Lessons From The Queen Quilt

Allow me to introduce you to “Closet Coping”. No, this isn’t hiding in my closet to eat chocolate in peace or to have a gully-washer cry. I call that “Monday’s Routine”. No, Closet Coping is my repeated, semi-futile attempt to gain control of my surroundings and try to restore order by purging items and cleaning. I do this every time we move ( 9 times in 12 years) or receive a devastating diagnosis such as disability or cancer. Time and time again, I empty closets and dig to the very back of the racks, searching for items to give away.  I tangibly let go of something I had, subconsciously symbolizing the emotional process I prefer to stuff down.  (It took my YEARS to become so enlightened.)

On a very sturdy hanger in the guest closet is the Queen Quilt.  I have held and contemplated giving away at least 9 times now- and yet it remains because of what it symbolizes.

Many people have stood by my side and helped me endure great challenges. An especially unfortunate class of these women are were hopeful heroines who believed they could teach anyone to sew. Bless their hearts. On multiple occasions I have bravely sit at machines, threading, lining up fabric, measuring the quarter inch perfectly… let’s say that the B- my “two peas in a pod” felt project from 6th grade Home-Ec was generous. I was embarrassed to tell my mother, but she wasn’t concerned.  As a young woman my mother also took sewing lessons; eventually her teacher told her to just purchase the clothing and call it a loss. “You can buy clothes. There’s more to life, Sweetie. Julia Sugarbaker didn’t sew.” Validated and deciding to obtain other skills, I moved on.

As a young military bride, my husband was stationed in South Korea After a year apart, I eagerly moved across the world to live with that man I married. I embraced the move to a place where all things were foreign. Young, brave, adventurous, and lonely, I searched for  women to befriend.  I soon discovered that most ladies were young mothers who were learning/perfecting sewing skills. They gathered their materials weekly at the homes where older women would teach us how to stitch our materials and pieces of our lives together. Everyone worked on small baby quilts and accessories- our post exchange had limited options available.

I drove to a lovely older lady’s home with friends from chapel and took a “starter kit” of fabric needed for a basic baby blanket. I chatted while waiting for a turn on one of the 5 sewing machines, in awe of the skill that surrounded me. I was the only one in that room without a baby at home or in the womb; everything felt forced about those early lessons. It was still medically unlikely that I could conceive or carry a child, anyway. Why struggle to learn something without a clear purpose, like a Home-Ec grade?

I tried to concentrate. I couldn’t talk and concentrate. I had to be taught the basics around these young moms who knew exactly what they were doing. When I looked up to speak, my lines went crooked and I had to rip everything out.  I used the seam ripper more than the machine. I even named my ripper Jack. Only one lady chuckled at my Jack the Ripper joke. To sew well, I had to keep my head down, stare, and remain silent. It crushed me and made me feel terribly lonely to lack a skill and come out without deeper relationship. I decided to just purchase everything I needed. Dolly Parton doesn’t tailor her own wardrobe, and I don’t either.

However, my parents decided to visit over Thanksgiving and our inflatable bed needed bedding. Our military post exchange lacked options; all were low quality for the price. I mentioned this to a mentor, Mrs. Nancy. She was a master quilter, so I asked to borrow bedding for my parents’ upcoming visit. “This blanket is pretty”, I commented.  In her loving, sassy way she refused. “You can’t have it. You have to make your own. I’ll help you make one, instead.”   Mrs. Nancy insisted she could teach me. She would turn me- that lump of clay- into a masterpiece. I was sure I was crusty, dried pieces of cracked Play-Doh.We have some hilarious stories from those sewing sessions– stories for another time.

Hour after hour I sat at her oldest sewing machine. Somehow, I managed to make the quilt. It took WEEKS. I needed the expertise of a master to bind it together, which she did. That’s how it is supposed to work, by the way. You find someone who can do something and pay attention. She taught me much more than sewing, like NEVER touch another woman’s fabric scissors.

My parents arrived to great adventure that Thanksgiving. As they saw their simple guest room, I told them to their great shock that I made the quilt.  I have my mother’s sewing ability, so she didn’t believe me. I pointed out every small error as evidence that it was my own making. My mother hardly glanced at the errors.

“If you are looking closely for mistakes, you can find them. Looking at the whole quilt, it is impressive. Knowing you can’t sew, especially. It may have mistakes, but it’s remarkable.”

Who takes on such a daunting task for a first challenge? No one in her right mind, especially after failing repeatedly. However, my parents needed it and I decided to work hard to make something of value. The queen sized comforter at the PX would have been worked for a while, but I would have given it away without hesitation or attachment. Easily purchased, easily obtained, easily replaced. That first baby blanket remained unfinished and unbound for a year before I threw it away. With no baby to finish it for, it lacked purpose. That queen comforter has been used a handful of times, but it serves as as a reminder of a challenge I faced for the good of another. The purpose of my sewing mattered.

In this time of my life, I am threading pieces together, trying to make something beautiful out of pieces that are wrinkled and don’t seem to go together. I put down a line of thread and then have to rip it out again. I work, wanting to produce something but needing a master quilter to put together my pieces that invite pity.


Studying the stitches of my life would show lots of imperfections, but the entire piece covers. Most women display their quilts to hang them beautifully until they are used. Mine is locked in the depths of my heart until someone needs it or a boy needs more building material for a fort. I’d rather use my messy, pieced together life for building and to help another to rest.

My life is a bit ripped up right now. I’d rather leave someone in stitches from laughter than sew beside them. I’m just not skilled in many things- and that is okay.

I have many quilts and blankets that others who love us have made. Each fills me with joy. The sewing skills come naturally to the makers, and they bless my with it. I appreciate their talent because I lack it.  One in particular fills me with hope. It was made for William, with scripture placed into the very fabric.

quilt WC

That is exactly what I hope my life will look like when all the stitches are completed and God binds up all the frayed edges. Covered in God’s word, well worn and cherished.

May God say, “It’s full of mistakes, but it’s remarkable.”  A life like that can’t be bought. It has to be made.


A Desperate Letter from the Warden Mother

If you’re reading this, it means my message got out. I’ve been trying to reach you for days or weeks- I’ve lost track from only sleeping a few hours a night. I have begun many messages to you, but I am under constant surveillance. All attempts to contact adults in the outside world have been thwarted.

Conditions have improved this month. Reprieve in the form of visitors provided much help and stability. The prisoners have not gained complete control, although we have acquiesced to many of their demands. For example, “yard time” has become a necessity. The boys spend hours outside, although this has increased the amount of water usage, mud production, and showers. The quest for materials that require less cleaning was successful; vinegar and baking soda volcanoes were a classic hit. However, the solution killed the grass in one area. The pattern looks like an abstract crop rhombus, left by aliens as intoxicated as the residents to called in to the UFO hotline to report it.

Daily activities remain unpredictable; doctors schedule appointments with only 48 hours notice and without warning, leaving us to scramble to make these necessary appointments. However, we have established excellent relationships with the nurses and staff. Cancer treatments will continue for four more months. The shock value of telling strangers both our sons have unrelated cancers has not gotten old.

The Sleepless One has reverted to waking and hitting his head, keeping us all awake. I have taken to sleeping in his room once more. It resembles sleeping alongside a drunk octopus made of elbows.

The newest resident has begun stealing food from the older two. This is a concern, as we try to keep the oldest eating as much as possible. His diet consist of foods that horrify most mothers- filled with empty calories, high fat content and preservatives. When cancer comes, all the rules we knew are reversed. His outbursts are frequent and unpredictable. Conditions are unstable.

Music continues to soothe all the beasts that inhabit this area. It momentarily distracts them long enough for meal preparation, filing paperwork, and brushing teeth.

We are enjoying the sun and visitors in this relaxed summer sentence. When the winter comes, solitary confinement will continue. In preparation, there are many meetings and doctor’s appointments that must take place. All reports have been positive thus far, but supplies and endurance are draining.

Things are both excellent and dismal, intertwined. I will attempt to give examples that can be understood. It is much like dancing at the best party one could attend, while nursing a broken leg. Outings are much like when a gluten intolerant person eats bread– we will push through and enjoy the moments when possible, knowing it will be exhausting and painful.

I would continue, but large crashes and the sound of spilling Legos has just echoed across the floor. “Mom! Something’s happened…” has just been yelled. I must clean up before the youngest tries to break the previous record on attempts to eat choking hazards.

Pray for us and come quickly. God is near, but the “still small voice” is being drowned out by crying and wailing.

Pressing on,

The Warden Mother