(City Landscape by Heidi Parkes)
The kettle whistles; a vibrant green powder dissolves into the steaming water, swirling until uniform. The cup in my hand is warm, its texture smooth, its form curvy. Like a mug who was tired of standing up straight, it slumps into my hand in the most comfortable way. There is a felt sense of the hands that made this mug I am holding.
I am sitting in the living room of fine art quilter and yoga therapist Heidi Parkes. She made the mug and is sitting next to me hand-quilting. Her needle is weaving over and under, making perfectly imperfect stitches across her latest creation.
Heidi is doing a technique called improvisational quilting. There are no drawings or meticulous plans for how she will quilt this piece, just a feeling and a flow she follows. What comes across is a piece that is more than a handmade craft (which is plenty in its own right); it is an object full of story and meaning, something that one, like a painting, can stare at and contemplate over and over.
"Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional."
Lenord Koren on the Japanese aestheteic of wabi-sabi
School of life Wabi Sabi video
Wabi-sabi is the tradition in which Heidi quilts. Her pieces are striking, not because of their perfection, but because they lack it. You see her in the stiches and the piecing. Wabi-sabi meets improvisational quilting in the beautiful intersection of traditional skill and fine art form.
As we sit and sip and she stitches, our conversation broadens to the wider culture. We note that we are in an interesting time period. Machines make things perfect, quick, and cheap. Most everything is effectively disposable. As we buy more quantity, it comes at a lower quality. That, however, is starting to change.
In the job gully left by the 2008 financial crisis, more and more people (particularly millennials and boomers) have turned to craftsmanship; there is a maker movement. This is not a return to an old way of doing things as much as it is a post-industrial integration of craftsmanship from days past for the sake of making goods that counterbalance our highly technical, disposable world. People are starting to value the time, energy, and skill that go into making something by hand. One handmade quality good is becoming worth more than five from a big box store. In tandem, the aesthetic of perfection, so important and idealized in the industrial age, is losing its appeal. In order to show that things are handmade, to show the soul in them, imperfection is essential. In the imperfection is the beauty, the meaning, the uniqueness. Here is the physical representation of the hand that crafted the object.
This is true for ourselves as we age. The macrocosm is reflected in our microcosm. Now is also a time where we are afforded the same opportunity for a new status quo in personhood and aging. It is our differences that give us value; it is our imperfections that make us interesting. Steinbeck phrased it: "now that you don't have to be perfect you can be good." Now is a time to look within and find what you are; what makes up your unique tapestry of character. What happens when you look at yourself without the lens of perfection? What do you see? What parts of you have lain dormant? What parts of you can you uncover? Craft your life like an improvisational quilt. Gather stories and experiences that may not seem to go together at first. Piece them together and then quilt over them with beautifully imperfect stitches to make the tapestry that is your story. I challenge you to leave perfection to those with little imagination.
All photos courtesy of Heidi Parkes