When we first moved to Castlemaine 2 years ago, I was full of hope. I had been working for years in a job I felt was unsuited to me. But because I thought it was the right thing to do, a job that needed to be done, I thought the lack of strength was my fault, or something I’d grow out of, or even a worthy sacrifice that would lead to worthwhile outcomes, good stories, and a feeling of satisfaction and belonging.
But then a few years ago, I started to wonder if my weaknesses were not just something I’d magically grow out of when I ‘grew up’, and maybe my strengths were not something to push down and ignore. If I was just this way, if I was just me, how did I want to carry this body and heart through this one life I was given? How did I want to enjoy it? How did I want to grow and become?
Tim and I left our youth work jobs, our dearest friends, our identity and structure and long term plans, and moved to Castlemaine to start over and build the life we’d always wanted but never thought we would give ourselves. We ran our business, we put the kids in school, we dreamed of building our own home, and I made quilts.
It sounds like the happy ending of an adventure story, but it wasn’t. Life here was expensive. Our laser cutter was always breaking down. The kids were always sick with their new school germs. And I was so tired. All the time. We had left tyranny (not a tyrannical organisation, just our tyrannical selves), and rather than hitting the promised land, we were wandering in the desert.
I will fill the desert with all kinds of trees—
cedars, acacias, and myrtles;
olive and cypress trees;
fir trees and pines.
When I was researching medicinal herbs for this book, I was looking for both good quilt names that weren’t already used, pretty flowers that inspired me, and fun or meaningful stories, histories and medicinal usage. I was designing the quilts for this book at the same time, sometimes inspired by the herb, sometimes the name coming later. The Myrtle block in centre of the Seedlings Quilt was the first thing I made for the book. My original idea had been to make another and applique it to the back of a denim jacket, or something fun like that. But then in the midst of my utter disappointment that this move hadn’t been all magical and amazing, I read the verse above in my search for historical references to the Myrtle tree. Myrtle in the desert. I knew then I had to make this block into a quilt, in pretty, hopeful white, with bursts of colour.
Myrtle has long been a symbol of beauty and romance. Myrtle trees were planted in Aphrodite’s temple garden in ancient times, and myrtle wreaths were often depicted on her head. Roman women used the leaves to fragrance their baths and the oil to cure skin irritations. When Queen Victoria was given myrtle for her wedding bouquet; it revived a tradition of using myrtle flowers in wedding ceremonies around Europe.
I don’t if Myrtle was a symbol of romance among the ancient, exiled Hebrews (often these ideas were shared, or came from a common earlier history), but I loved the connection between the two references. The idea of hope, of myrtle in the desert, might not just be ‘a living thing in a dry place’, but much more than that. Connection, beauty, motivation, energy. These are what I longed for. This is what I wanted a quilt to say.
Cypress and myrtle trees will grow in fields once covered by thorns.
And then those trees will stand as a lasting witness to the glory of the Lord.
Once I had the idea for the quilt firmed up in my mind, Michelle from Cole & Taffy offered to make it for me! I sent her my low volume scraps and favourite basics, and she made the blocks for me, and sent them back so I could play with how they went together. I’m so happy with how it turned out! I always find low volume scraps get forgotten in my scrappy quilts, and this was the perfect way to use them up!
Myrtle is the first quilt in my new The Seedling Quilts book, full of quilts from that time of struggle and beginning again, of searching for hope. You can buy the English Paper piecing kit here, and pre-order the book from your favourite source, or grabbed a signed copy here!
Beautiful photos by Jane McLean.