A long, looong time ago, back when I was barely 30 and had a brand spanking new sewing machine sitting on my dining room table, I decided to learn how to quilt.
I don't know where this thought emerged from, or why. Suffice it to say that back then I lived in the Bronx, within walking distance of a New York Public Library (be still my heart). I took out just about every book I could find on the subject, and thereby taught myself to quilt.
On the way to my first ever quilt - and by the way, it was a trip-around-the-world though I didn't know it yet, and the batting didn't reach all the way to the edges - I accidentally got a book out of the library that had every appearance of being helpful, but it wasn't, in any practical sense. It was called "Quilting Lessons".
I loved this book the first time I read it, and I have read it more times than I care to admit since then, and I'm still not bored.
Janet Berlo was, at the time of writing this book, a 40-something art historian who fell into a deep depression. As she entered her depression, she left her academic world - which had already become alien and threatening to her - and emmersed herself almost obsessively into the world of quilting. Over time, the quilting became a therapeutic tool for her emotional healing, providing the title of this book, her quilting lessons.
Well, Berlo is a writer by profession, so her brief essays are beautifully composed and tightly edited. My only critique is that she is a teeny tiny bit self-absorbed? A true mark of depression, as we know, but it can still be a bit wearying to wade through.
However, this is a true telling of healing from mental anguish, from her terse early words: "I was piecing for cover. I was quilting to save my life." to the final, healthier, pages of her book "...remembering always to make time to smell the sage or to bring groceries to the old ladies and talk with them quietly for a half hour. These acts of grace are fundamental to life's educational process too."
But this short book doesn't simply chart a journey through depression. Berlo explores the vital place of creative work in women's lives, the power of sisterhood, the process of creativity, and tells us many stories along the way about her travels, her family, her work - in other words, her life.
On a scale of 1 - 5 yards*, I give this book a 4 YARD RATING.
This is a great book if you're in the right mood: a blend of academic analysis and engaging story-telling is used to describe one woman's trip to hell and back via handwork. If you've read it before, or if you pick it up soon, tell us what you thought!
*Of course yards. I'm a quilter. How else would I measure anything?