A long time ago, in a country far, far away, my nine-year-old self visited a museum in England. The American Museum in Bath was my first experience of anything American that wasn’t viewed on a black-and-white TV, and, while I recall finding the museum interesting, there was one particular exhibition that is still lodged in my long-term memory: the extensive collection of antique quilts. Exquisite, detailed, and painstakingly hand-sewn by American women hundreds of years ago, these quilts and the stories behind them fascinated me.
How difficult can it be?
Fast forward a couple of decades, and there I was, newly arrived in New England. I’d worked out the day-to-day details of where to shop, where to bank, and how to order a pizza in a fake American(ish) accent so that it got delivered to the right address. Perhaps it was the amount of free time suddenly on my hands, or the impending arrival of another baby that put me in a domesticated mood, but when I received in the mail a brochure for adult education courses at the local high school, I signed up for Quilting For Beginners. I was in the heart of quilting territory, and I was going to make one of those big quilts. How difficult could it be, if women two hundred years ago made them by hand, by candlelight?
A newfound respect…
The course lasted for eight weeks. If I’d previously admired the Old American quilters whose handiwork graced the museum in Bath, at the end of those eight weeks they had achieved god-like status in my mind. It’s not as if I was a novice at sewing. My mother, an expert needlewoman and daughter of a tailoress herself, had taught me the basics long ago. But whereas I was making a small lap-quilt on an electric sewing machine, many of the much larger quilts I’d seen in Bath would have been made by hand; the first American patent for a two-thread machine wasn’t issued until 1846.
…and an appreciation for our foremothers
In the same way I am in awe of Austen and Dickens writing without the help of even a typewriter, let alone a Mac, I am humbled to think of the hours these women spent in creating a textile legacy for their country’s future generations. The two month process of learning a craft associated with the part of the world where I was living made me appreciate aspects of the region’s history and early life, perhaps more than visits to American museums on this side of the Atlantic did.
The quilt I made is still here, draped neatly over a chair in the spare bedroom, a reminder of eight weeks of cutting, pinning, sewing, and then unpicking when it all went wrong — but eventually finishing. Eight weeks of learning a new craft…and so much more.
Readers, what about you? What would you like to learn in your adopted country, and what else would it teach you?
STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post!
If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!