The Slow-Cooked Sentence

When floor and quilt are meditation on cloth, country, clay

Rachael Conlin Levy


All the hours pulling up layers of linoleum, carpet, nails and glue.

All the steps danced across the rough surface.

All for naught.

Refinishing existing floors would’ve meant one fewer remodeling decisions needed to be made, but the Ukrainian floorers walked into the house, surveyed the evidence, and issued a verdict: The floors were shot. I received the news as I listened to a journalist report on another house, another group of Ukrainians. Lawyers and leaders took to the floor, made the argument that the American political system, the presidency, the fabric of our nation, was shot to shreds.

That night, I inked in small squares. I welcomed the pause in the decision-making and turned myself over to the meditative creation of charting out quilt blocks on paper. The top left block in the image above is a cross, maybe a variation on a block named Ohio Star. The ray of triangles next to it is a pattern happily named Toad in a Puddle. The two bottom images are variations of Broken Dishes, a design that dates back to 1895 with the pattern’s publication in Ladies Art Company catalog.

If the date is accurate, the pattern emerged at the end of Reconstruction, a period of about 30 years following the Civil War when the government worked to end racial discrimination, improve educational and employment opportunities, and expand electoral power.

As I blackened one square, than another, I wished for such a pattern now, for a set of instructions to guide Americans as worn and weary as those of old. I want a pattern that redefines purpose and meaning, that stitches scraps, joins cloth and citizenry, heals a broken democracy, and makes a divided nation whole.


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