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Meditative Quilting

            My Mom is a quilter, and while I’ve followed her into crochet and knitting and even doll clothes and mending, at different times in my life, I have never wanted to learn how to quilt. Until recently.

            A few weeks ago, she took a Zoom workshop on a style of African quilting that was billed as “mindful, improvisational, and intuitive,” and my ears perked up. The class focused on how to make Kawandi quilts, made by the Siddi, an African ethnic group in India. Kawandi quilts are traditionally made out of worn out clothes, either from family and friends or bought in bulk at a used clothing market. The fabrics are usually bright and light, to bring some joy into the darkness, and the various pieces can be cut small, or left recognizable as clothing, with necklines or buttons or sleeves as part of the design. They are made using an applique technique, traditionally using a cotton sari as the quilt’s backing, with the pieces of fabric sewn on top, overlapping to different degrees, depending on how warm of a quilt they want to make.

The quilter starts to sew at one corner of the sari and works their way around, usually in a counter clockwise direction, fixing the patches in place with a running stitch that eventually covers the entire quilt. In this way, a quilt can become a document of the family’s history, and when the quilt begins to fall apart it can be mended with new patches of old clothing. The final step is to sew a folded square patch at each corner of the quilt, a multi-layered triangle called a phula, or flower. The phula serve no function, but are an important finishing touch to each quilt, so that the quilt won’t be left “naked.”

“Mom’s Kawandi-style quilt

            The math of quilting usually intimidates me; matching edges and hems and stitches, and dealing with sewing machines and patterns is too much for me. But the Kawandi quilts, at least as taught by Mom’s teacher, looked doable. I could choose my fabrics as I went along, without any need for the pieces to match in size or shape or color, and I could tack them onto a backing, instead of having to plan ahead and work according to a pattern.

“I suggest this fabric.”

            I especially liked that there would be no set artistic goal in mind, and no pressure to make things perfect. And yet, immediately I started thinking of ways to make it useful and productive, like maybe making quilt squares of the Hebrew letters so I could use them in my classes, as a sort of touch and feel, three-dimensional object to learn from.

“I can help!”

            The official Siddi quilts are much bigger than anything I would try to make, and they often include religious symbols and decorative flourishes in the middle that would be too advanced for me. I will leave it to the experts to make the kinds of beautiful quilts shown in exhibitions and sold for thousands of dollars. All I want is a small square to work on, a needle and thread, and some bright colored fabrics, so I can fall into the quilt and forget about everything else for a while.

from the Soulful Stitching exhibition on display at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College (photo by Celina Colby)
Another Kawandi Quilt from the Soulful Stitching exhibit (not my picture)

            I’m not good at sitting mediation: I get distracted and self-conscious and my mind fills with all of the worst images I can imagine. I’ve always done better with walking as meditation, or writing as meditation, and my hope is that quilting as meditation will be in that category. There’s something deeply satisfying about making something with my hands, and I will need a lot of stress relieving activities this summer, to help me recover from a year of hybrid teaching, so that I can, eventually, wind myself back up for whatever comes next.

“All quilts are mine.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Mom’s Wrist Surgery

            The first thing I thought of when Mom told me she would be having surgery on her wrist (outpatient for Carpal Tunnel) was – who’s going to cook? I cook once in a while, but I generally don’t have the energy to do much of it, and with all of the extra chores I’d be responsible for with Mom’s right (dominant) hand out of commission, I was worried we’d starve. Or have to live on peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches, or something.

“Peanut butter sounds good to me.”

            I’m sure I was also in a panic about the risks of anesthesia, and problems with the surgery itself, and Covid, and Mommy is going to die and leave me all alone! But on the surface, mostly, I was worried about the food. And having to take the dogs out for all four walks each day, especially first thing in the morning. Ugh, and I’d have to wash dishes and fill and empty the dishwasher, and vacuum and clean, on top of doing the laundry and the food shopping as usual. Just thinking about it all was exhausting, and Mom was (selfishly) just worried about her potential pain, and how would she survive without sewing until her wrist healed. Harrumph.

            (Don’t worry, we went to the freezer section of the supermarket two days before the surgery was scheduled and loaded up on cauliflower crust pizza, and veggie stir-fry’s, and ice cream. I’m sure that’s what you were most worried about.)

            I don’t think of myself as lazy, per se, but I do get very grumpy about doing chores. Mostly I curse quietly to myself. But not always.

            Of course, as we got closer to the day of the surgery, and all of the prep work was done, we were both getting anxious about the day of: Mom about the surgery itself and the potential pain in the aftermath, and me about the driving. I always get nervous about driving to new places, or to places I haven’t been to in a while. And I would have to drive early in the morning (originally we were told she’d have to be there by 7:30, but in the end it was a more reasonable 9 AM).

            Mom has a map of Long Island (and all of New York and probably the Tristate area) tattooed on her brain; me, not so much. I drive because I have to, and I resent it. It just seems like a game of Frogger brought to life, except that I don’t identify with the frog who keeps stupidly trying to cross a busy street in the middle of traffic; instead I identify with the poor drivers who can’t dodge the enormous frog in the road, and have to feel guilty when the frog goes splat.

            But, once we got going on the morning of the surgery, I realized that I mostly knew the route. I couldn’t picture it on paper, or by the street names, but in person it looked familiar. I was sort of relieved that the Covid protocols prevented me from going into the hospital with Mom, because if I had to sit there doing nothing but worry for hours I would have been swamped with anxiety. But I also felt guilty for dropping Mom off like a package at the front door, and I worried about her the same way I worry when I have to drop one of the dogs off at the vet instead of going in with them. What’s happening in there? Will Mommy/Ellie/Cricket/Butterfly/Dina ever come out again? Why didn’t I go to medical/veterinary school so I could take care of these things myself?

“Could I go to medical school?”

            As soon as I arrived home, the dogs insisted on going out to pee again, and to sniff Grandma’s footsteps along the walkway. Cricket gave me dirty looks for the next few hours, because, clearly, it was my fault Grandma was not home, and I could never be trusted to leave the house again.

            I was too anxious to take a nap, so I worked at the computer while I waited to hear that Mom was ready to come home. Mom had said the surgery would be over by around one o’clock and that she would call to let me know when to pick her up, but I didn’t hear from anyone until after two o’clock, and the wait felt more like a week than just an extra hour. I imagined every possible disaster, including: problems with the anesthesia, accidental amputation and catastrophic blood loss, a sudden outbreak of Covid taking over the whole hospital, a bomb, a meteor, aliens…My brain can do a lot in an hour.

            But a nurse finally called and said that everything went fine and I could come in an hour or so to pick Mom up. Of course I left early, because I was afraid I’d get lost, or stuck in traffic, or something, and I called Mom’s cell phone as soon as I arrived at the front of the hospital. She was rolled out in a wheelchair ten minutes later, and I worried when the man guiding the wheelchair said that I should help her into the car and make sure she didn’t fall, as if she was much more fragile than usual, but it turned out that he was just being extra careful. Mom’s hand was wrapped to the size of an oven mitt, and she was a little tired and dizzy, but otherwise not too bad.

            When we got home I found out about more of my duties, including medicine-bottle-opener, and ice-cube-bag-filler. I got used to filling both of our ice cube trays every few hours, and then pounding them on the counter to try to make the ice cubes come out. Ice cubes are stubborn creatures, until they break free, and then they can really fly.

            After seventy-two hours I was able to drop the ice-cube-breaking and replace it with Mommy-Watching, because Mom seemed to think she could do all kinds of things with her wrapped hand that she clearly was not supposed to do, like creating power point presentations. Each day, I had to watch her more closely to make sure she wasn’t secretly carrying heavy packages or chopping vegetables. She found the whole thing very frustrating. And boring. And clearly I was the meanie keeping her from doing anything fun.

“Don’t be a meanie.”

            After ten days I drove her to her follow up visit with the doctor and, since Mom did not want me to go in to the appointment with her, I asked her to get a clear plan from the doctor for how she could gradually return to normal activities. I sat in the waiting room watching a live action Chipmunk movie that I will never be able to unsee, and eventually she came out with a much smaller bandage on her hand and a smile on her face. It seemed that the doctor had said the most wonderful thing that a doctor could say: sewing is good therapy. As soon as we got home she was on the computer telling all of her quilting friends that the doctor recommended that she spend MORE time sewing, and they all cheered.

            We still had a few frozen meals left, but Mom was eager to get back to cooking. By the next afternoon she had prepped a soup for the slow cooker, walked the dogs on her own twice, and was planning to go out and do some errands; because, where my instinct is always to rest, hers is to DO SOMETHING. I had to intervene and drive her for the errands so she wouldn’t overdo it on her first day back in action, and then I really needed a nap. Watching her do so much stuff is exhausting.

“For us too.”

            It will be a few months before her hand is back to full use, and I’m expecting many tantrums as Mom struggles to survive on only five or six hours of sewing a day. (Don’t worry, the dogs and I will do our best to avoid the living room when Mom gets grumpy. I’m sure that’s what you were most worried about.)

“Is it safe to go back to the living room yet?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Plant Cozy


For some deeply scientific reason, beyond my understanding, Mom has decided not to bring some of her plants indoors for the winter, but she also didn’t want them to remain unprotected from the elements, and therefore she made a plant cozy. It’s like a cross between a sleeping bag and a snow suit, filled with warming materials and wrapped around the outdoor plants. She chose bright colors, in case someone failed to notice that the plants were protected, or because the plants have their own unique fashion sense.


The famous plant cozy!

The plants inside of the cozies are sweet potato and dahlia tubers that need to be kept at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally they would be kept in the refrigerator, Mom said, but she assumed that I would not appreciate the plants taking over the shelves and replacing, you know, the food.

It seems unfair, though, that only one set of plants get a cozy. Where is the sweater for the raspberry bush? Or the stocking cap for the paw paw tree? Could none of the maple trees use mittens for their branches? For that matter, the poor car must be freezing overnight. Couldn’t she at least have a scarf?


Maybe fifteen hats for the Hydrangea?


A few thousand mittens (and a ladder?)

I have tried to put the dogs into their own cozies, or jackets, but this has been largely unsuccessful. They shake off what they can shake off, or roll in the mud if possible, and then glare at me until the offending garment is removed. I do not have a death wish, and therefore have not tried to put boots on either of them (though they would look adorable!).


They wore their jackets, once.

The dogs prefer not to get dressed at all before going outside. They like to feel the wind in their hair as they run across the yard, without any impingement on their freedom of movement. And neither of them is especially sensitive to the cold. They don’t seek out hot spots on the floor, or curl under available blankets, though Cricket is a big fan of cozying up with her people.


“I’m free!!!!!!!!!!!!”


“Who needs freedom?”

Generally, I do not get too involved with the gardening. I hear stories about stunted carrots, and ground cover, and I sneak raspberries from the yard when they are in season, but that’s about it. The plant cozy, though, keeps drawing my attention. It reminds me of an especially embarrassed ten-year-old girl (AKA me), wearing her enormous new winter jacket to school for the first time, while everyone else chose sedate black wool coats that year.

For now, most of the plants and flowers are coming to life in quilt designs and photos on the computer. The vegetable garden is in sleep mode for the winter, with, appropriately enough, a blanket of leaves to keep it warm. The flowers are gone, and the leaves are mostly scattered under the snow, waiting to become rich soil. We don’t have the yearly seedling nursery in the dining room, yet, but there is a pile of seed catalogs growing on the coffee table, biding their time.

I think retirement has finally allowed Mom to relax into her creativity. She spends hours and hours playing with color and shape, trying to learn new skills in quilting and photography, and whatever else seems like it could widen her creative vision. I wish she’d been able to pursue all of these things earlier in her life, but having kids, and having to work to feed said kids, got in the way for a long time. I think Miss Butterfly has been able to remind her Grandma that play deserves just as much of your time and energy as other disciplines, and Miss Cricket has taught Grandma to be stubborn and stick to her own way of seeing things. I think the plants secretly appreciate Mom’s new way of seeing the world, even if the other plants on the block look at them askance for being colorful over the winter.


Butterfly loves to oversee Grandma’s quilting projects.


And Cricket is more paws on in her approach.

Butterfly’s Artwork

My mother has a ring-around-the-room problem, where, inevitably, everything she’s reading or working on ends up on the floor around her bed. When I question this system, I am often told that everything is where it is meant to be. The problem with this system became clear, even to Mom, when Butterfly found a quilting magazine on the floor and destroyed it.



Butterfly loves to chew paper. She doesn’t chew soft papers, like tissues or paper towels, the way Cricket does. Butterfly chews harder paper that takes real effort to rip through; she likes coupons, and recipes, magazines, and textbooks, crossword puzzles, and pretty much anything close enough for her paws to reach.

"Ooh, yummy!"

“Ooh, yummy!”

            Paper chewing is satisfying. She can hear the tearing and crumpling sounds, and she can smell that humans have been near the paper, and she can taste the material the paper was made from, and all of it keeps her engaged.

Pop-up book, by Butterfly

Pop-up book, by Butterfly

            She has made attempts to chew the furniture, but her teeth just aren’t strong enough to make a dent.

            Butterfly has been watching Grandma learn how to quilt.

Grandma's Sailboat

Grandma’s Sailboat

The Snowy-Haired Egret a la Grandma

The Snowy-Haired Egret a la Grandma

            Butterfly sees Grandma playing with scraps of fabric, and I believe she has been inspired to create her own works of art. She takes what used to be boring pieces of whole paper, and tears them with her teeth and paws until they are all different shapes and sizes, and then she scatters them across the floor in a pleasing design.

Scatter Art

Scatter Art

            The act of scattering the ripped paper seems just as important as the ripping itself. She doesn’t want to organize the paper into a neat pile; she wants to cover the floor with it.

            I would love to be able to help Butterfly preserve her art work. We could spread a huge piece of mural paper down on the floor and provide all kinds of materials for her to work with: magazines and catalogs and newspapers and crossword puzzles. And, when she finishes a mural, we can put it up on the wall so that every time she passes by, she can sniff it and say, hey, I made that!

            My only concern is that she would pull the murals down and try to redo them, like any other artist, never satisfied with her finished work.