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  • Writer's pictureBetsy Grace

Reading a Pattern (Week 22-23)

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

(John Muir)


The big news from the Betsymade studio this week is that after months of browsing and experimenting and asking questions and much hand-wringing on my part, I've decided to buy a long-arm quilting machine setup AND I found the right machine for me AND I bought it. (!!) The new baby is a purple Nolting 17" Fun Quilter, and she's moving in to the basement studio on Sunday.

The seller, who lives nearby in Bloomington, has been so generous - gifting me with lots of supplies and extras (pantographs! extra clip lamps! some sort of chalk stenciling gizmo!), spending multiple afternoons with me to show me how the table and machine work, even giving me lessons on the basics.

From my first lesson - learning some new free motion techniques!

Despite the reality that my attention has been elsewhere of late, I did also manage to make 5 more blocks for Molly's quilt (based on a pattern by Sew Kind of Wonderful), so I'm halfway to completing my part of the top! I realized this week that this quilt will probably be one of the first projects I'll get to finish myself on my new long-arm. So exciting!


My slice of a mini-memoir, Collage - A Personal History, continues this week with...

Chapter 3: Stitching / My Meandering 20s

(If you're just joining us, Chapter 1 is here and Chapter 2 is here)

I did try. I went to auditions. I applied for internships with theater companies. I went DIY, directing a really great and very much collaged ensemble piece for the Minnesota Fringe Festival (which won the audience fave award that year - so proud). But I was also working full-time, and creating a live experience - at least in the collagey way I wanted to - took a lot of time, more than I had to devote while working 40 hours a week.

Meanwhile, I changed jobs a few times, I fell in love, I got married. Eventually, that part of my life started to fall out of my grasp. And somewhere in the mix of all those transitions, I asked my Mom to teach me how to sew.

It started with clothes - I wanted to learn how to make my own skirts and dresses. So she taught me how to use a sewing machine and how to read a pattern. Before too long, though, my collage instincts kicked in. It started with neckties, of all things. I had started to learn how to make bags and purses, and was interested in upcycling, and for whatever reason I bought myself an enormous box of neckties (like 300!) from Ebay, designed my own patterns and started to make bags and laptop cases and bracelets out of neckties.

It was very similar to quilting - though I didn't know that yet. Working in a totally new medium, I was pulling the same moves, bringing different elements together to make a new whole. I opened an Etsy store to sell them, and I named the things I made after the songs I was listening to while I made them. I put together a booth so I could sell at craft fairs. And somewhere along the way, I quit my full-time job.

Not because I was making any money at this - I really wasn't. I just really wanted something different for my life. I felt like I was being crushed by 8 hours a day in the same environment. I was extremely bored, but also so tired all the time. And I took my first shot at piecing together a life.

A little freelance writing...

A little book editing...

A few craft fairs...

...and eventually, a part-time job with the Saint Paul Teaching Fellows - my first step into education justice work - 20 hours/week.

It lasted a year, and that year was good. I remember feeling satisfied, happy - like I was thriving. I adored the variety, spending time doing lots of different things.

Also, that year, I made my first quilt. Appropriately, it was the scrappiest quilt ever... a real collage of a quilt if there ever was one.

Each 5" block is a little collage on its own. I couldn't believe how much fun it was. I combined colors, patterns, blocks of solid color, and graphical elements in any way that pleased me. This quilt has stripes, polka dots, horses, strawberries, girls on scooters, Elvis, butterflies, cherries, trees, and many different varieties of flowers. And together, these blocks made a whole that was something entirely new. I still love this quilt. We still snuggle with it on the couch almost every night.

As I finished this quilt in the spring of 2010, my life was about to change. I was 28. The part-time job I loved with the Teaching Fellows program was eliminated in March, and I was presented with a choice - to keep going in this education justice work (which challenged and satisfied me like no job I'd ever had before) but shift into a full-time role, or step away. It strikes me now that as I made the choice to give up the pieced together life that I truly loved in order to get paid well to do work that was meaningful to me, I already knew that I was taking quilting with me.


To be continued, in the next chapter: The Persistence of Light / Adulting.


Dual (2022): The third film by writer/director Riley Stearns, my expectations for Dual were primed - I loved his second film, the super dark and extremely funny The Art of Self-Defense. Although I don't think it hits quite as hard as its predecessor, Dual is solid and well worth your time. Featuring Karen Gillan as a terminally ill woman who agrees to clone herself ("As a gift for her loved ones") - but then recovers, and is forced to fight her clone for the right to continue to live her life. Gillan is utterly fascinating to watch, with all her weird facial mannerisms, and the dryly dystopian world of the film perfectly complements its blackly comedic tone and wandering curiosity. Plus, Aaron Paul as Trent the Personal Combat Trainer who will do anything for some private hip hop dance lessons!


We haven't been watching many other movies this week - but we have been watching a lot of Dawson's Creek and I am so into it! This show came out right in the pocket for me - I was a sophomore when the show premiered and the gang were freshmen. I remember watching the first season (which doesn't hold up and is occasionally offensive) but then I kinda fell off.

So 20+ years later, I am back on that train and holy shit friends, this show is great! It is so sweet and earnest and quirky and romantic and cute, it has such wonderful 90s stank, and after that first season, it actually holds up pretty well, aside from the to-be-expected cringe now and then. Coasting through season 4, I am secretly getting Justin into it too. Joey and Pacey for life!


Molly and I had the pleasure of going to see one of my favorite writers, N.K. Jemisin, speak at the U of M this week. I tore through 8 of her novels - her entire output at the time - in 2017, after stumbling across a short story she published in a special issue of Wired while on airplane. I was in the middle of a very intense period in my work, and her books became such a sacred resting place for my mind, transporting me and pushing me, devastating me in the most beautiful way.

I could've listened to Jemisin talk for hours longer Tuesday night - her voice and perspective feel so familiar, and even though I didn't talk to her and had never met her before (obviously), the whole night felt like reconnecting with a beloved, dear friend I hadn't talked to in awhile. She reminded me that interesting storytelling is everywhere - and each of us find the stories we connect with wherever we find them.... video games, trashy romance, anime, family histories, mythology. It all has value because of how it shapes us. She also reminded me that the best work we make grows from what we need - to survive, to process, to heal - ourselves.

Since her work means so much to me - and so boldly and personally deals with some of the ugliest realities of living in our world - it was also just magical to be in the room with hundreds of other people who also love her work, sitting next to my sister.

I strongly recommend her books - start anywhere you feel most drawn in, there is no wrong answer. I started with The Inheritance Trilogy (a glorious fantasy romance revolution jammer), though most folks' go-to first experience with her work is the more recent, triple-Hugo-winning Broken Earth Trilogy (a heartbreaking apocalyptic epic of a mother and daughter in a poisonous world). My personal favorite of her novels is The Shadowed Sun, the second book in the Dreamblook Duology.


Speaking of glorious fantasy romance, I just finished Throne of Glass, the first novel in Sarah J. Maas' 8-book series this week and am already devouring Crown of Midnight, the second. The first book was solid but felt mostly like setup for some wild shit to come in the future books (and that is not a complaint at all). Crown of Midnight hit the ground in a sprint, though, and I'm already buzzing to see where Celaena's web of intrigue takes her next.


I had the honor of spending last weekend with board members and teachers who are working together to start a new Wildflower public charter school in Colorado. Although we were able to get so much done in our day together, the work closest to my heart was in the afternoon, which we spent strengthening our skills around conflict engagement.

Facilitator's workstation

Wildflower's unique ways of working - completely decentralized and hierarchy-less - are the way our network has embedded our commitment to liberation into our institutional practices. One way we work toward liberation for all is by pushing ourselves to unlearn the patterns of relating to one another that come from domination culture (one person above, the other below) - as we practice new ways of working together that are collaborative and that balance individual autonomy with collective purpose and accountability. One of these practices in Wildflower's Ways of Working is Conflict Resolution - or, our way of transforming disagreements into something new: sometimes clarity, sometimes creative solutions to problems, sometimes relational healing, sometimes all of those - or something else.

Something we've learned through our years practicing is that conflict doesn't get better if you avoid it and leave it alone - on the contrary: it gets much worse, snowballing into a mess of hurt feelings and resentments, as well as practical problems that grow much more tangled and difficult to solve. So we spent our time together last weekend working on the skills and agreements that will help us work through conflict as soon as it comes up in the day-to-day: developing self-awareness, generating agreements about how to initiate hard conversations, practicing deep listening, and creating team rituals that will continually strengthen our relationships and our muscles around openly and vulnerably sharing our feelings and experiences.

This work has grown out of years of practice at Wildflower and is extremely close to my heart. It was a great joy to share it with this community of extraordinary leaders, and to support them as they grow more skilled, stronger, and more open together.

Learn more about Wildflower's Ways of Working through the online learning series I created here - or reach out anytime if you'd like to connect about this work.


I deeply admire Charles Eisenstein's work, and this week, I shared this beautiful animation of his wisdom in Holy Time. This was exactly the grounding I needed to find for myself this week and I know it resonated with others too. Maybe it's also what you need today.

Holy Time - What Makes You Come Alive

Slides from this week's experience--with words from John Muir, Diane di Prima, June Jordan and Brenda Shaughnessy, video from Charles Eisenstein and EdieArt, music from Corinne Bailey Rae--are available here.

Slides from "The Stories We Weave", last week's experience--with words from Jennifer Grotz, Mark Nepo, Ross Gay and George Saunders; video from Kerala Dust and music from Nina Simone--are available here.

Holy Time is a weekly online gathering - Thursdays, 8:45pm CT on zoom (

All are welcome--our next gathering will be Thursday, May 3.

Contact me at with questions or for more information.



What you are making and reading and writing and doing? What is inspiring you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.



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