National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Sew What? Patience, Courage and Love

Danielle Bean sews sanctity from her shortcomings, one stitch at a time.

BY Danielle Bean

April 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/10/07 at 9:00 AM


My sewing machine is missing its needle. It broke off a few years ago and I never got around to replacing it. I do own a sewing box, but it’s misnamed. Box? Yes. Sewing supplies? Good luck. 

Yet, despite my shortcomings with needle and thread, my older daughters’ girls-group project struck me as a good idea. They were to sew baby quilts for a local crisis-pregnancy center.

“They’ll learn some basic sewing skills,” I told my husband when he expressed some concern (how dare he?) about my seamstress capabilities. “And the whole project will be a lesson in charity.”

That was a nice thought, but soon the whole project became a lesson in … procrastination. I helped the girls pick out fabrics that, soon enough, were left to sit in unopened bags in a bedroom closet. Over the next few weeks I would catch occasional glimpses of the stuff and guilt pangs would strike. I solved this problem by closing the closet door.

Then, one day, a mother from the girls’ group called. “How are your quilts coming along?” she asked cheerily. “Isn’t it a fun project? Ours are almost done.”

Almost what? It turned out that the potential embarrassment of being outed as a slacker mom was just the incentive I’d been missing. The very next day found the girls and me sitting at the dining-room table surrounded by piles of fabric and sewing supplies. Now that the procrastination was over, it was time to commence a new lesson in … impatience.

I squinted at the handwritten instructions, sighed and unfolded a large piece of floral fabric on the table in front of me. I tried to line up the edges. I tried to measure carefully. I tried not to flash back to my home-economics class where, as a sixth grader, I accidentally sewed the legs together on a pair of pants I was making.

I could not escape the choking feeling that envelops me whenever I attempt to do something I am not very good at. I hated to think of the time I was wasting on the quilts when I could have been doing something fun and exciting like scrubbing out the kitchen garbage can, ironing the family’s bed sheets or bleaching the bathroom grout with a toothbrush. Anything but the quilts.

I briefly considered turning our charity project into a lesson in humility by calling my mother and sobbing into the phone until she drove over and rescued me. But no. This was our project and it was supposed to be about charity. So why then, when my husband glanced in my direction with an amused expression, did I threaten him with the seam ripper? Why did I find it so difficult to focus on seam allowances, biases and perfect squares?

Because I’m terrible at it, that’s why. Because these were my flaws — my impatience and my lack of fortitude — that were laid bare in these quilts. Nobody likes to feel incompetent. And this, it occurs to me, is the toughest lesson in charity: Love requires the putting aside of our own preferences and comforts. It exacts a personal price and challenges us to improve ourselves.

I would like to confess my impatience and then move on to more agreeable things. But it’s not quite so easy as that. St. Francis de Sales once said, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them — every day begin the task anew.”

Acknowledging our flaws does not excuse us from working on them. It just clarifies the work we have ahead of us. It highlights the weak spots that require our work and attention. And diligently I shall work. Day after day. One small stitch at a time.

Danielle Bean writes from

Belknap, New Hampshire.