It is an image that has stayed with me for years now. Something of interest, something overlooked, something easily missed among the bright and splashy canvas paintings and larger than life sculptures in the museum gallery, but something I am drawn to over and over again. It is this: a stack of blankets in the center of the shining wood floor, taller than I am, towering above me, reaching for the skylight overhead. The blankets are brightly colored reds and oranges, lightly faded blues, soft summer greens, and indistinct grays and browns, a kaleidoscope of earth and rainbow shades stacked one on top of another, frayed edges dangling like ribbons, like streamers, like the lines on detailed maps.
Attached to each one is a large manila tag with a description, a story really, the tale of where the blanket came from and how it came to rest in this corner of the world. I find myself fascinated—delighted by the very ordinary, domestic life of these blankets, and the way they take up space now—a commanding image that asks me to tell my own story, to remember the picnics on summer grass with a green plaid blanket spread out in the sun, or the nights under starry skies with the small bodies of my children tucked against my side as we wait for a meteor shower that never seems to come before they drift off into a peaceful sleep, or the quilts stretched out in my grandmother’s front parlor on frames with friends and aunts and cousins gathered around to stitch one thread after another into the fabric that would shelter a new bride or cradle a new baby, or welcome a new neighbor—the images and memories run together in a map of connections stitched to one another, threaded through by service and faith and the colors and vibrancy of all the many things that make us unique.
And here is the thing that struck me, standing in the bright light from the skylight overhead, one of the reasons why I have been drawn to this exhibit over and over again; it is the sisterhood I feel with the women who made these blankets in the far distant past, a connection, a sense of reaching out, of making the space between us smaller because I can read their stories in the neatly handwritten tags and the well-loved creases of the blankets in front of me.
Sewing is important in my faith community, a heritage that came from pioneer ancestors who walked countless miles of dusty paths and made do with little, and made the little they had last as long as possible, and stitched their own quilts and sheets and clothing. I learned to sew on my grandmother’s sewing machine, an aged Singer built of cast iron that creates perfect stitches in clothing and quilts, stitches through the fabric of my children’s lives, through blessing dresses and baptism dresses and prom dresses and quilts and clothing and dolls, stitches through the seasons and events of their lives, rhythmically moving over seams and bindings as I pin and unpin the fabrics and create something new from the old, a fabric made of bits and pieces of what has been and what is and what will be. And this is what I see all of the women I know doing—crafting out of the raw materials of their lives a way to lift one another, to communicate, to honor the events we are living with strength and courage and grace.
To know what it means to be a woman of faith is to know how to bind together not fabrics, but hearts and lives and communities—to engage in and improve the world around us in simple ways that make a profound difference. It looks a lot like that tower of blankets did one warm spring day, years ago now, as I stood in the chill air conditioning of the Museum of Art. It looks like a simple object, worn thin and threadbare with loving use, but folded carefully, tenderly, and placed into a stack of blankets representing the faith of generations of women—faith in the future, faith in family, faith in community. And faith in our ability to stitch together a common ground, no matter the distance between us.