FREE Shipping $40+
Share :

Perfume & Coffee Beans: A Refreshing View on Everyday Quilt Stories

At department store perfume counters, clerks will often put out tiny dishes of roasted coffee beans near the fancy glass bottles. These are not snacks. 

The coffee beans are there to help a person “reset” their olfactory system after they’ve smelled too much bergamot and sandalwood and lily of the valley. After sniffing bottle after bottle of eau de toilette, a person can become “nose blind” — i.e., incapable of smelling much of anything due to olfactory fatigue. It’s been said that the strong, singular smell of pure coffee provides a kind of “reset” for your nose so you can go back to smelling perfumes. It’s not clear this is actually true, but if you’re a department store trying to move six cases of Clinique Happy, you can’t take any chances. So out come the little dishes of beans!

I’d like to suggest that just as we can become nose blind, we can become word blind too.

Don’t Lose “Sight” of Two Important Words: Quilt and Story

Every day, our brains process a staggering amount of words. This is very tiring. And because it’s so tiring, the brain finds ways to cut corners. For instance, when we encounter certain phrases or word pairings that we’ve seen a million times, we’ve learned to kind of cognitively skim over them because we won’t be missing critical information. “I know that one,” the brain says and moves onto the next phrase, the next word, effectively on autopilot until it gets to something more exciting, like “Schenectady” or “recently escaped convict.” You’re definitely not word blind to that one.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that if you hang out in the quilt world long enough, you’re in danger of becoming word blind to the words “quilt” and “story” when they’re used in conjunction. And they’re used in conjunction a lot

Don’t get me wrong; phrases like “every quilt tells a story” or “quilt your story” are beautiful. Quiltfolk’s own stated mission to “tell the stories behind the stitches” is as good as a mission statement gets. Both “quilt” and “story” are evocative, powerful, deeply meaningful words, but because quilt-and-story phrases appear so often in the quilt discourse, are we becoming word blind to them? If our brains skim over these phrases when we read them—e.g., “Yeah, quilts tell stories, got it”—a world of meaning gets skimmed over too.

Not on my watch! Consider this post a rhetorical dish of coffee beans.

The Incredible Impact of Story

It happens occasionally that I’ll pop my head up from whatever I’m working on and think, “Am I really still talking about this?” Then I remember that to speak and write about quilts is to speak and write about art and culture, history and politics, and time. Plus, there’s color absolutely everywhere, which is very cool. In my line of work, I get to tell people about other people like them or not like them, the living and the dead, and the meaning we make with our hands. It’s a good gig because basically, I get to tell stories.

Ah, stories. We crave them as children. We relish them as adults, as evidenced by bookstores and movie theaters—both of which exist for the sole purpose of telling stories. Technically speaking, a story is a narrative that conveys a series of events connected in some way. They can be true or fictional, spoken or written, and you know a good one when you hear/read it. But that’s a sterile definition. 

Stories are much more than that: Stories teach us how to be people. We tell and listen to others tell stories of love, terror, heartache, adventure, loss, and triumph then carry them with us all our lives because they are the stories we remember. Stories give our lives shape and meaning. For quilt people—whether you make, study, or have history with any aspect of quilts—it’s deeply rewarding when you get the opportunity to tell it. There’s something even better than that, though: When a quilter writes their story down, it means other people, now and in the future, can be rewarded too—because reading someone else’s story gives permission for others to share their own!

Quilt Journeys: A Writing Retreat With Quiltfolk

In Person, In Iowa, In June! 

In June, in the idyllic little town of Winterset, Iowa, myself, Frances O’Roark Dowell, and Lauren DeLuca, all of us professional writers and teachers of writing, will lead Quilt Journeys, Quiltfolk’s first-ever, in-person writing retreat. Not only will you have the opportunity to write your own quilt story—about yourself, about someone else, about a quilt, or all of the above—but you will also be surrounded by stunning vintage quilts in the Iowa Quilt Museum (from famed quilt collector Mary Kerr) and the historic, largest publicly held quilt collection in the world on our all-inclusive day trip to the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Before people arrive, we will set up the chairs: There are 32 of them. And I promise that those of you who claim one will leave Iowa with a new understanding of and relationship to the words “quilt” and “story.” You’ll see!

About the Author

Mary Fons joined Quiltfolk in 2016 and is the Creative Director of the Quiltfolk Foundry Project. Click here to learn about Quilt Nerd, Mary’s weekly livestream show about quilt history and culture.

A Reward For Reading!

A Reward for Reading!

As a thank you for visiting the Quiltfolk Journal, we’re giving you $10 off ANY purchase of $40 or more with coupon code QFJOURNAL.

Limit one use per customer

Account Login

Find your folk.

It’s free to become a Quiltfolk Insider.
You’ll receive exclusive offers, news, and more!