“Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” — 1 Peter 4:9-10
An inordinate number of unusual sewing requests somehow make their way to my studio. I believe our Lord leads them to me. Did you think I just made quilts? Do you believe God has only simple plans for us?
A few years ago, back when I ran a small sewing business, my friend asked me to create a one-of-a-kind pillow for him. On the pillow, he asked I somehow place a duck with his wing around a pig, both looking at a crab with a bad attitude. This friend had his reasons, a cute story having to do with the humorous dynamics of his family. That’s all I’ll say about that.
After he relayed his request, I looked at him with a blank stare. He reminded me of the slogan I had written at the top of my web site — “If you can dream it, I can quilt it.” As this friend and I enjoy bantering back and forth, I quickly responded, “But I don’t do nightmares!”
Even though, in that moment, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to create such an unusual pillow, I could not resist the challenge of accepting the job. In part, I did not want to let my friend down, but the bigger part had to do with the excitement I feel about not knowing how to do something and loving the process of figuring it out. Even as I was jokingly responding “no way,” the creative wires in my brain started to sputter and fire, igniting a plan of action.
Over the years even more challenging projects have come my way. I guess after you have done a few unique projects, you begin to get a reputation for it. I imagine when my name is brought up in a discussion regarding some unique stitching work, somewhere in the conversation it comes out, “Dottie is just crazy enough to do it!” Though, I don’t think this was the case a couple of weeks ago when I was called upon to help with a sewing problem.
A lovely young woman, Maria, called me. She had an urgent need of two Zucchettos (skull caps worn by Catholic clergy) to be used in a production soon to be filmed. Very soon, in fact. Maria’s call came on a Sunday afternoon and she needed the caps by Thursday evening that same week. She explained she was in possession of a pattern, but it was all wrong because her friend had already tried, unsuccessfully, to make them. Adding to the tension of the time constraints, I was going to be out of town Tuesday and Wednesday for family business.
In my sewing career, I have turned children’s paintings, sequined evening dresses and needle-pointed canvases into quilts. I’ve made signs for store windows, covers for mixers, and decorative cloaks for door stops. As a mother, I traded sleep for sewing machine time on the last few nights of every October to fulfill my girls’ Halloween wishes to be a princess, a cat, a pea pod, an Indian, a baby duckling still in the shell, Bugs Bunny, and many, many more. How hard could it be to whip up a couple of Pope beanies? I said to Maria, “Sure, come on over.”
I had enough common sense to get to work immediately. Maria had also requested the Zucchettos be large enough to fit the actor playing Pope John the 23rd, a large man. I started by making one out of scraps using the supposedly incorrect pattern. My smug attitude caused me to think the other seamstress had not followed the pattern correctly. I soon learned she did — the pattern was definitely wrong. My first attempt came out looking very pointy, like a Chinaman’s conical cap. After some math adjustments and redrawing the pattern pieces, my second attempt also came out pointy. Back to the drawing board and my third practice seemed to be right, though needing a few adjustments, so I decided to make one for real using the proper materials. At this point, it’s Monday afternoon and I’m running out of time.
The first “real” one was all wrong, too! Using my husband as a model, I asked if he
thought the cap looked like a French beret? His response was, “Oui.” I spent the rest of Monday searching for a better pattern. If one exists on the internet, I couldn’t find it, except for the one I already had, which was wrong! I even drove to the closest Joann’s Fabric store and searched through all the pattern books. I was sure I had seen patterns for clergy before in the costume sections of the McCall’s and Simplicity’s pattern books. I guess dressing up like the pope for Halloween isn’t in vogue. I could find nothing even close.
Late Monday night I was lying in bed (still not packed for my Tuesday trip) questioning myself. Why do I get myself into these things? Why was I so arrogant to think this would be a simple project for me? Why didn’t I just say I was too busy this week? Why couldn’t God make this a little easier? What does He expect of me? I fell asleep somewhat resigned to the idea that I was going to call Maria in the morning and tell her I just can’t do this unless she finds a proper pattern for me, even though I knew if there was one out there, she would have already found it and probably would not have called me in the first place. I really did not want to let her down, but I didn’t know what else to do.
That night I had an amazing dream. I dreamt Archbishop Mansell, former bishop of the Hartford archdiocese, came by for a visit. I opened my front door and there he was wearing a baseball cap! When I woke up, I knew what I was going to do. I searched through closets until I found a baseball cap that my husband wasn’t all that attached to. I called Maria to get approval and then felt immense relief about my plan.
Upon returning from my trip Wednesday evening, I got to work. I made the two Zucchettos using the cut-up baseball cap as my template. A little tweaking was needed as a baseball cap covers more of the head than the pope’s skull cap does, but the curvature was perfect and it worked out beautifully. Maria and the film’s producers were very happy and grateful.
If the real challenges in life are called “bumps in the road,” my Pope beanie challenge was barely a grain of sand on the pavement, but it was a wonderful reminder of what I can do if I just close my eyes and let God lead me to answers. As a quilt maker, I seek out methods and techniques for getting my stitched pieces to lay flat. Sometimes life throws you a “curve” so you have to forget everything you learned previously and start thinking in a new way. I am also reminded of the importance of being humble. No task is too big or too small as long as you always remember, your hands are God’s hands.
NOTE: The production, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” an Arcadia Films production (www.arcadiafilms.com) will air on EWTN on September 21, 2016.