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The Fabric of Our Lives

Sewing and prayer have a lot in common.

Recently I feel like sewing-type crafts have been everywhere in my life. It’s October so there are lots of DIY Halloween costumes. Then you have gems like this picture my cousin sent me of her recent creation of a crochet square. I think it looks great.

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Then the next day I saw a picture of a friend who quilted a blanket for her son. He is in his first year at Benedictine College and she wanted to help him show some school pride. Very impressive!

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These just keep popping up and I am in awe at the beauty of every single one I see. The skill and the time that it takes to make these works of art is so extraordinary. But why do I enjoy them? Why are they so pleasing to the eye? These crafts are made with different types of yarn/thread/fabric, but no matter the style, the thing that catches my eye first are the beautiful colors. The quilt’s BOLD black and red, the more delicate but more colorful look of Chelsea’s square. These colors are a huge part of what tells the story even if they are vastly different.

Thinking about this sent me on a journey down a google rabbit hole learning about the science and the history of dyeing fabrics.

The dyes that we use are organic compounds. We use them in order to add bright colors to our fabrics. How well a dye will bond with a certain fabric is dependent on the chemical structures of both the dye and the fabric. People have been dyeing fabrics for thousands of years, but it was much more recently that we more accurately understood the chemistry behind it.

Natural dyes can come from many different places, but thousands of years ago you were limited to the plants, animals, and compounds that were nearby. This limited your color choices. Plants to create the color yellow could be found most anywhere, whereas blue came from indigo which was only found in the region of the world surrounding India. The rarest of colors was purple. This color was only found in a single type of mollusk that was hard to find, and you had to crush thousands of them to get a small amount of dye. This rarity made it the color of royalty, they were the only ones who could afford this rare luxury.

Then in 1856, a young chemist, William Henry Perkin, was working on an anti-malarial drug when he accidentally discovered a purple-ish color that could easily dye silk. He patented this first synthetic dye and called it “mauve”. After this incident, scientists jumped on the idea of creating synthetic dyes. They began intense research into creating all sorts of different colors in a cheap and economically friendly way. This required them to better understand the chemical makeup of fabrics to find dyes that would favorably bind with them. For example, cotton is a natural fabric. It is composed of many units of glucose bound together in a very rigid structure. The three hydroxyl (-OH) groups per glucose (6 per cellulose unit) make great bonding places for dyes, allowing cotton to be easily dyed.

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On the other hand, cellulose acetate is a synthetic fiber with a very similar chemical structure to cotton, but some of the -OH groups have been replaced with acetate groups (-OCOCH3).

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This chemical change makes cellulose acetate softer to the touch, but it now has fewer binding sites for the dye molecules and so dyes are less likely to stay attached as well as cotton. Little chemical changes like this impact the wide variety of fabrics and colors that we see all around us and this knowledge expanded the dyeing industry.

As I was scouring the internet for all of this information I heard an interesting quote on the radio.

"If your day is hemmed with prayer, it is less likely to come unwound."

This quote reminds me of Blessed Arnold Reche whose feast day is today. He grew up in a very religious household. He grew up with teaching that was rich in the catechism. But once he became a young adult he moved away from his family home and started to live a more secular life. Seeing the changes in him, his aunt encouraged him to go back to his roots. He returned to an active and intense prayer life which helped him to find his way. This led him to join the LaSalle Brothers. As a Brother, he went on to do great things like being a field medic in the Franco-Prussian War, a teacher at a boarding school and finally becoming the director general for his house until his death. Adding prayer back into his life helped this man live a more saintly life.

After all of this research into different dyes and different fabrics, this quote and Blessed Arnold’s life emphasizes for me the simplicity of prayer. Just as there are now so many different colors of dyes for our fabrics, there are so many different types of prayer: meditative, reading of scripture, singing, spontaneous prayer, etc. The thing that makes our relationship with God beautiful isn’t the specific words we use or the specific type of prayer we pray. The important thing is that we pray. And that we pray often. This quote reminds us to include prayer in everything we do, to hem every part of our day with prayer.

I personally find that to be so powerful. As a perfectionist (my nickname this summer was Dani Seckfort PhD OCD), I can get so bogged down in things being exactly so. When I pray, I can get lost in using the fanciest of words, but God wants a relationship with us. He wants this strong relationship that is built on frequent communication. When you hem a quilt, it doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful and perfectly placed stitches or if you have the most brightly colored thread perfected by science. None of this matters if you only have 4 stitches. That quilt is going to fall apart.

Our lives are the same. God will help our lives to be a beautiful work of art, but we must include Him in it. We must have that strong prayer life. We must hem our day with more than just 4 stitches. To start you off, let me help. I’m going to end with a prayer.

Dear Lord, help me to remember how different my life can be when I make you a priority. Thank you for all of the blessings you have planned for me. Help me to keep you at the center of everything. Ignite in me a desire to meet you and hear you speak. Lord please bring comfort to my heart as I prepare to embrace this day. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.