. But I still “bat both ways,” to quote craftycreeky.

    • I’ve never even tried to quilt with my machine–I don’t even feel particularly adept piecing quilt tops with a machine, although I do it. Do you use the rocking method of hand quilting? Where you rock the needle in and out, with a thimble, and load several stitches on the needle before pulling it through the fabric? That’s the way to get even and fine stitches, with practice.

      • Yes, I try to do that. I have looked at so many articles and videos, I have read needle reviews and tried different needles — but I just can’t get more than two stitches on the needle and I feel like all the fabric is so dense and bulky that it just won’t compact enough to get fine stitches. I do use regular fabric for the backing and not anything more loosely woven like muslin, so maybe that is what is causing me trouble?

  7. I love all the reds in your quilt and admire your devotion to hand quilting. My hands have gotten too stiff for anything except big stitches with perle cotton, though you could count the number of items I’ve hand quilted on three fingers. I understand the meditative and contemplative qualities of the activity, but find hand finishing bindings and edgings to have a similar, though much less lovely to look at, effect on me.

  8. While not a practitioner of your religion I am an admirer of the ethos – a bit like the way I stand in silent awe of the Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala…….. I know had I not been captivated by the gods of paint and associated media I might have made it over to your heaven. I wave across the small space between our temples ❤

    • Oh, Charlie–and I could say to you that the only problem with genealogy research is that it takes too long to acquire the knowledge! We both do what we do because we love the process, right? And because we are honoring the past, and the time spent is well worth it. BTW, I have the BIG raffle box in my car–it’s gorgeous!

      • Long?? I have only been working on my family history for 46 years. A very short time if you ask me. It just seemed to fly by. 🙂

  9. I am so glad to finally see the finished red quilt after the snips here and there. It is a beauty and absolutely stunning! Deb, Margaret and I are thinking we may have a Hand Quilt Along starting later this fall. I have the invite already, just need to get the start date set…hope you will join us. And, tell me about that lovely rosette u see your arm….💐

    • Thanks so much, Kathy–yes, the quilt has made quite a few appearances and I was very glad to be able to show it finished. It won one of several viewers’ choice awards –thanks for noticing. And I’d be very interested in learning more about your Hand Quilt Along–keep me posted!

      • People’s Choice is such a neat thing, I would have voted for you too! I have always loved that quilt, but seeing it complete, it really is stunning. It is so crisp and clean, and I would love to see it up close.😍

  10. Speechless – almost. That quilt is truly lovely. And, I applaud your talent and ability to hand quilt. I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler so I have always felt that wasn’t a skill I possess. I am always in awe of those who can hand quilt, and this is a wonderful post. 🙂

  11. That is a wonderful quilt! I admire your missionary zeal and hope that you found a couple of converts at least! I have never done any quilting but I can see the appeal especially if I could make it by hand. I really dislike using a sewing machine and will do anything to avoid it.

    • I really dislike using a sewing machine, too, Clare! I do use an old Singer Featherweight for piecing the quilt tops but can’t even imagine doing the quilting on a machine. But people come to quilting, as craft, for all kinds of different reasons and those reasons guide the ways they sew, I think. A lot of people love playing with color, for instance, and, once the quilt top is done, they can’t wait to move on to the next one. Machine work is a LOT faster!

  12. Your writing, mission, and quilt are all three stunning.

    I think of myself as a believer, and have created many textile items by hand, however a quilt I have yet to make. I guess I haven’t put the works into my faith. I hope there’s still time, I feel the urge moving up into my soul.

  13. Oh Kerry, this post brought a lump to my throat! As other commentators have said, how lovely to see you in your photos, and how glorious is that quilt! I adore your go-slow philosophy and so wish we were nearer so I could attend one of your quilting demonstrations – maybe one day! 🙂 x

  14. Oh, Kerry, I wish you lived next door! I have a quilt I’ve been trying to finish ( my only attempt at quilting) and could surely use your expertise! Did I mention a little warm cabin….woodstove, tea, scones…? This year, I am determined to get that quilt done… yes, yes! So many handcrafts do speak to the soul, I agree! Wonderful post, Kerry and lovely work!

    • I do believe we are faithful adherents to the same religion, Denise! And I was just writing to another blogger that, yes, I wish we could live closer! Blogging brings people together who share such values and interests, and, yet, we’re not together . . . But Maine and upstate New York are not so far apart–one day we’ll meet and “worship” together!

    • Wow–I’ve been off reading about this and other quilts made at Changi–sent chills down my spine! Thank you for the push in this direction–it’s so fascinating and hope-filled!

      • It was completely fascinating. I found out about them because I was wondering if there were traditional quilting songs. The song quest led me to The Singing Quilter http://www.singingquilter.com/ and somewhere on her blog she mentioned the Changi quilts. I didn’t find any traditional quilting songs. 😦

  15. Stunning quilt and I love the hand quilting. I tried to learn but it didn’t come naturally. May still try again to learn because I love the gentle movement of needle and thread through cloth. I do hand embroidery as well as machine embroidery but the hand work gives such a peaceful state. I get it. Hopefully there will be a resurgence in this small religious group in the coming years.

    • I wouldn’t say hand quilting came naturally to me either . . . but, when I wanted to learn, I started in the middle of a bed-sized quilt and felt I had to keep going. By the time I got to the outside edges, my stitching had improved a lot! I think you’re right, though, this “religion” is less about quilting, specifically, and more about slow handwork.

  16. I love this post, Kerry, and the values espoused within your words. Not to mention the glorious quilt! If I were close enough, I would certainly be a convert!

    • Thanks, Sandra! The values I’me expressing can be found in lots of different creative outlets, I think–slow work, done by hand. You’re probably already an adherent!

      • Yes, I thought that too! There is so much to be gained by going slowly and mindfully, with love and patience. Though I suspect I would not have the patience to produce work of such quality as your beautiful quilt!

  17. Like Kiki above, I confess to being a little apprehensive of your talk of religion at the beginning of the post. But I could become a convert to this small group of devotees. I have a whig rose quilt
    that I started almost 40 years ago that I decided to finish this winter. I was flirting with the idea of hand-quilting and your post put me over the top. I am going to give it a try. I have never liked machine quilting. I hate wrestling with large quilts on a regular machine and I’m not wild about the look of long-arm quilting. It just looks so machine-made to me.
    Your red and white quilt is just exquisite. Thanks for this wonderful post. If you haven’t already done it, maybe you could do a post on tips for hand-quilting!

    • I would’ve found the religion talk off-putting, too! I’m glad you kept reading! I will ponder a post on hand quilting but I’m afraid it wouldn’t help a lot. I’ve tried to teach people, face to face, and found that difficult, too, because the technique I use, the rocking stitch, has important movements happening *underneath* as well as on top of the quilt–and it’s hard to demonstrate something when people can’t see it! Try Googling something like “hand quilting rocking”–this method, if you can get the hang of it, produces very even stitches and very fine ones.

    • And I think you’re absolutely right–everything I wrote about quilting applies to spinning, weaving, embroidering . . . rhythmic, quiet, slow activities. My kind of prayer!

  18. Isn’t it strange how those of us brought up religious (my grandfather was a parish priest) end up turning our face against organised religion? Quilting seems a great substitute to me (although don’t you worship at the weaving shrine too?). I don’t think I have an alternative deity as such. I think I’m more of a pick-and-mix kind of person.

    • I *do* worship at multiple altars! I couldn’t choose one god so that business of “putting no other God before me” leaves me cold! I have often wondered about the pendulum effect growing up in a super-religious family has. The wildest young women I knew were the pastor’s daughters . . . .

  19. J & D > There’s power for good in a life led of working honestly and enterprisingly, with skill and imagination, not just for the betterment of oneself, but for all that we share life with – whether near or far. And for us, the tradition of hand quilting and sharing skills and knowledge – and just the joy of the doing! – with others, pretty much sums up the practical application of this philosophy!

  20. Wonderful philosophy! 😊 Would love to take a shot at hand quilting. I have a quilt too big for my machine, but I’m not too confident when it comes to hand stitching…

    • Like everything else, Rick, it just takes practice! My first hand quilting project was on a big quilt and I can clearly see how my stitching improved as I worked from the center out toward the edges!

  21. I have just finished reading an article about how our lives and thoughts are able to be manipulated by our use of social media and smart phones. So your religion is the perfect antidote to the constant looking at the small screen. To create something beautiful, like your quilt, is what we need to be doing. I have joined you in a small way, as my sewing at the moment is creating small areas of stitching with running stitch. It is a wonderful way to meditate!

    • I am as susceptible to those small screens as anyone and really have to remind myself to walk away from the computer and the phone and make something of value that lasts! I’ll look forward too seeing the embroidery you’re doing!

  22. Judging from the photos you are a radiant ambassador for your religion! Imagine practitioners going door to door (or from guild to guild) to share their craft. I’m surprised that this sect you belong to is so under-represented at a quilt show; I didn’t know the membership has decreased so drastically.
    The fruit of your old-time methods is beautiful, and I see it won a ribbon too.

    • Thanks for all this support! I, too, was surprised, when I got back into quilting, that there was so little hand quilting being done. These long-arm machines are all the rage now, which is fine, just not for me!

  23. Kerry, what a terrific piece of writing. Nicely done. I love your gorgeous quilt. First, I want to learn how to make the top of the quilt, then I’ll come around to hand quilting. (Those retirement years can’t be too far off). Hand work is incredibly relaxing, and the results of hand quilting are quite stunning. I hope life has settled down a bit.

    I too enjoyed seeing your smiling face in the pictures. xo

  24. Love Your quilt – is it so beautiful. Man can be a believer in his heart and there is no need to show it others! I have been saved four times from sure death. First time already when I was unborn during the wartime. This happened when there were Great Bombings in Helsinki 26-27 February 1944. So my mother has told to me. I do not want to talk more about my miraculously salvations.

  25. I must admit that the intricate patterns that I have seen in some machine stitching is dazzling. But, I side with you when I vote on quilts at a show: I start with the hand quilting as my options. There is something about the idea that someone selects a computer program which creates all those swirls… On the other hand, how many of those quilts serve the purpose for which they were created: to keep us warm and cozy in winter? -Oscar

    • You raise a good point–one of the side effects of very close machine quilting is that the quilts end up pretty rigid and stuff! I don’t think they’d be any fun to curl up in!

  26. Pingback: Quilting Along, Keeping the Faith | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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