(Very) Slow Stitching

a beige, coral, blue and brown pieced quilt with hand quilting in progress on a grey duvet cover

I don’t know if I should be embarrassed to admit this

but I started the hand quilting on my first quilt over a year ago and I am nowhere near finished. This project has lived in three different places, and is about to take up residence in a fourth as I prepare to move again. There is a comfort in this, beyond the inherent comfort in quilts.

This project is an anchor, a conversation piece, and at some point I think I stopped believing I would ever finish it. I’ve grown accustomed to it in its rope basket, with a clamshell pouch of thread and needles in the corner of my living room. Laying it on my lap for a few stitches is almost like wrapping up in it. Almost. 

But not really. It is a strange thing, because I am, generally, a project finisher. I like to plan and I live in a small space, so I tend not to let projects pile up. Even with my knitting, where I once had many, many works in progress, I have diligently maintained only 3 projects at a time this year.

There isn’t anything wrong with having lots of things in progress. You are beholden to no one except yourself. But I realized, for me personally, with the goals of working through my fabric and yarn stash, I needed to be a little more selective and slow with what I started, so I could have a greater chance of enjoying the process and of finishing my projects. 

Meredith wears a pink shirt and blue cargidan and sits on her couch, with a quilt spread over her that she hand quilts happily
a quilt in progress with two sweaters in progress, one red fishermans rib, and one brown and blue colorwork.

And yet, this quilt project lingers

I have cut out and started piecing another quilt since. I won’t be surprised if I finish it first. 

I feel no rush, though. No pressure. I like taking my time with the hand stitches. I am doing a baptist fan pattern, which required a lot of marking and tracing before I even began, and now requires quite a bit of concentration, since I am still new. I have stopped expecting perfect stitches. What would be the point of doing it myself if that was what I wanted? But I try to be careful, and go slowly, so that my stitches are fairly even, and fairly evenly spaced. 

Yet I know that I could have finished this project already if I worked on it the way I do a sweater. That is to say, with reckless abandon, and singular focus, staying up late, knitting during breaks and meetings, generally ignoring all other projects and activities for the sweater.

I can’t really say why I didn’t take that tact with this project, but I have reached a place where I am glad for its slowness. Glad for its perpetual in-progress status. I don’t have this feeling with many of my projects, I realized. Even if I space out garment sewing over days, I usually only take a week at most on a project. 

Wearing the sweater in question (Wool & Honey) just after finishing it a few years ago.

The thing about something being in-progress is that it carries so many memories and seasons in its creation

Some of the sweaters I have knit feel this way. I have a particular favorite one from a few years ago, when I was new to sweater knitting, that I began on the day I had my heart broken.

You’d think that would make it sad, but I love how wearing that sweater reminds me of how much I felt, and how, with the help of making things, I got through those feelings to a new kind of happiness and self-knowledge on the other side. 

My quilt is like this too

But to an even greater degree. I started it just after I left not just a job I’d had for many years, but academia itself, and moved away. Two weeks later the pandemic began in earnest. And almost a year later, I find myself in the northeast, preparing to move back to the south, getting over another breakup, and buying my first home.

The stitches of my quilt hold all of the memories and feelings of this most unusual year. Everytime I wrap up in it I will think of who I was and who I am. I will think of who I am still becoming. All of those things take a lot of time. They cannot be rushed. Just like my quilt. 

I hope to finish it soon after moving into my new home. A perfect end to one chapter, and the start of another. That is my favorite kind of ending, after all, one that arcs back around to a new beginning, that presents vast and open possibilities in the stitches that hold it together.

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  1. Meredith, thank you for giving us a glimpse into your heart and process. I thoroughly enjoyed this! You make some fantastic points that I will try to take to heart. And, you’re incredibly talented!

  2. This is so beautiful, Meredith! And my best wishes for your upcoming move!
    I can relate to the memories we stitch and knit into certain pieces. I’ve had a rough week and the shawl I am knitting for a dear friend has been a great anchor. It has held my hands steady while I was struggling, while at the same time I have spoken little wishes for my friend with each stitch.

    1. Thank you, Maxi! So lovely to imbue a gift for a friend in that way. I hope the weekend brings some calm for you.

  3. I have made one quilt, a king size one which I machine quilted, and it took me 3 years to finish it! For me, I took so long because it was an overwhelming project. Now, when I look at it I am reminded I can no hard things if only I take my time and go one step at a time.

    1. Yes! We can do hard things, and there is no rush. It’s worth all the little steps.

  4. Time and stitchery have a complicated relationship. When I was a stay at home mom I made several quilts for family and friends. My time was flexible. Now the kids are grown and gone and I work a 40 hour week away from home. Consequently I’ve been working sporadically on my middle daughter’s so-called wedding quilt for five years. We designed it the summer she got married. She recently told me to put it on hold for awhile because her younger sister is having a baby this summer and she feels a baby quilt for her new niece is a higher priority. ☺️ Life rolls the way it rolls.

    1. Life rolls the way it rolls indeed! Congratulations on your grand-baby!

  5. Thank you to share your project like that Meredith. This is delightful to read you.
    Congratulations for your house, hopefully the moving part will be easy.

  6. Just beautiful, Mere. I’m going to reference this essay whenever I start to feel guilt over my lingering quilts 💗

  7. A couple of years ago I finished a quilt that I took me 20 years to finish because of life interruptions that kept causing me to have to set it aside. Also quilted using the bishops fan design. I wrote about many of the things you experienced but over a longer period of time: my younger self and who I was when I quilted the first stitches and who she became over the years. I wrote about it. The post and the quilt are both called Birds in Flight. Finishing and writing about the experience were both incredibly meaningful. Your quilt and your writing are beautiful! Julie aka nursebeansews

  8. I. Love. This. Your writing (and your project work) is just so inviting. Thanks for sharing your journey. You have given me some perspective on a few things of my own. I hope your journey to your new home is blessed.

  9. Thank you for writing about your quilt making process, Meredith! For a long time I have the wish to make a hand stitched quilt, but postponed knowing that it will require a long time to complete.

    However, looking at your quilt’s beautiful pictures, I thought "it IS finished". In a way, each time you add new stitches, the quilt is finished as the moment of stitching comes to an end. It’s finished for now or there isn’t a finish line. 💛✨

    All the best luck in your life’s new beginning!

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