Welcome to VESSEL / by Riane Menardi

My sweet grandma.

My sweet grandma.

My grandmother taught me how to quilt.

She took me in after college, a time I expected to be easy, fun and full of opportunity. Instead, it was one of the most hopeless times of my life. The tragic death of the my favorite magazine took with it my first real job and the glamorous career I had envisioned for myself. For seven months afterward, my life was filled with hacked-together part-time jobs and endless applications. I drank a lot of wine, sitting down every night  to write another cover letter at my grandma's dining room table.

My grandma has been quilting for as long as I can remember. There are bins and bins of fabric in her basement, and dozens (hundreds?) of finished works in closets and around the house. My aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, sister and I have been gifted multiple quilts over the years. The one she made for my high school graduation is still the one I sleep under every night.

When I was living with my grandma, I asked her to teach me to sew. I was desperate to escape the endless job hunt and learn something new; to work toward something. So we began. She showed me how to measure fabric, cut it and press it. She showed me how to navigate her scrap piles and how to pair colors. She bought me my first pattern and taught me to read it. She helped me piece my first block. 

Every night, after the day's applications were sent, I descended to the basement to sew. Cutting fabric released my frustration. Ironing smoothed the wrinkles from the fabric and my forehead. And piecing offered the satisfaction of making parts come together as a whole — something that wasn't happening in my own life.

Slowly but surely, it all came together. My job search took an exciting turn, and my grandma and I pinned the layers of my quilt together, together. When I asked her what came next, she said, "Now, you quilt. By hand." My quilt is a queen-size blanket, and at the time, those words seemed like an impossible charge. But she showed me how to rock the needle and watched me as I struggled through the first few inches of quilting. And she let me be.

My life came together quickly after that. I got a new job, started a new relationship and moved into a new apartment. With every stitch I made in my quilt, the pieces of my life also bound together in a way I never had anticipated.

The first quilt.

The first quilt.

I'm still working on that first quilt. I pick it up from time to time and hand-stitch another row. I'm only about halfway done, and honestly, that's okay. Life got in the way. The quilt became the most wonderful euphemism for my life, and in a way, I don't ever want it to be done.

And three years later, VESSEL is the next chapter in my sewing career. I truly believe that quilts have the power to transport us to a different time and place. They are made with love — and sometimes blood and tears (more on that later). And whether it's the quilting process that changes your life, or the warm, constant comfort of a beloved blanket, quilters and quilt-lovers know the power is real.

So welcome to VESSEL. This is a blog about the transformative power of quilting — and my journey, insights and projects along the way.