I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Anne Marie Vencill’s reflection on the art of quilting as a spiritual practice.
An email set me on my quest to be a monk in the world.
It simply said, “I discovered Abbey of the Arts a few years ago. Can’t remember if I shared it with you. It has a lot of good things.” I clicked the link and found St. Gobnait, the art of Marcy Hall, a manifesto that resounded, and doubt. How could I possibly join a group of artists?
I remember thinking, “Of course the sender of the email fits into a community of artists. She is a musical talent and relatively well-known in our community. She has a lovely voice. She is an amazing singer. She teaches at the university where we live.
I was a stay-at-home mom with five teenage children, an abandoned career, and no talents of seeming value. Yet I found the story of St. Gobnait so compelling, I did what I do when I am inspired, sad, praying fervently for someone, wanting to express gratitude; I made a quilt. (I must admit, having studied entomology, it was the bees in her story that wooed me.) At the time, it did not occur to me that quilting was not only an artistic endeavor, but played a significant role in nourishing my faith.
Quilting makes me happy. It feeds a creative place inside me in a way nothing else does, while at the same time giving a nod to the practical person I am. I love gifting someone a quilt and imagining them wrapping up in it or hanging it on the wall. I hope they somehow feel the love, kind thoughts, prayers, and me sewn into it.
I designed and sewed my first quilt some 40 years ago when I was in fifth grade. It was a gift for my youngest brother when he was born. I have been quilting ever since! I like a wide variety of patterns, colors, and fabrics. Batiks are my favorite. Much of the time I create my own designs. I find inspiration everywhere: in the mundane activities required to maintain a household; in nature; from what I read, see, and experience; in my imagination. Quilting is my outlet for being a monk in the world. My sewing space is a place of solitude; a place to rest and be refreshed; a place to be challenged and pushed; a place to step-back, learn, and create.
It takes time to construct a quilt. Often, I find myself spending that time in prayer, using the rhythm of the sewing machine as a mantra. It becomes a holy pause in my sometimes hectic and stressful life, an opportunity to dig down into the essence of who I am and pour that into the pieces of cotton cut apart and put back together; the same, yet different. I like to think that this work of my hands is holy work. Quilting is also a connection to many women who have gone before me; women who used this seemingly utilitarian craft to tell their story. This too, is how I tell my story.
It has taken me a long time to realize and accept that making quilts is the most authentic expression of me and to acknowledge what I do when I quilt is create art. Perhaps the best compliment I have every received regarding my quilts came from my middle, middle child who said to his brother, “If Mom asks you if you want a quilt, say ‘yes’. Her quilts are awesome!”
So here it is. My quest: Accept who I am. Love who I am. Share who I am. That’s a lot of fabric to cut and sew together. (And thanks Ellen, for sending that email.)
Anne Marie Vencill lives in Athens, Georgia with her husband and some of her five teenage/early 20s children. She holds a PhD in Entomology and currently works as an academic advisor at the University of Georgia. She is an avid quilter and knitter and bee keeper.