Quilting as a Path to Love

Photo by Raul Cacho Oses from unsplash.com

Author

Writing about love and deepening my ability to express the centrality of love to life itself is a goal I set for myself in retirement. A less heady goal I set was to finish writing a book that I have been toiling over for a long time. It is a book about Bill and Lois Wilson/and their marriage. You may recall that Bill Wilson was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and Lois Wilson was the co-founder of Al-Anon, a Twelve Step program for families and friends of people with drinking problems.

I am thrilled to report that my co-author Joy Jones and I have finally completed the Wilson book! And as Joy and I set about trying to get the book published, I stumbled – quite serendipitously – over a book that opened new dimensions of my understanding of the power of love in easing the deep pain of slavery, racism and sexism.

In the Wilson book, Joy and I did our best to unravel the mystery of the Wilson marriage and describe a compelling, complex love story that has truly changed the world. In our effort to find a publisher, we attended the annual American Library Association conference in Washington DC in June. If you love reading, you might treat yourself to attending the conference as a vendor/exhibitor guest which allows you to spend as much time as you like in the huge convention-size exhibit fall full of books and publishers. Indeed, if you are an avid reader, you can fill bags with free books that are recently published or are about to be published. For writers, it is a great place to meet publishers and broaden the possible outlets for your writing.

While at the conference I stumbled upon a book that is opening new avenues for me to learn about love and compassion.  Quilt of Souls: A Memoir by Phyllis Biffle Elmore will be published on November 8, 2022, by Imagine Press (www.imaginebooks.net). I carried this book home with me and dove into its captivating stories about ordinary people and how they dealt with the evils of slavery.

Elmore describes how the making of a quilt requires a deep appreciation for the life of the person for whom the quilt is being made. If you want to understand racism and sexism as more than theory, read about how Grandma Horn, as the community quiltmaker, rose above the hate and ugliness and brought love and healing to every quilt she made. She was an instrument of healing through how she made her quilts and what she taught everyone involved about loving and forgiving.

In addition to the individual stories, Elmore uses the story to make powerfully clear the image of souls uniting in a quilt and a community of quilts being a teacher of compassion and love. She brings alive the idea that all our souls are quilted together and, in that process, we are invited to learn to have compassion for one another.

Phyllis Biffle Elmore was born in Detroit to African American parents who were struggling to raise her. At age 4, her mother and uncles drove her to rural Alabama and left with her grandmother Lula Horn. Grandma Horn, as Elmore describes her in this poignant story of generations of African Americans and their journey from slavery to freedom, brings alive in her life the power of art and story to heal.

Grandma is a quiltmaker, the “go-to” quilt maker in her family and community. She takes the responsibility of crafting a personal quilt for both living and deceased people very seriously. There is a slowness and a listening to spirit that guides each quilt she creates. Elmore describes how the quilt her grandmother made for her helped heal her feelings of abandonment and confusion she experienced during her childhood.

In the story, Grandma Horn invites her young granddaughter to be part of her quilt-making process. The cloth for each quilt is personally selected. It comes from donated old clothes of deceased and living people who are connected to the person for whom the quilt is being created. Some quilts are gifts to the family of the deceased to aid their healing and provide tactile memories. Others are for the living and inspire forgiveness and healing of deeply held hurts.

Like many elders, Grandma Horn dispenses spiritual wisdom that shaped the life of her granddaughter. Indeed, her granddaughter’s story creates an opportunity to explore more deeply how love flows from compassion and forgiveness. Each quilt is the story of a hard life with Grandma Horn being the river of peace and consolation with quilt and her words – “But if you’s carryin’ hate, the good can’t come through the door” and ”nuthing last always.”

As the book jacket describes so succinctly: “Lula’s generosity of spirit, strong will, and creative soul animate every page of Phyllis’s moving memoir, with its portraits of extraordinary Black women born before and after the Civil War: enslaved people, laundresses, storytellers, healers and quilters whose stories have gone untold until now.”

There is much to learn about love. I will persist in sharing my journey in learning to love as I see it as life’s central mission. I invite you to consider sharing your reflections in the months ahead and to explore the Quilt of Souls. We are all part of the quilt!

Author

  • Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.

8 Comments

  1. Evangelyn Ramsey

    Thank you Tom, what a beautiful story of pain, love, compassion, hope and heritage. Your description of an art that has been passed down in my family brings up beautiful pictures of quilts that I slept under growing up. A favorite of mine was a silhouette of little girls’ heads with bonnets on them in all different colors.
    My father one of nine siblings who also grew up in rural Alabama told me one of his favorite memories was of the times his mom would host the quilt making day at their home. All the ladies would meet at a persons home and they would make a quilt in a day.. He said he and his brothers and sisters loved those quilt days because their mother would make a variety of cakes for the ladies and there was always leftovers for the children to share.

    My dad and mom migrated to NY and worked in wealthy persons homes in Bronxville, NY. Someone was always giving them their used clothing. I remember one Sunday morning when I was very young seeing my parents cleaning out the clothes closet. There were all these men’s suits. My parents had an old Singer sewing machine that worked by a manual pedal. My dad cut those suits into squares and my mom sewed all those squares together and they made what was the cover of a quilt. Well, they never got any further than sewing the squares together but that blanket of squares kept me warm until I left their home to get married..
    Our neighbor here in Georgia who is African American makes the most beautiful quilts. She has offered to help me make a quilt out of some of the beautiful kente clothes we have brought back from trips to Africa.. she just make a beautiful quilt for the newest member of our family Jordyn Irene born July 14, 2022.

    I love forward to November and buying Ms. Elmores book for myself and a gift for our neighbor. Congratulations Tom and Joy on completing your labor of love. I can’t wait to purchase and read the Wilson book.

    • Tom Adams

      Wow, Evangelyn, thanks for making something I read about so real from your family experience. I got goose bumps reading about the quilts your family made and how they comforted and kept you warm. Thanks for sharing your expereince. I’d like to incorporate your reply into next week’s post if ok with you! I will be in touch to discuss further. Peace, Tom

  2. Shirin McArthur

    Thank you, Tom, this sounds like a wonderful book!

    • Tom Adams

      Yes!

  3. sally mac

    This week I like the metaphor of a quilt binding us all together. It’s only in recognizing this oneness that we can”stitch” together a way forward for Mother Earth.

    • Tom Adams

      Indeed, Sally. As long as we are competing, we seem to end up in conflict and war. If we are all one quilt, our need to compete chnages a lot. Peace, Tom

  4. Mary O'H.

    Thanks, Tom.

    I was touched by your description of your and Joy’s efforts to bring to the world the story of the love that held Bill and Lois Wilson together. I look forward to reading it and hope and pray that you find a publisher soon!

    Like many, I have quilting in my background — an aunt and my godmother made quilts for me when I was born. Later on, my grandmother made a bigger one for me, which sadly was lost in a move — I only hope someone else treasures it now!

    When my kids were married, my other kids, their spouses/significant others and I made quilts based on each couple’s lives — we made four. Then when each couple had children, we made a small baby quilt for each family — another four were made.

    Recently, a granddaughter rallied all family members to design a square each, sewed them together and presented a quilt to me one Christmas a few years ago. It warms my heart and the rest of me when I snuggle underneath.

    My family quilts sprang from happy events unlike the stories you describe in your piece where they came out of deep pain of slavery. Thanks for reminding me of some of the pain of others as well as treasures in my own life.

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Mary for shairing your experience and reminding us how families and communities from many cultures have long traditions with quilting as a way to bring people and memories together and express love. Peace,
      Tom