Monday, March 5, 2012

Process vs. project

I had an incident with a cotton boll last summer that changed who I am, if just a little bit.

In the midst of helping her set up her new apartment in Baton Rouge, my daughter and I took a two-day trip to Natchez, Mississippi. This is a quintessential small southern town where the "War of Northern Aggression" is still being fought. It is, of course, historic and also quite beautiful. Because it was high summer and there weren't many other tourists visiting, we were rewarded with a few perks. For example, we paid for a bus tour but were actually squired about town in a limo with only two other passengers. During our stay, we visited antebellum homes, walked the charming downtown area and learned that they mean it when they say the restaurants are closed from 2pm until 5pm. (The entire town actually rolls up its rugs by about 7:45; fortunately, a Dairy Queen on the outskirts was still open at 9pm.)

Not far from Natchez, on the other side of the River, is Frogmore Plantation. Composed of 19 slave dependencies, it is one of the most fascinating glimpses into the 'peculiar institution' that one could imagine. The property also houses a cotton gin that surpassed Eli Whitney's original in technology and power, but isn't that much newer. (Do you know why they call it a "gin?" We asked and were suprised at how simple the answer is.)

I cannot recommend Frogmore enough.

One of the things you get to do when you visit is pick cotton. If you have never held a cotton boll, you might be amazed at what a tenacious grip the tiny, tangled ball of fluff maintains on its seeds. It took me at least 10 minutes to pry one out.

Holding that white wisp made me think about cotton fabric the way I never had before. In my mind, it is generated at the store, where I buy it in obscene quantities. (I went into Quiltworks on Saturday to deliver a Project Linus quilt and some large scraps for Quilts of Valor. And although I fondled several great new prints, I left without a purchase. Proud of me?) Not only have I not spent much time considering what happens in a textile mill (I've never even seen Norma Rae), I had really never thought about the raw material. This stunned me: it is the progenitor of my favorite hobby, which has given so much joy to my life, and somehow it had escaped my notice.

My friend -- she of the giant black garbage bags filled with her unwanted fabric that were stuffed into my car and still stock my closet -- was the first to tell me of the concept of Process versus Project people. Process people like the doing, regardless of whether they ever finish. I'm clearly a Project person. I like to get something done, then move onto the next challenge.

But holding that cotton boll made me think that I should slow down and enjoy the journey a little more.

Which I have been doing on the batik and Kona quilt. In fact, I thought I was done with the main blocks, but decided to make more -- I'm not making the overall quilt larger, so I'll pick and choose -- because I was having so much fun combining fabrics and cutting as carefully as I could.

I made a bit of progress over the weekend. What do you think?

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