Words and their meanings often bring surprise and delight – probably because of the way the human brain can store the multiple meanings of some words and so catch the ambiguities.
Take the word fabrication.
It slipped out of the recesses of my brain when I was posting a picture of a completed quilt on Facebook in September last year. I used the word “fabricate” to describe the stitched representation of the Donkin Street terrace houses in Port Elizabeth. The quilt was designed by Catherine Knox and made during a workshop with her.
After this I began to think of my stitched work as fabrications, and adopted the name. Then I thought I had better look it up to confirm that it didn’t only mean a lie (an untruth, a fiction). Memory had served me well – the word also means “the action or process of manufacturing or constructing something” (OED). Even better, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that to fabricate is to “make with skill” or to forge (apart from to invent a lie).
While on the subject of words and their meanings, quilt is unambiguous. It means a padded cloth made from three layers of fabric, with the middle layer being the padding sandwiched between the top layer (which is usually pieced or patchworked) and the under layer or lining. The three layers need to be stitched together to secure the quilt.
I think that quilt is a good, honest word. Recently quilts have become more than bedcovers, or utility covers made from scraps of fabric. The art quilt is a fairly new addition to the world of art. These works are often referred to as textile or fibre works – perhaps these new descriptions are being used because quilt is considered to be too down to earth and plain to describe a work of art.
The word muse and the resultant musings (or the action of musing on something) is, on the other hand, an enticingly complex word that encompasses inspiration (The Muse), meditation, abstraction, ponderings, thought, barefoot philosophy. To quote my good and faithful companion, the OED, to muse is to “be affected with astonishment or surprise; wonder, marvel”. What a glorious description. And it so aptly describes the effect that stitching has on me.
To end, a bit of reflection or musing on the word stitching and why I like it. It is more poetic that its sister word, sewing, because it has more connotations. It also sounds nicer, with its onomatopoeiac echo of the needle going st… tch… st… through the cloth. On a less fanciful note, stitching is associated with mending, decorating and joining – all of which are part of making quilts and which add to the delight of quiltmaking.