Sunday, January 31, 2010

Permission to Create

Here's a story that will inspire some of you. I was reminded of this recently because my small quilt yahoo group is working on a challenge this month to make a little quilt, any quilt, from my book Prairie Children and Their Quilts. A little while ago I received a letter from an 88-year-old woman who wrote to tell me that she picked up one of my books, American Doll Quilts (my first book), and had been inspired to make all of the quilts and projects in it. Then she sent a photo to prove it. What fun! Can you believe she made ALL of the quilts, one by one?  It was such a sweet, warm letter and she was so proud of what she'd done that I answered her and thanked her for being an inspiration to ME. She wrote back to tell me that now she's starting on the quilts from Prairie Children, and I wished her luck. I'm pretty sure she'll finish. It made me wonder what keeps some of us going so long, inspired to create?

The doll quilts that 88-yr-old Doris made.

I came relatively late to quilting, but I like to think that I may still be quilting myself at the age of 88 or 90.  Unlike so many other quilters, I didn't have the quilting legacy passed down to me. There are no family quilts; I am the first to make them as far as I know. Years from now someone will find them in a trunk and wonder about the woman who made them.

My mother was never very "crafty" herself when I was young, but I remember feeling good when I made things out of paper, scissors, crayons, glue, string or yarn. My specialty was little books made with pictures I either drew myself or cut from magazines and read to my dolls. Funny, the paths we end up taking--50 years later I'm still cutting out inspiring pictures from magazines but I eventually got a little help with the books.

My mother always encouraged me and smiled proudly when I showed her my projects, giving me implicit permission to create. But I don't think she ever felt she had the time to do anything creative herself. Her spirit was focused more on cooking, housekeeping, and other endless chores. This was before Martha Stewart became a household word and we learned that yes, there could indeed be creativity in cooking and keeping a house. I know she sewed a little and when one of my sisters took up sewing, I learned too.

My four sisters were a bit older than me--the oldest being 15 when I was born (can you say accident?)--so I essentially grew up with 5 "mothers" to encourage and nurture me. I became an aunt at age 11.

This turned out better than it looks here--she ended up coming around and being my friend.

When I was 18 and on break from college one Christmas I went out and bought a Simplicity pattern and made doll clothes for her Barbie dolls, and remember knowing somehow that the sewing fed my soul after the stress of going through finals. I still make little doll dresses, just for fun.

I clearly recall that uplifting feeling I got from being creative and sometimes try to tell my 16-yr-old daughter to just make something, anything, when she's stressed or feeling down about herself, when her finals loom or college planning takes over her world, to help feed her soul.

In high school a friend taught me to knit and crochet and when I started going nuts making things my mom became so fascinated with my "granny square" vests, macrame belts and crocheted floppy hats (I grew up in the sixties, did you guess??) that she let me teach her to crochet. After raising a family of 5 girls for lo those many years she finally gave herself permission to be creative and I noticed a calmness in her personality. Soon she had made afghans for everyone in the family and had a lot of fun making numerous silly crocheted toys, ornaments, etc. Playing with yarn.

She never knew my kids or my dogs, but they definitely feel something comforting when they cuddle under those simple afghans she made, I can tell.

I bought my mom a needlepoint kit once and then she quickly got into that too, like she'd missed playing for years and was catching up. It was fun to watch and it made ME feel so good, to know that I was the one who got her started making things, instead of the other way around. I think she had a lot of creative energy in her that she never allowed to come out until she was older. Too much time spent taking care of others, not enough time for herself. She passed away at a relatively early age (33 years ago this weekend) and I know for sure I would have gotten her to quilt at some point, but I started pretty late myself so we never had time. She didn't teach me to quilt, but she taught me to be true to myself and follow my heart.

I'm teaching my daughter (and probably my son too, come to think of it--he takes lovely photos and has fun writing poetry and song lyrics) the importance of making time to be creative, connecting to the process and letting it feed your spirit, giving yourself permission even when you think you're too busy. Not worrying too much about whether or not it meets someone else's standards or whether it's "perfect." If you wait for that, you'll never do it.

So I keep this silly hat around that I made when I was in college (yes, we really wore hats like this in the '60s, and no, I sure wasn't alone) to remind me of how I started on the path, how much I've always loved making things, even if they're silly, and Caitlin wears it sometimes. Maybe I'm hoping I can pass on the "creative hat" to her through osmosis? If nothing else, it sure looks cute on her.

American Doll Quilts, the book that started it all for me, is now out of print and I hear it's hard to find. I have copies I'm hoarding (see previous post about this problem I apparently have, LOL) but you can always download an e-book version at the Martingale & Co. website, here.


Happy Cottage Quilter said...

What a very sweet post. I was a late in life baby too, and my Mom passed away when I was young (30 years ago), so I can really relate to your story. My Mom did crochet, but I never learned how. My daughter loves to crochet, which makes me happy that she has inherited that creative gene. Dd doesn't quilt, although I try to encourage her, and she did make one top (yet to be finished).

Elyte said...

A woman once told me that while we are working with our creativity it puts us closer to God. I am not a particularly religious person but that made sense to me. Usually a quiet speculative time, on your own, moving within oneself. And it is a developing thing, something to nurture and grow. If left untended it will not show any rewards. It is really a special thing to have and do. And it can be shared and bring people together.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Thank you both for your comments.

Chris from NJ said...

What a great blog. I really enjoyed reading it.

bettyp said...

Hee Hee !! I wore that funy hat too!!
I was born in 51 so I KNOW what your saying!!
Love your Blog!!

Beth said...

Wonderful post. I have told my girls that they don't have to be the best, they just have enjoy what they do. My oldest daugter got into crafts recently after back surgery and we have had fun together. My younger daughter's roommate transfered after 1st semester and it has been hard for my baby. She called me and asked for some latch hook canvas and some yarn so I will be sending that tomorrow.

Kathleen Tracy said...

Thanks, ladies. I'm not old enough for the red hat society (yeah, right)--maybe I should start a SILLY hat society for those of us who grew up in the '60s.

Jan said...

What a heartwarming post. I really enjoyed reading it. My daughter is creative in writing, and has no interest in quilting, although she is very artistic, and loves my quilts. She expresses herself through writing.
And...I had a hat very similar. Mine was purple - an Ali McGraw Love Story hat!

Kathleen Tracy said...

Yes, I remember now! I think I DID make it after I saw Love Story. Thanks for the reminder. My daughter "refrains" from quilting too, but she does like to advise me on particulars . . . and sometimes she's got a good eye!

Julia said...

Lovely post.. A lady at my p/work group brought in your book American Doll Quilts,I love it, I'm inspired to make some of your little quilts..
My Mum never did any crafts either,I never knew my sadly I don't have any family heirlooms to treasure.
I'm hoping one of my g/daughters will carry on my love of crafts..
Julia ♥


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