Quilting as a Path to Love and Deep Listening


Writing about love and deepening my ability to express the centrality of love to life itself is a goal I set for myself in retirement. Influenced by grace and serendipity, I had an unexpected awakening to how creativity and deep listening advance love and healing, while attending the annual American Library Association conference in Washington DC in June. There I stumbled upon the book Quilt of Souls: A Memoir by Phyllis Biffle Elmore (to be published November 8, 2022, by Imagine Press, www.imaginebooks.net). I carried this book home with me and dove into its captivating stories about ordinary people and how they dealt with the evils of slavery.

Phyllis Biffle Elmore was born in Detroit to African American parents who struggled to raise her. When she was four, her mother and uncles drove her to rural Alabama and left her with her grandmother Lula Horn. Grandma Horn, as Elmore describes her in this poignant story of generations of African Americans and their journey from slavery to freedom, teaches her the healing power of art and story.

In the story, Grandma Horn invites her young granddaughter to be part of her quilt-making process. Grandma Horn is not just a quiltmaker; she is the “go to” quilt maker in her family and community. She takes the responsibility of crafting a personal quilt for both living and deceased people very seriously. A slowness and a listening to spirit guides each quilt she creates. By listening deeply to the lives of each person for whom she makes a quilt and seeking to understand their “spirits,” the quiltmaker provides a tactile and deeply emotional connection to the person. Elmore describes how the making of a quilt requires a deep appreciation for the life of the person for whom the quilt is being made.

The cloth for each quilt is carefully selected from donated old clothes of deceased and living people who are connected to the person for whom the quilt is being created. Some quilts are gifts to the family of the deceased to aid their healing and provide tactile memories. Others are for the living and inspire forgiveness and healing of deeply held hurts. Elmore describes how the quilt her grandmother made for her helped heal her feelings of abandonment and confusion she experienced during her childhood.

Like many elders, Grandma Horn dispenses spiritual wisdom that shaped the life of her granddaughter. Indeed, her granddaughter’s story creates an opportunity to explore more deeply how love flows from compassion and forgiveness. Each quilt presented in Quilt of Souls is itself the story of a hard life, with Grandma Horn at the center of the book as a river of peace and consolation with her wise words: “But if you’s carryin’ hate, the good can’t come through the door” and ”nuthing last always.”

By weaving together the individual stories, Elmore brings alive the idea that all our souls are quilted together and, in that process, we are invited to learn to have compassion for one another. If you want to understand the racism and sexism as more than theory, read about how Grandma Horn, the community quiltmaker, rose above hate and ugliness and brought love and healing to every quilt she made. Read about how she was an instrument of healing by how she made her quilts and taught everyone involved to love and forgive.

Quilting and other forms of creativity offer tender moments for our spirits to grow and connect. Is quilt-making part of your tradition? Are there other forms of creativity that knit your soul with others and bring healing? I invite you to explore the Quilt of Souls available November 8 on Amazon. We are all part of the quilt!

This post is revised from Quilting as a Path to Love from Tom’s blog Critical Conversations (thadams.com).

Photo by Raul Cacho Oses from unsplash.com

October 10, 2022 by Tom Adams
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