It’s the Little Things


Kathryn Patterson, owner of Hill Street Quilts (hillstreetquilts.com), worked in Bell’s Mental Health Department, from 1980-1992, and then as the Director of Human Resources, from 2001-2003. She says, “I’m very proud to have been part of the team that built Bell from the ground up!” Recently, she shared her beautiful and touching thoughts with us on making her first quilt and the life lessons learned during the process.
Quiltmaking is a good analogy to the work Bell does. Taking time to go through the steps, and sticking with it, is what it takes to make life changes. Sometimes we want to give up, and sometimes we do need to step back and take a little break, but remaining steady in the work will eventually reveal something worth the effort and time.
Here’s Kathy’s story:
I made my first bed size quilt in 1992, nearly 30 years ago. It fits a queen size bed, and it took me about a year of concerted effort, with every stitch made by hand. I learned a lot in the process about quilt making, but also about motivation, healing, and happiness.
When I started my quilt, I wanted to get it made as quickly as possible. I had a clear vision of what it would look like in my bedroom, and I hurried through cutting out fabric pieces for the first few blocks, anxious to finish the project.
But making a hand sewn quilt takes a lot of time. One of the first things I learned while working on it was that if I waited until the quilt was on my bed to feel a sense of accomplishment and completion, I was going to be waiting a long time. Instead, I started to enjoy the feeling of finishing an individual block of 9 small fabric pieces sewn together. I had fun selecting the fabrics, cutting out the pieces to feature special motifs or arrangements of designs, and stitching them together as precisely as I could. There was joy in making every little block.
I also learned that the act of quilting had much to offer me in the way of healing. In the year in which I made that quilt, I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices, and a small to-go pack of fabric pieces, needle, and thread went with me to every appointment. Waiting rooms were no longer lonely, frightening places for me. I got friendly looks and comments everywhere I went, and the act of stitching calmed my mind and heart. About halfway through making the blocks, I realized I valued the process so much that I didn’t want it to end. I knew then that even once my quilt was finished, I’d be working on blocks for another one soon.
What a happy day it was when the blocks were finally all completed and could be laid out on the floor to decide on the best arrangement for the final quilt. My mother and aunt helped me move the blocks around to balance the color placement, remarking as we went about the origins of many of the fabrics in the blocks. “That one is from your sister’s first maternity dress.” “I made my little boy a pair of play shorts from that print.” “Your dad loved the pillow you made for him from that fabric.” This quilt was definitely going to be greater than the sum of its parts. Every little block had its story, and every contribution of fabric, time, and effort had added to the impact of the final project.
On most summer nights, I still sleep under that quilt. I’ve made many others since, and I’ve learned a lot of other lessons about quilt making and about life. But if there’s one lesson I’d like to share with you it’s that the little things really are the ones that count. A big project is only completed once. But all the small contributions that go into that project can bring joy over and over on the way. Let yourself feel the joy and satisfaction of making those small efforts, and the big accomplishments will take care of themselves. Enjoy the journey!