This little sewing retreat is happening right now without me :(, but i have been kept updated through the blogs of my aunts :) yay for internet!
This is a picture from my Aunt Polly Wolly's blog that was taken this year. It's my grandfather, grandmother, and their 8 kiddos. Starting at top left and going clockwise: Shelia, Polly, Oren Jr., Coleen, June, Emily, Barbar, Grandfather, Grandmother, and Julia.
At last year's sewing retreat, I worked with my mom to make this denim and corduroy blanket. I love it! it fits a full/queen bed, and is so so warm :) It's especially special since my mom helped me to make it :)
This is a picture that was taken last year of my two favorite cousins and i on my mom's side of the family. This year none of us were able to go as we are all living in very different parts of the world right now. Sheri is living in Nevada; Holly is in Texas; and I am in Canada. Hopefully some year we'll all make it back to the Hen Party :)
Since i was feeling just a little down about not being able to sew w/ my family, i decided that i should sew by myself...so I got a little more work done on my quilt :)
I've been using my handy dandy little island in the kitchen to cut out my squares.
This is my little sewing area in our office/junk room/tool storage area...good thing i don't need much space!
Now, you would think that by now i would have this quilt down pat...but i don't. Couldn't believe how much time i spent picking stuff out yesterday!!! ughhhhhhhh!
Can you see what's wrong w/ these blocks? I had them both all sewed together except for the middle seam before i saw that i had switched my middle chain :( o well, live and learn!
Aunt Polly, since you're the iron lady, these pictures are for you :) My hubby got this iron for me as part of my bday present :) I have been putting it to good use, and it works wonderfully :)
I now have 10 blocks finished :) I'm so excited about how it's coming together!
And to finish off this lil' blog post, i've decided to make it a not-so-lil' blog post by attaching a paper that i wrote spring of my junior year. I was taking a qualitative research class, and decided to write about the sewing retreat so that i would have an excuse to spend more time w/ my aunties and cousins :) It is rather long, so don't feel obligated to read it, but here it is if you're interested :)
Parla Cline - SOC 352 - May 7, 2009
Seven Sewing Sisters: The Stitches that Bind Their Lives
When we seek for connection, we restore the world to wholeness. Our seemingly separate lives become meaningful as we discover how truly necessary we are to each other. – Margaret Wheatley
Who would I be without my family? My family has shaped me and molded me. They have taught me and interacted with me from little up. Much of my identity has come from their presence and influence in my life. I come from a family that seeks to love, nurture, care for, encourage, and teach each other. I am who I am because of the interactions I have had with those around me. They have spoken love and acceptance into my life for as long as I can remember, and it is only now that I am beginning to understand the implications of that message. How do people survive without a support system? How do you make it if you do not belong? How do you “do life” if you are alone? Who would I be without my family?
On March 1 of 2009, a group of seven sisters and one sister-in-law came together for what has come to be known as the “sewing retreat.” This sewing retreat has come to be an annual event. The first one took place eight years ago at a cabin back in West Virginia, and lasted only for an extended weekend. The sisters enjoyed their time together so much that they decided to do it again the following year. As the years progressed, so did the number of participants. It became a bonding time not only for the sisters, but for their children and spouses as well. Not only has the number of participants increased, but the length of time of the sewing retreat has increased as well. Now the sisters meet for ten days, many of them leaving their husbands and children at home to fend for themselves. Three of the sisters make long drives from the states of Georgia, Mississippi, and Delaware. The other four, as well as the sister-in-law still live in their home state of Virginia. Because of this, several of them return to their homes for the night, but others of them choose to stay despite their proximity to families. The sewing retreat no longer takes place in West Virginia. In fact, for the past two years, it has actually taken place in the house where the girls grew up. It is located next to the beautiful North River in the little town of Bridgewater, VA. Since that time the house has been remodeled and added on to, but there is still something they love about returning to their old stomping grounds. As my Aunt Polly put it, “I can drive down 42 and the moment I see Bridgewater, it’s my roots, and I always feel welcomed. I have a place, a belonging.”
My reasons for choosing to do my qualitative research project on this annual sewing retreat are somewhat selfish. I value my family very highly, and I love spending time with them, but because of college and other responsibilities I have never been able to fully participate in the sewing retreat. And while I was still not able to fully participate, this project gave me an excuse to be with and learn from the people that I so dearly love. As I began my research, I had no idea where I was going to go with it. I just knew that my family is special and unique, and that this phenomenon of the “sewing retreat” is something that people who hear about it find incredibly intriguing. How is it that these seven sisters and their sister-in-law who is “just a part of us and one of us,” are able to just take off and do this? How do they put up with each other for such a large amount of time? Don’t they get tired of being together? Doesn’t sewing get boring after ten days? My goal was just to talk and interact with each of them to see if I could come to a better understanding of the way in which their individual values and lives have shaped their own thought and feelings about the sewing retreat—because despite their generally shared values, discrepancies do exist.
My main form of data collection was through semi-structured interviews. The sewing retreat takes place in the basement of the house, and basically the sisters set up their sewing machines close enough together that they can interact and converse while sewing, but also far enough apart to give themselves room to work. When I did my interviews, I just pulled a chair up to their sewing station, and with laptop in hand, asked questions and typed responses. I chose not to use a tape recorder for several reasons. One was for time’s sake. I knew that transcriptions take an incredible amount of time to produce, and I knew that I would be conducting eight or nine interviews. Another reason I chose not to use a tape recorder was because several of my aunts expressed unease about being interviewed, and I did not want the presence of a tape-recorder to hinder the authenticity of their answers. Lastly, my interviews often served to generate conversation among the sisters. With the constant sound of sewing machines in the background, and the distance between some of the sewing stations, I was not confident that the tape-recorder would pick up all of the conversation. My typing-while-interviewing method worked fairly well for me. While I was not able to write absolutely everything that was said, I was able to pick up what I felt to be the most pertinent to my research. My second form of data collection was video footage. Because I was not exactly sure what direction I would be taking with my research, I decided that video footage would be my
best tool for collecting data. It provided me with more description that I could have ever written and also served to jog my memory when I went back to analyze my data. It also captured the reality of what actually happens at a sewing retreat better than words could ever do. My last form of data collection was a follow-up e-mail that I sent approximately a month after the retreat had ended. As the semester progressed, I realized that I did not ask all of the questions that I necessarily should have, so I e-mailed my aunts, and each of them kindly obliged in taking the time to write me back.
One of the main obstacles that I faced as a researcher was being objective in my data collection. Because I am a part of the phenomenon that I was studying, I often found myself wanting to participate rather than research. Rather than think analytically about the conversations I had with my aunts and the conversations which I observed, I just wanted to be there and enjoy their company. I also found that because I know my aunts with at least some degree of intimacy, I expected them to answer my questions in certain ways. While I don’t feel like my questions were biased, I do realize that my general perceptions of my aunts and their lives could affect the way in which I interpret the answers that they gave me.
One other issue that I faced was that of knowing what I should and should not include in my project. Despite the fact that each of my participants signed a consent form which said that their identity would not be kept confidential, I found that several of them shared information with me that they would not want to be made known to the other sisters. I feel that some of the information is relevant to my project, but I also want to respect my aunts.
As I was interviewing and interacting with my aunts, several general themes emerged. The theme that I will be focusing specifically on in this paper is the value that my aunts place on family. I found this theme to not only be true in their words, but in their actions as well. The interesting thing to note though, is that despite their common thoughts towards the importance of family, there was a dissonance when it came to their feelings toward the way in which the sewing retreat played a part in these familial relationships. I will present a bit of background information on each of my aunts to demonstrate the various ways in which their individual lives may have impacted their current ideas about the sewing retreat.
Aunt June is the oldest of the bunch. She spends the majority of her day working. Per week, she works 30 hours at a public paying job, 20-30 hours taking care of rental houses, 20-30 hours doing household chores, 10-12 hours babysitting or helping others, and 8-10 hours cooking and entertaining. She loves her hobbies which include sewing, oil painting, stained glass, reading, and remodeling, but is only able to do them on Sunday afternoons, during summer vacation, or during sewing retreat week.
Aunt Coleen is from Georgia. She is the mother nine children, three of which still live at home. Her outside job is done inside her home. She babysits 3-4 kids, 5 days a week. She tries to leave most of her evening open for things like gardening, journaling, and reading.
Aunt Julia lives in Macon, Mississippi. She spends most of her time doing bookwork and taking care of the house. She is very passionate about her sewing though, and wishes her household responsibilities would not take up so much of her time so that she could invest more time and energy into her projects. She spends anywhere from 8 – 20 hours per week sewing.
Aunt Shelia and her husband own the old home-place where the sewing retreat takes place. Their family owns three businesses, and between keeping up with the businesses, taking care of the home, and looking after her husband and their five children, she is able to do little else. She said she usually does not get to stop until 10:00 at night. Because of this she really does not have time for hobbies. She sews one week out of the year, and that is at the sewing retreat. All of this does not mean that life is not enjoyable for her, in fact, when I asked her what hobbies other than sewing she has, she said, “Maybe I should say life in itself is a hobby. J I do enjoy life.”
Aunt Polly and her husband Mark live in Greenwood, Delaware. She spends a lot of time “running around.” This could mean attending her weekly lady’s Bible study or shopping for the nursing home that she and her husband own. She does a lot of entertaining in her home which always involves a lot of food preparation and cleaning. Sewing is a fairly large part of her life. She tries to spend at least a little time each day in her sewing room. For her, it is a stress-reliever, a ministry, and a channel for her creative muse. Unless she is playing with her grandkids, sewing is most definitely her favorite thing to do.
Aunt Emily is the mother of four boys. She says that her work and her hobbies are one and the same thing. She works for BioLife in Harrisonburg 25 hours each week, and also takes care of her home. She believes in making her hobbies “productive things of time. That way you are always playing, even when you are working.” While she does sew some, most of her sewing is handiwork rather than machine piecing. Of all the sisters, she places the least value in sewing, giving it a rating of 2 out of a 10 point scale.
Barbara, who is also my mother, spends the most time sewing out of all of her sisters. She is writing a book right now, so she is not able to put as much time into sewing as she usually does, but normally she is able to put in approximately 20 hours of sewing per week. Even her job outside of the home centers around sewing. She teaches sewing classes at Patchwork Plus in Dayton, VA. She also drives Old-Order Mennonite children to and from school five days a week. Despite her passion for sewing, she did not list it in her top five most favorite things to do. This list included travel and various social interactions. She gave sewing a score of 9 on a 10 point scale, saying “my family is more important to me than my sewing.”
Aunt Cheryl is married to the little brother of the seven sisters. She does not work outside of the home, so after sending her kids off to school in the mornings, she takes care of household chores, and then spends the rest of her time (until the children come home from school) either bird-watching or sewing.
Growing up, sewing was a necessary part of the sister’s lives. They made their own dresses, and did their own mending. While only a few of them still make their own dresses, most of them have also come to use their sewing abilities as a way to express their creativity through the art of quiltmaking. Three of the sisters particularly have incorporated sewing as an integral part of their lives. These three (Julia, Polly, and Barbara) are constantly designing their own quilt patterns, attending quilt guilds, and entering a variety of contests. One is even in the process of writing her own book, and all three have had their quiltwork published in one form or another. Their passion and love for sewing is often evident at the sewing retreat as they are usually the last to go to bed, and the first to get up in the morning. While most of the other sisters bring other projects to work on (such as painting and scrapbooking), these three spend every spare moment channeling their creative potential into their beautiful quilts. This is not to say that the other sisters do not enjoy sewing; most of them do, but for these three sisters, sewing is a passion. Aunt June, Aunt Coleen, and Aunt Cheryl all enjoy piecing, and do a fair amount of it, but are not as interested in the competitive, more broad-stream nature of the art. And lastly there is Aunt Shelia and Aunt Emily who value sewing to some extent, but do very little outside of sewing retreat week.
When I compared the sisters’ ideas about the importance of sewing in the sewing retreat, I found that their view of sewing played a large role in the way that they view the sewing retreat. Of the sisters, Aunt Julia is the most adamant about her sewing. She comes to the sewing retreat to sew. It’s one time when she can sew and sew and sew, and not feel guilty about it. There were several times throughout the week when she expressed the guilt that she feels because of the amount of time that she both spends and wishes that she could spend sewing. She does value the sewing retreat for the relationships, but if it were not for the sewing, the retreat would be much less of a “highlight” in her year. As she put it, “I can do what I enjoy while they’re doing what they enjoy and we can be together and enjoy each other’s company.”
Aunt Coleen sees the sewing retreat differently. Her main focus in the sewing retreat is the relationships. Because of this, there is no one particular thing that stands out to her as far as enjoyment is concerned. When I asked her what her favorite sewing retreat experience has been, she said, “I have so many—getting up in the morning and drinking coffee before it begins, and I love mealtime. I look forward to meal time, to be honest with you, too much….I just love being with family.” In my interview with her, she expressed over and over again how important family is to her. She even pointed a quote to me from her daily calendar. It read, “We love, trust, get hurt, sometimes outraged, and we love and trust anyhow because that’s the best way to let our love grow” – Madelieine L’Engle. Aunt Coleen even went as far as to tell me, “I wouldn’t have to sew a stitch and I would enjoy it.” To which Aunt Julia interjected, “I think her priorities are in order.” This little interjection just goes a little further to demonstrate some of the ambivalence Aunt Julia feels in regard to her love of sewing.
While Aunt Emily loves her sisters, her view of the sewing retreat is different in that she seems to feel that the sewing actually detracts from the potential furtherance of relationships. “Why don’t we have a week with no sewing machines, a week at the beach or something off-the-wall?...I would rather be lazing around in the water and not feeling like I need to accomplish something. I really enjoy the next generation a lot—like you guys, the younger girls. Sometimes I feel like I have more of the same interest as you than some of my sisters.” Aunt Emily went on to talk about the time that she spends with her sister-in-laws at Lake Erie, and how enjoyable that time is to her. While she expressed that she does value the sewing retreat for the ties that are made, she also seemed to indicate that the emphasis on sewing kept her from really being able to relate to her sisters. One other point of tension for Aunt Emily is the fact that she feels like her sisters do not understand where she is coming from. Like her sisters, she feels that family is extremely important, but she said that she also feels like her sisters think that they are the only family—that they do not realize the amount of value that she places on her own little family as well as on her husband’s extended family. For Aunt Emily, the more personal, more intimate family times are much more meaningful than the more “public” atmosphere of the sewing retreat.
As you can see from these three examples, each of my aunts views the sewing retreat in a different light based on the lens through which they are looking. Aunt Julia is passionate about her sewing. Even when she is doing her other household work, her mind is also whirring with new ideas and designs for her next project. In light of this, one of the main reasons that she puts so much emphasis on the actual sewing part of the sewing retreat is because of her love for the art. On the other hand, while Aunt Coleen does enjoy sewing, it does not play nearly as big of a role in her life. Thus it makes sense that she would place more emphasis on the relational aspects of the sewing retreat. Aunt Emily is the mother of four boys, and has spent time developing interest geared towards them. In addition, she places more value on more intimate interactions, and as such does not value the sewing retreat to the same extent that some of the other sisters do. Yet, despite these different perspectives, they all place a great deal of value on family. They may value the sewing retreat at differing degrees and for different reasons, but family still means the world to each of them.
I want to conclude this section by talking about how my interactions with my aunts served to emphasize even further, this common theme of familial importance. I knew that my family valued relationships, but this week of talking to my aunts, and them interacting with me and expressing interest in me and in my project, really let me feel their care. As I heard a bit from each of their hearts, I found myself becoming more and more thankful for them. Their love for their family (immediate and extended) was fairly intensely demonstrated to me through the way in which that they answered my interview questions. As I reflected on this, I realized that even before they talked to me about the importance of family relationships, they showed it to me. I have always known that they love me because I have experienced their love from little up, but this project prompted me to think about it and to appreciate it on a much deeper level.
In addition, this project reminded me of the impact that our worlds have in shaping our identities. My family (both immediate and extended) has impacted my worldview and my values to a greater extent than I will probably ever realize. Through them I have been socialized to value the things that they value and to love the things that they love. If I had been raised in any other setting or in any other home, I feel like I would be a completely different person. Through their demonstration of family values and Christian principles I have come to believe and adopt them as my own. Who would I be without my family? It is impossible to know.
I do not know how significant my findings are, to the broader world, but I do know that these findings were significant to me. They reminded me of the blessing that I truly have in my family. And despite the various perspectives and thoughts that each of my aunts displayed in relation to the sewing retreat, the thing that stood out to me was their willingness to set their differences aside to show each other their love. They do not agree on everything, but they do love each other and take deliberate steps to make sure that that fact is known. It would be difficult if not impossible to count the number of times they lend each other a helping hand or offer each other an encouraging word or piece of advice.
Family systems are intriguing, and I am truly blessed to be a part such a loving one. One interesting consideration for future research would be to do a collaborative project with my aunts on the sewing retreat so as to enhance each individual’s experience. To do this, I would focus more on the specific events that happen each day at the sewing retreat. I would ask my aunts specifically how they feel about anything from meal time, to visitor’s day, to devotional times. I would try to get as many perspectives as possible (both positive and negative) in relation to specific things, and then work with my aunts to come up with ideas for change, and incorporate them the following day. There would be a constant eb and flow of feedback and integration of new ideas. I do know that none of my aunts want the sewing retreat to be something that is very structured. They all like the ability to do their own thing. For this reason alone, I believe that the word “collaboration” would be key.
“That is the greatest treasure of this entire get-together—the closeness of family. As I go through life I meet people that just don’t like their families. We not only like our family we love them. It’s a treasure that very few people have.” – Aunt June
“It [the sewing retreat] has drawn me closer to my sisters, no doubt about it. It has made me realize…I don’t take for granted family relationships.” – Aunt Coleen
“Sewing quilts plays a big part in my life. If I can’t actually run the sewing machine, I’m thinking in my head what I might work on next or get ideas for designs to work with.” – Aunt Julia
“We depend on each other. You see so many people who don’t, and I not only look forward to being with my sisters, but it’s a way of connecting with nieces and nephews and in-laws. It’s just a wonderful opportunity to connect with family.” – Aunt Shelia
“Every year at sewing retreat I laugh so hard it hurts….I love getting advice and opinions from everybody that’s here—what colors, what borders, quilting advice. I trust my sisters. I myself like to interact with my nieces. In the evening when the men and guys come, it warms my heart just to hear them interact….I tell my children, ‘You will have friends and they will come and go, but you will always have your sisters and your cousins’” – Aunt Polly
“Sewing plays very little role in my life. Probably because I don’t have any daughters, so it is not a “relationship” thing that I am trying to develop. I surely don’t want to do it with my sons and I find that in developing relationships with them, I need to center my interest around theirs.” – Aunt Emily
“Since I’m the youngest girl, I have always looked up to my older sisters, and what they say has had a big influence on my life….Polly has been influential in her kindness to people. She is always so kind. It’s been impressive to me. Julia’s seriousness in life, wanting to do what’s right….Coleen has influenced me in her contentment in life…Emily was very influential in my life as a young Christian.” – Mom
“I have found sewing to be invaluable. I am in the process of making valances for a couple of rooms. I thought I was just going to buy them, but I couldn’t find what I wanted. There is a wonderful supply of beautiful fabrics available and then you can custom make them. I also enjoy making little gifts. This past week I have made pillowcases for two of my nephews birthdays—one with Thomas the Tank Engine and one with deer fabrics. They think they are very special” – Aunt Cheryl