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Hand Stitching as Meditation

Detail of "Proclaim Liberty," 2020 by Dana Jones

When I began quilting, all the classes I took were machine techniques. I enjoyed them and didn't really think about hand stitching. Then I took a hand quilting class. I soon found myself practicing my hand quilting during work meetings. It made daylong meetings seem shorter.

Last year as I designed the quilt I would submit to Colorado Quilting Council's annual show, I knew I wanted to include some hand stitching. We were in the midst of the pandemic with no clarity around when vaccines would be available. I was learning of friends who were sick and some who had died. I found hand stitching a great way to relieve stress, and so I decided to embroider the words from the Liberty Bell onto the quilt I was making for the show, which had a theme of Red, White and/or Blue.

Detail of "Proclaim Liberty," 2020 by Dana Jones

As I stitched, I thought about what those words mean to all who seek a better life in our country: "...proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof..." The words come from the King James Version of Ephesians. I thought about what it means to extend radical hospitality. I found myself calmer, more focused, and as I neared the end of my stitching, I wished I had more embroidery to do.

This weekend as I finished reading Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle (Abrams Press, 2020) by Clare Hunter, I found affirmation for the value of hand stitching. A shout out to this author and her words that are challenging and inspiring. She weaves stories from around the world across centuries, even across millennia, that chart the importance of stitching, the relegation of stitching to insignificant women's work in a world dominated by men, and the enduring power of needle and thread despite all attempts to make it otherwise. She writes:

"Sewing is a visual language. It has a voice. It has been used by people to communicate something of themselves — their history, beliefs, prayers and protests....But it is not a monologue, it is part of a conversation, a dialogue, a correspondence only fully realised once it is seen and its messages are read....It has evolved, primarily, as the voice of women who, through the centuries with limited access to literacy, or little assurance that if they did write, their words would be preserved, chose needlework as a medium to assert their presence in the hope that it, at least, might persist and, in time, be heard."

I recently had the joy of teaching Introduction to English Paper Piecing (EPP) for the Stitchin' Den in Estes Park, Colorado. It was a delightful day as we fashioned hexagons, triangles and clamshells by hand, trying numerous ways to baste the pieces and multiple hand stitches for joining them.

If you haven't done any hand stitching lately, give it a try. Be it EPP, embroidery, hand quilting, knitting or crocheting, I think you'll find your heart lighter and your spirits lifted. Like meditation, the rhythm of pulling needle and thread will flow with your breathing and the beat of your heart.

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